An odd factoid for an odd afternoon

I’m wrapping up in the Library of Virginia; I have only a few days left and I’m busy solving small problems. One thing I’m thinking about is a manuscript I recently read on microfilm (Bodleian Library Class Tanner MSS 447, if you must know) and transcribed. It is entitled An Act for the Baptizing and Better Ordering of Negroes & Infidals in the King of Englands Plantations in America. Naturally, I was very excited by this find, which from context appears to be a draft bill originating in Parliament. It is, however, undated. The Virginia Colonial Records Project surveyors gave it a date of 1619, but this makes no sense: there was no sitting Parliament in 1619. James I’s most recent Parliament at that point (the Addled Parliament of 1614) had been dissolved after only a few months, and James would not call another Parliament until 1621. So 1619 is out.

So I’m trying to date this thing, and in my notes I found reference to the Commonwealth Parliament that Cromwell called in 1653 after he dissolved the Rump (the vestigial remains of the Long Parliament). One of this Parliament’s members, an MP from London, was a lay preacher of varied and odd theology named Praise-God Barebone. Praise-God’s brother had an even more unfortunate name: “If-Christ-had-not-died-for-you-you-had-been-damned Barebone.” Folks apparently couldn’t get their tongues around that name and instead referred to him as Damned Barebone. (Couldn’t his parents have gone easy on him and named him Habbakuk? or Zerubbabel? You know, something nice and easy.) The 1653 Parliament was thus known as Barebones Parliament.

Ah, English radical religion of the seventeenth century. Where would we be without it?

Of course my draft bill couldn’t have originated in the Barebones Parliament. The draft clearly indicates this is a bill originating from the King-in-Parliament, and in 1653 there was no king. I personally suspect that the draft comes from Charles II’s first Parliament, which sat from 1661-1679. The bill itself references slavery, which did not legally exist in 1619, and a bill from that Parliament would be contemporaneous with colonial legislation about the baptism of slaves.

This was all a way for me to tell my readers all about Praise-God Barebone and his unfortunately named brother. 🙂

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