Discipline & Punish

Public Penance,
page 3 of 6

“There is no one man or woman in this Colonie now present, or hereafter to arrive, but shall give vp an account of his and their faith and religion, and repaire vnto the Minister, that by his conference with them, hee may vnderstand, and gather, whether heretofore they have been sufficiently instructed and catechised in the principles and grounds on Religion, whose weaknesse and ignorance herein, the Minister, finding, and advising them in all love and charitie to repaire often unto him to receive therein a greater measure of knowledge, if they shal refuse so to repaire unto him, and he the Minister give notice thereof unto the Governour, he shall cause the offender first time of refusall to be whipt, for the second time to be whipt twice, and to acknowledge his fault vpon the Saboth day, in the assembly, and for the third time to be whipt every day until he hath made the same acknowledgement, and asked forgivenesse for the same, and shall repaire vnto the Minister, to be further instructed as aforesaid; and vpon the Saboth when the Minister shall catechize and of him demaund any question concerning his faith and knowledge, he shall not refuse to make answer vpon the same perill.”

Those who were found to “calumniate, detract, slander, murmur, mutinie, resist, disobey, or neglect” the officers’ commands also were to be whipped and ask forgiveness at the Sabbath service. The Puritans were said dreadfully to seek God; far greater must have been the dread of Virginia church folk; and in view of this severity it is not to be wondered that this law had to be issued as a pendant:

“No man or woman, vpon paine of death, shall rune away from the Colonie, to Powhathan or any savage Weroance else whatever.”

Bishop Meade, in his history of the Virginia church, tells of offenders who stood in church wrapped in white sheets with white wands in their hands; and other examples of public penance in the Southern colonies are known.

In 1639 Robert Sweet of Jamestown — “a gentleman” — appeared, wrapped in a white sheet, and did penance in church. In Lower Norfolk County, a white man and a black woman stood up together, dressed in white sheets and holding white wands in their hands.


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