When Grand Juries Attack…

…and fail miserably in their mission of rooting out vice and raising revenue for the parish:

Thomas Chisman Sr being presented by the g. jury for not goeing to Church the Court being well satisfted that he is incapacitated by deafness is excused…Thomas Tyler having been presented by the g. jury for not comeing to church the Court being informed that he is antient & unable to travel is therefore excused. Thomas Overstreet this day appeared to answer the presentmt of the g. jury agst him for not comeing to church & alledged that he for a long time since hath been so deaf he could not understand what the parson said is therefore excused. Wm Rylands appearing to answer the presentmt of the g. jury agst him for not comeing to church according to law & acquainted the Court that he had been at Kicquotan Church within the time by law appointed & they finding what he alledged to be true is discharged.

After 1705, Virginia’s General Court insisted that county courts enforce laws mandating church attendance at least once every quarter. It seems, though, that either this particular grand jury was a bit overzealous in seeking out those who did not attend church, or the accused were becoming more creative in their attempts to evade the fine. One question: if one is too deaf to hear the parson, is one also too deaf to understand the court proceedings?

Source: York County Court Records, XIII, fol. 153-154 (26 July 1708)

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