Ministers’ Duties and People’s Conduct in 1619 Virginia Colony

Dateline: Jamestown, 4 Aug. 1619: This is the sixth official government meeting in American history. These Anglicans were expected to attend church with their guns and swords ready. They had to treat Natives fairly, but not alone–together and provide uniform treatment.

Here are the list of rules. .

Let’s begin the modernized transcription of the rules.

Ministerial Duties (see below)

All Ministers in the Colony shall once a year namely in the month of March bring to the Secretary of Estate [State] a true account of all the Christenings, burials, & marriages, upon pain, if they fail, to be censured for their negligence by the Governour & Council of Estate [State]; likewise where there be no ministers, that the commanders of the place do supply the same duty.


No Theft, Especially of Indian Goods

Whosoever shall take any of his neighbours’ boats, oars, or canoes without leave [permission] from the owner shall be held and esteemed as a felon and so proceeded against; also he that shall take away by violence or stealth any canoes or other things from the Indians shall make valuable restitution to the said Indians, and shall forfeit, if he be a freeholder, five pound; if a servant 40s, or endure a whipping; and anything under the value of 13d shall be accounted petty larceny.

Ministerial Duties (see above)

All ministers shall duly read divine service and exercise their ministerial function according to the Ecclesiastical laws and orders of the Church of England, and every Sunday in the afternoon shall catechize such as are not yet ripe to come to the Communion.

And whosoever of them shall be found negligent or faulty in this kind shall be subject to the censure of the Governour and Council of Estate [State];

The Ministers and Churchwardens shall seek to prevent all ungodly disorders, the committers whereof if, upon good admonitions and mild reproof they will not forbear the said scandalous offences, as suspicions of whoredoms, dishonest company, keeping with women and such like, they are to be presented and punished accordingly.

If any person after two warnings, do not amend his or her life in point of evident suspicion of incontinency or of the commission of any other enormous sins that then he or she be presented by the Churchwardens’ and suspended for a time from the church by the minister. In which interim if the same person do not amend and humbly submit him- or herself to the church, he is then fully to be excommunicate and soon after a writ or warrant to be sent from the Governour for the apprehending of his person & seizing all his goods;

Provided always, that all the ministers do meet once a quarter, namely, at the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, of the nativity of our Saviour, of the Annunciation of the blessed Virgin, and about midsummer, at James City or any other place where the Governour shall reside, to determine whom it is fit to excommunicate, and that they first present their opinion to the Governour ere [before] they proceed to the act of excommunication;

Personal Conduct

For Reformation of swearing, every freeman and Mister of a family after thrice admonition shall give 5s or the value upon present demand, to the use of the church where he dwells; and every servant after the like admonition, except his Mister discharge the fine, shall be subject to whipping; provided that the payment of the fine notwithstanding, the said servant shall acknowledge his fault publicly in the Church.

No man whatsoever coming by water from above, as from Henrico, Charles City, or any place from the westward of James City, & being bound for Kiccowtan or any other part on this side of the same, shall presume to pass by either by day or by night without touching first here at James City, to know whether the Governour will command him any service. And the like shall they perform that come from Kiccowtan ward, or from any place between this & that to go upward—upon pain of forfeiting ten pound sterling a time to the Governor; provided that if a servant having had instructions from his Master to observe his Service doe notwithstanding transgress the same—that then the said servant shall be punished at the Overseer’s discretion otherwise that the Master himself shall undergo the foresaid penalty.


Church Attendance with Weapons Ready

All persons whatsoever upon Sabbath days shall frequent divine service & sermons both forenoon and afternoon; & all such as bear arms, shall bring their pieces, swords, powder & shot. And everyone that shall transgress this Law shall forfeit three shillings a time, to the use of the Church, all lawful & necessary impediments excepted. But if a servant in this case shall willfully neglect his Mister’s command, he shall suffer bodily punishment.

Marriage Rules

No maid or woman servant, either now resident in the Colony, or hereafter to come, shall contract herself in marriage without either the consent of her parents or her Mister or Mistress or of the magistrate & minister of the place both together. And whatsoever Minister shall marry or contract any such persons without some of the foresaid consents shall be subject to the severe censure of the Governour, & Council of Estate [State].

What is so interesting about this post is attending church with guns ready. The Second Amendment, written about 160 years later, must be preserved.


Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1619-1658/59, ed. H. R. McIlwaine (Richmond: 1915).


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