In 2020, St. John’s participated in a panel discussion in support of the Walking toward Truth pilgrimage in the Diocese of Southern Virginia. This pilgrimage was part of the 1619 Project – commemorating the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved people in the colonies at Point Comfort Virginia.
As part of the pilgrimage and panel discussion we were invited to reflect on our Parish’s connection to slavery. It should be noted, St. John’s and the people in Chuckatuck Parish were reflective of the society and its practices. We recognize where we come from so that we might lead the way to where we, as a church and as a nation, should be as representatives of our God. These items below, are reflections from our records that are being developed in greater detail if possible.
West, Chuckatuck, Suffolk Parish
- Suffolk, especially north of Reid’s Ferry (modern), in the area originally identified as Lower Parish and West Parish (later as Suffolk Parish), was farmland with many large farms or possibly plantations or other labor intensive business (marl pits, lumber harvesting and processing, oyster gathering, etc.). This heritage would have lent itself to the predominant practices of the 17th through 19th centuries – namely slavery or servanthood.
- As background: the sheriff of each Parish, Vestry, and Clergyman were representatives of the colonial government, and by extension the Crown. With this as social context, there was disparity in the treatment of slaves as demonstrated in an act recorded in March 1642/3 (ACT XLI) regarding requirements for carrying firearms and shot to weekly worship. Of note, the punishment for failure to comply was “10 pounds tobacco for every master of a family so offending… and servants being ordered and omitting… up to 20 lashes on his or their bared shoulders…”
St. John’s History binder
- Suffolk county was founded in 1642. There were three Parishes: Upper (now St. Paul’s), Lower (now Glebe), and West (now St. John’s).
- Records exist that Lower and West Parish were merged in approximately 1725 into Suffolk Parish.
- There was an existing glebe (farm) in Lower Parish at the establishment of Suffolk. The glebe appears to have been donated to Upper Norfolk Parish (predecessor of Suffolk/Nansemond county) by Percival Champion. The glebe was about 450 acres. Over 300 acres of the glebe still exists.
- The glebe was held by the Parish for the minister. This glebe was a farm that supplemented the income of the minister, through crops and livestock. The parsonage was located on the glebe.
- In 1766, the Vestry of Suffolk Parish was paid 600 pounds by Mr. George Parker in relief of the annuity established by Richard Bennett. The trust included the “negro and mulatto slaves” from which, 30 pounds annually was supposed to be given to support the poor of the parish.
Parish Vestry Book 1749-1856
- On page 8, there was an entry confirming #5.
- On page 9, there is listing of the 83 slaves that were disposed through the execution of Richard Bennett’s will.
Parish Register 1894
- In the Baptism section, on pages 96-99, there are records of the baptism of 20 people. 19 of those 20 people are identified with a Christian Name and no surname and have parents who were servants of someone. These baptisms occurred between July 1844 and August 1845.
- On page 102-103, there are two females who were baptized only having a Christian Name. It is not clear if these females were servants or recordkeeping was deficient in indicating their surname. Specifically, the girls were identified as: Alice Macrae and Mary Macrae and their sponsors were “Mrs. Sallie Hatton and Mrs. Macrae.”
- In the Burials section, on page 296, there are 3 entries between May and September 1849 that list “3 servants of J. H. Godwin, 2 servants of J. H. Godwin, 19 servants of Daniel H. Hatton, Nancy Stokely of J. & Agnes Pinner.” It is clear that the Parish buried 24 and possibly 25 servants of its members during that period. Those burials took place on the family properties: Pembroke, at Stockley, at Jeremiah Pinner’s.