“In the beginning, all was Virginia…”

Today is the 401st anniversary of the founding of a permanent English settlement and Colony at Jamestown Virginia, bringing the English Law to America.  While last year was the big celebration, May 14th is the annual commemoration and beginning of our country.  The royally chartered Virginia Company had traveled, at great expense and great peril in three small ships:  the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery.

I’m a small, short woman and I could not stand upright in the hold of the Discovery when I visited Jamestown several years ago.  I was amazed–at how small the ships were.  You can read dimensions, see drawings and photographs of the replicas, and nothing registers quite like being there.

The book I want to introduce you to, if you haven’t yet discovered it, is John T. Phillips, II, The Historian’s Guide to Loudoun County Virginia, Volume I:  Colonial Laws of Virginia and County Court Orders, 1757-1766.  1996.  Available from Colonial Laws Project, Goose Creek Productions, PO Box 776, Leesburg VA 20178-0776.   The book is available for sale from the Thomas Balch Library (part of the Leesburg Public Library), 208 West Market St, Leesburg VA 20176.

1757-1766 is an important time period in the Northern Neck of Virginia.  Loudoun County was established in 1757.  And county court was functioning under a major revision of the Virginia law code in 1748.  Author Phillips describes the importance of the parish jurisdiction with its parallel responsibility for the moral discipline of the county.  Indeed, the original county boundaries were almost exactly co-terminous with the parish lines.

Each section of the book includes a discussion of the law in force.  Then extracts from the county court records.  Then lists of local county and parish officers, by name, rank, and years of service.  Landowners, ordinaries, grist mills, bridges, fords, and ferries are listed.

A glossary of legal terms clarifies many of the extracts from the court records themselves:

  1. Family relations, as stated in the record, are extracted intact.  For example, “relict–survivor of a married pair, whether husband or wife.”  First time I realized that a relict could refer to the husband.
  2. An important aspect of land ownership in the Northern Neck, the Fairfax Proprietary, is manorial custom.  For example, among the court records you will find the enforcement of the “lease for lives.”  Most land leases are set up to end after three named parties have been admitted to the land holding.  This is part of the English legal system operating in Virginia.  This customary tenure is also found in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, and some parts of Connecticut where the old manorial system was established.  The genealogical advantage of the lease for lives, is that the names of the three parties are given in each transaction.  And the three parties are almost always related.
  3. Feme Covert–an underage woman who married without permission were legally disabled from possessing or selling property she is an heir to.  This important legality protects the family property from slipping into the hands of unscrupulous men.

Two excellent indexes provide quick, every name access to ancestors,  and places/subjects.

A detailed Chronology for Colonial Virginia, 1561-1776, ends with this entry:

“During the Revolution, Israel Pemberton and other Quaker leaders from Pennsylvania are banished into internal exile in western Virginia for refusing to take a Loyalty Oath.  Virginia adopted similar measures.”

This note includes some very intriguing “what if’s?” for me:

  1. “What if…” this applied to all conscientious objectors?  Mennonites, Dunkards, and other German anabaptist groups common on the Virginia frontier?
  2. “What if…” this will help us link ancestors of the same surname to Quaker origins in Eastern Virginia?
  3. “What if…” this ruling overrides the recall of white settlers from areas west of the mountains when Virginia took over military control of western forts?  These recalls brought the settlers to Bedford County from southwestern Virginia and western North Carolina, including Kentucky and Tennessee.  And from west of the Laurel Hills into Frederick and Loudoun counties.

I highly recommend The Historian’s Guide to Loudoun County Virginia to all Virginia genealogists–regardless where their ancestry resided.  For there are many such provocative details from the Virginia law code included herein–as well as over 2500 Colonial ancestors.  Your favorite Virginia genealogist, Arlene Eakle http://www.arleneeakle.com

Virginia research completed:



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