17 March 2005

(a)mused in the archives: of slander and vomit

In 1668, Mr John Prosser, minister, was accused of having made a scandalous and scurrilous accusation himself. One deposition: Robert Penrice aged 23 yrs or thereabouts saith that your depont being at the house of Capt Wilkin Hay heard Mr John Prosser the minister say that Anis Mackentash kept a Bawdy house for Nicholas Tailer and his maid Susanna Bewford & said he would prove it & further saith not. Translation: the deponent overheard the good Reverend Prosser say that Mr Mackentash (a Scot, from the sounds of it) essentially allowed his servants Nicholas Taylor and Susanna Bewford to fornicate under his roof. A bawdy house is a phrase describing a brothel. Mr Mackentash brought suit for slander, although an outcome isn't listed. Maybe the minister was too powerful and too well-respected to be fined for such an accusation, or perhaps the justices actually believed the slander to be true. Who knows? The records, unfortunately, don't say.

Mr Mackentash wasn't the only one offended. I gather Nicholas Taylor wasn't too amused by the accusation that he was fornicating with Susannah Bewford. That same court session,
Nicholas Tailor was presented by the vestry of New Poquoson for coming into Church drunk & in full view of the congregation in time of divine service there spewing Ordered for his offence to be put in stockes & there remain until released by Court.

Now, the only good reason I can think of for going to church drunk and vomiting all over the building is if one had a serious grievance against the minister. Perhaps if that minister had accused you of fornication and defamed your master, while in drink you might think of a few things to say to him. You might even turn up at the church to say them. But, being drunk, when you opened your mouth to say them, vomit came out and your carefully thought out come backs stayed in.

Whatever happened here, I think this is a good illustration of how precarious the Church of England's hold was in Virginia. While most settlers accepted the Church of England as the established church, I think most of them thought of it as something to be put up with. Virginians had to tolerate Rev Prosser's accusations against planters, for example. Or they had to put up with Prosser's predecessor Charles Grimes' anti-Puritan tirades (which were much complained of in the records). The historical fashion lately has been to praise Anglican ministers and to assume that Virginians were by and large happy with the established church. Ministers were, according to James Walsh, largely respected and very rarely in the courts.

The York County Order Book tells a different story though. Virginians were resigned to the Church of England and largely conformed with theological dictates from England, but they weren't above frustration with it. The truly frustrated surely didn't respect ministers--they vomited on them.


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