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The Laws of Virginia (1610-1611)

Whereas his Majesty, like himself a most zealous prince, has in his own realms a principal care of true religion and reverence to God and has always strictly commanded his generals and governors, with all his forces wheresoever, to let their ways be, like his ends, for the glory of God.

And forasmuch as no good service can be performed, or were well managed, where military discipline is not observed, and military discipline cannot be kept where the rules or chief parts thereof be not certainly set down and generally know, I have, with the advice and counsel of Sir Thomas Gates, Knight, Lieutenant-General, adhered unto the laws divine and orders politic and martial of his lordship, the same exemplified, as addition of such others as I found either the necessity of the present state of the colony to require or the infancy and weakness of the body thereof as yet able to digest, and do now publish them to all persons in the colony, that they may as well take knowledge of the laws themselves as of the penalty and punishment, which, without partiality, shall be inflicted upon the breakers of the same.

  1. First, Since we owe our highest and supreme duty, our greatest, and all our allegiance to him from whom all power and authority is derived and flows as from the first and only fountain, and being especial soldiers impressed in this sacred cause, we must alone expect our success from him, who is only the blesser of all good attempts, the king of kings, the commander of commanders, and lord of hosts, I do strictly command and charge all captains and officers, of what quality or nature soever, whether commanders in the field or in town or towns, forts or fortresses, to have a care that the Almighty God be duly and daily served and that they call upon their people to hear sermons, as that also they diligently frequent morning and evening prayer themselves by their own exemplar and daily life and duty herein, encouraging others thereunto, and that such who shall often and willfully absent themselves be duly punished according to the martial law in that case provided.

  2. That no man speak impiously or maliciously against the holy and blessed Trinity or any of the three persons, that is to say, against God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, or against the known articles of the Christian faith, upon pain of death.

  3. That no man blaspheme God's holy name upon pain of death, or use unlawful oaths, taking the name of God in vain, curse, or bane upon pain of severe punishment for the first offense so committed and for the second to have a bodkin thrust through his tongue; and if he continue the blaspheming of God's holy name, for the third time so offending, he shall be brought to a martial court and there receive censure of death of his offense.

  4. No man shall use any traitorous words against his Majesty's person or royal authority, upon pain of death.

  5. No man shall speak any word or do any act which may tend to the derision or despite of God's holy word, upon pain of death; nor shall any man unworthily demean himself unto any preacher or minister of the same, but generally hold them in all reverent regard and dutiful entreaty; otherwise he the offender shall openly be whipped three times and ask public forgiveness in the assembly of the congregation three several Sabbath days.

  6. Every man and woman duly, twice a day upon the first tolling of the bell, shall upon the working days repair unto the church to hear divine service upon pain of losing his or her day's allowance for the first omission, for the second to be whipped, and for the third to be condemned to the galleys for six months. Likewise, no man or woman shall dare to violate or break the Sabbath by any gaming, public or private abroad or at home, but duly sanctify and observe the same, both himself and his family, by preparing themselves at home with private prayer that they may be the better fitted for the public, according to the commandments of God and the orders of our church. As also every man and woman shall repair in the morning to the divine service and sermons preached upon the Sabbath day in the afternoon to divine service and catechizing, upon pain for the first fault to lose their provision and allowance for the whole week following, for the second to lose the said allowance and also to be whipped, and for the third to suffer death.

  7. All preachers and ministers within this our colony or colonies shall, in the forts where they are resident, after divine service, duly preach every Sabbath day in the forenoon and catechise in the afternoon and weekly say the divine service twice every day and preach every Wednesday. Likewise, every minister where he is resident, within the same fort or fortress, towns or town, shall choose unto him four of the most religious and better disposed as well to inform of the abuses and neglects of the people in their duties and service of God, as also to the due reparation and keeping of the church handsome and fitted with all reverent observances thereunto belonging. Likewise, every minister shall keep a faithful and true record of church book of all christenings, marriages, and deaths of such our people as shall happen within their fort or fortress, towns or town, at any time, upon the burden of a neglectful conscience and upon pain of losing their entertainment.

  8. He that, upon pretended malice, shall murder or take away the life of any man, shall be punished with death.

  9. No man shall commit the horrible and detestable sins of sodomy, upon pain of death; and he or she that can be lawfully convict of adultery shall be punished with death. No man shall ravish or force any woman, maid or Indian, or other, upon pain of death; and know that he or she that shall commit fornication, and evident proof made thereof, for their first fault shall be whipped, for their second they shall be whipped, and for their third they shall be whipped three times a week for one month and ask public forgiveness in the assembly of the congregation.

  10. No man shall be found guilty of sacrilege, which is a trespass as well committed in violating and abusing any sacred ministry, duty, or office of the church irreverently or prophanely, as by being a church robber to filch, steal, or carry away anything out of the church appertaining thereunto or unto any holy and consecrated place to the divine service of God, which no man shall do upon pain of death. Likewise, he that shall rob the store of any commodities therein of what quality soever, whether provisions of victuals, or of arms, trucking stuff, apparel, linen, or woolen, hose or shoes, hats or caps, instruments or tools of steel, iron, etc., or shall rob from his fellow soldier or neighbor anything that is his, victuals, apparel, household stuff, tool, or what necessary else soever, by water or land, out of boat, house, or knapsack, shall be punished with death. . . .

  11. Every minister or preacher shall, every Sabbath day before catechising, read all these laws and ordinances publicly in the assembly of the congregation upon pain of his entertainment checked for that week.

From "Articles, Lawes, and Orders, Divine, Politique, and Martiall for the Colony of Virginea," in William Strachey, For the Colony in Virginea Britannia: Lawes, Divine, Morall and Martiall, Etc. (London: Walter Barre, 1612), 1-7, 19