Virginia Law–1730: Was it Enforced?

In the October 12, 1996, issue of Family Puzzlers, Issue Number 1460, Mary Bondurant Warren discussed the marriage law of 1730:


Churchwardens in every parish within the colony must present any person guilty of any of the offences of the act, so that they may be prosecuted at the next court “after such offence or crime shall come to his or their knowledge.” This act was not designed to circumvent the actions of the grand juries of the colony, however

Any offence of blasphemy or irreligion must be heard by the General Court.

If any person shall marry within the LEVITICAL DEGREES PROHIBITED BY THE LAWS OF ENGLAND, they shall be separated by “difinitive sentence or judgement of the general court; AND THE CHILDREN PROCEEDING OR PROCREATED UNDER SUCH UNLAWFUL MARRIAGE SHALL BE ACCOUNTED ILLEGITIMATE.”

The Levitical Degrees prohibited marriage between:  son and his mother or step-mother; brother to sister; father to his son’s or daughter’s daughter; son marrying the daughter of his father “begotten and born of his step-mother” [half-sister]; son and aunt, either father’s or mother’s sister, or his uncle’s wife; father marrying son’s wife; brother marrying his brother’s wife; man marrying his wife’s daughter or his wife’s son’s or daughter’s daughter’ or his wife’s sister.  [The two highlighted prohibitions seem not to have been enforced then or now.]

The General Court punished the offending couple with fines “as they see fit” and caused the couple to separate, and give bond “that they will not thereafter cohabit.”

Any persons “within the [Levitical] degrees aforesaid” who without marrying copulated, would be tried, convicted in any court of record and fined at the discretion of the court.  They must also give bond, or “be publickly whipt on his or her bare back, not exceeding 39 lashes.” These offenders would be jailed until they give bond with “sufficient surety, for their future separation.”

Fines arising from this prosecution would be used for the poor of the parish where the offence was committed.

Was this law enforced? 

Note that the father is not prohibited from marrying his daughter in this statement.

I am an avid court records researcher.  And I have never seen a reference to enforcement of any of these provisions.  Yet, it seems sure that the passage of such a thorough statement of possible vices would be unnecessary unless someone had already transgressed the old church code.  Society itself may have enforced the provisions by not allowing children or other family members to transgress the code.

Have any of you readers seen a reference to enforcement of these provisions?  In England, the Church courts would be the place of enforcement.  Virginia did not have church courts–so any enforcement would have to be in the civil courts of record. Virginia was able to meld church and civil laws within their civil jurisdictions better than any other colony.

I will be happy to print any references you might have to share from your own research or searches for professional clients.  Your favorite Virginia genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS  The flu bug got me! And I am behind.  Please accept my apology.

PPS  I am behind in answering email and shipping stuff.  Please give me the rest of the week to get caught up.  I did a lot of reading in Virginia periodicals and books while I had no energy to do anything else.  So stay tuned.  I have some really great Virginia materials to share.

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