DMK Heritage

Understanding the Church of England will tell you where to find records and why.

Because we have been brought up in this country with separation of Church and State, we may not understand exactly what the Church of England (C of E) was and what its duties and responsibilities were during Colonial times.  Besides administering to the spiritual needs of its members, the clergyman, clerks and vestrymen of the Parish also served the community in much the same way as our modern county administrators, and health and welfare departments.  The clergy, his clerk and sometimes an actual tax collector, collected taxes.  The vestrymen (usually landed gentry) set the amount of tax and what it would be based on.  The C of E kept track of births (baptisms were sometimes taxed), marriages (always taxed) and deaths in the Parish Records.  Taxes were collected to run the church and take care of the poor.  Vestry Records contain lists of taxes collected and from whom (revenue); some deaths, and welfare information, such as payments to people caring for indigents; the church paying for caskets and burials for the indigent; the sick, disabled or orphans being placed in peoples homes with an allowance for their care; etc.; also, various donations to the church, and craftsmen who worked on the church (expenses).

Starting with the 1662--Act of the Assembly: Ministers were required to prove that they were ordained by an English bishop, and all others were prohibited from teaching or preaching, publicly or privately. * (One instance was in 1682 when Francis Makemie, a Presbyterian minister landed in New England; preached a sermon; and was jailed within "a very short period of time".)

Religion in colonies was established by law; the union of church and state put the church under the political control of the state.  All people living within the British sovereignty were members of the Church of England (C of E) and were subject to taxation by them.  (The exception was the Quakers.  Several Quaker Land Grants stated that on that particular piece of land the Quakers could practice their faith. To my knowledge this was not granted to any other religion and not all Quaker grants included this clause.)

Minimum requirements of the C of E were that you had to attend church at least once each quarter, had to be baptized and married in The Church, and had to pay taxes or Tithes to The Church.

Virginia was one of the more stanch C of E states.  Unlike Maryland, (who accepted Quaker marriages) Virginia would not accept ANY marriage not conducted by the C of E as legal.  This caused problems, some couples could not afford the marriage tax, some were simply too far from a C of E and some did not want to be married by the state.  This is why in some cemeteries you will find a woman designated as Mary Smith, Cohort (consort) of John Smith.  They were not married in the C of E and thus she could not legally be considered his wife.  You will also find this term in wills. (Also, a relic is a widow.)

Written by Doris Christian — May 24, 2013