27 June 2007

A good baptism story

I was paging though Bishop Meade's remarkable and remarkably annoying two-volume antiquarian account of the Church of England in Virginia this afternoon when I came across this story in a footnote. Bishop Meade sets the scene by briefly describing a raid on Indians in Maryland led by Captain Giles Brent in 1675 in retaliation for the gory murder of an English settler on the frontier. A young boy, possibly the son of a chief, was captured.
"Of him a circumstance is related, showing that there was not only religion in those days, but superstition also. The boy lying in bed for ten days, as one dead, his eyes and mouth shut but his body warm, Captain Brent, who was a Papist, said that he was bewitched, and that he had heaerd baptism was a remedy for it, and proposed the trial. Colonel Mason answered that there was not minister in many miles. Captain Brent replied, 'Your clerk, Mr. Dobson, may do that office;' which was accordingly done by the Church of England Liturgy. Colonel Mason and Captain Brent stood godfathers, and Mrs. Mason godmother. The end of the story is, that the child, being eight years old, soon recovered."*

Now I've collected all sorts of documents about Maryland's Catholics, England's Protestants, and the Indians (with a few Quakers mixed in) in the years between the Restoration and the Glorious Revolution. It was a dangerous time for Protestants, who were besieged by heretics and heathens on all sides (or so they thought) and the end result was often forays into Maryland by rogue militia captains from Virginia to attack Catholics, Quakers, Indians, or anyone suspected of being Catholic, Quaker, or Indian. Maryland protested, and Virginia sometimes apologized. But this episode is one I've never run into: it's remarkably detailed, especially in terms of the liturgy used and the presence of godparents, and it seems to affirm a continuing belief among English Catholics and Anglicans on the efficacy of baptism as an exorcism. I would love to know more, and to read the actual source without Bishop Meade's commentary attached, but alas, like most nineteenth-century antiquarians, he does not indicate his source. How frustrating! I can affirm that it appeared in no county court records, and it isn't in the Calendar of State Papers. There are some official Virginia records that might contain this anecdote, but my real fear is that it is in Maryland's records, in which case finding it will become more difficult.

Incidentally, Captain Giles Brent was the son of Mary Kittomaquund, the daughter of the "Tayac of Maryland" (probably a Piscataway chief), who was baptized a Catholic in the 1630s and married off to the senior Giles Brent at the age of eleven or twelve, after the death of her parents. The Brent clan probably hoped to gain title to Piscataway-held lands by virtue of the marriage. She had at least two children before her death. I've written about her before, here.

* William Meade, Old Churches, Ministers, and Families of Virginia, 2 vols (Richmond, 1857; reprint 1992), I, 93.



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