More than a half-century ago, C. G. Chamberlayne, under the sponsorship of the Virginia State Library, transcribed, edited, and indexed a number of original Virginia parish vestry books, four of which are reprinted here. While the dates of coverage and lengths of the volumes vary, they are nonetheless similar in terms of scope and content. Each volume contains the oldest known records pertaining to that parish, in most cases beginning only a few years following the parish’s date of formation. The Vestry Book of Petsworth Parish, Gloucester County, starts in 1677, only a decade or so after the establishment of Petsworth in 1665. The Petsworth volume is steeped in Virginia history inasmuch as Gloucester County was a hotbed of Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676.
Mr. Chamberlayne begins each vestry book with an Introduction that pieces together the formation of the parish and important milestones in its history from published and original sources. Facsimilies of pages from the original vestry books, maps, and photographs help to put each volume into greater context, moreover. Appended to the vestry books are brief lists of the various parish ministers, with an indication of their earliest date of service as found in the records. The transcriptions themselves, ranging from about 250 to more than 600 pages of text, relate to the following issues growing out of the business affairs of colonial parish vestries; namely, payments to persons for services rendered to the parish, oaths and lists of oath-takers, news of the arrival of ministers, the appointment of church wardens, issues related to indentured servants, lists of tithables, payment of salaries and other obligations, the formation of parish precincts with the names of the families apportioned therein, the warding of children, and so on. In each case, these four scarce collections of colonial church records establish the existence of thousands of Virginia inhabitants, each of whom is easily found in the index or indexes at the back of the book.
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