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That Properly Belongs to Every Christian Man, 1708


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This 1708 record of Ann Walker's appearance before the governor and Council in Williamsburg documents one part of a continuing dispute between her and George Walker, her husband, over their religious beliefs and practices. A member of the Church of England who tried to attend services regularly, she faced opposition from her husband, whose religious beliefs are not clear from the surviving documents. He tried to prevent her from attending church, and he also wished to direct the religious education of their children. Husband and wife both complained to the governor and Council. She asked for full liberty to attend church, to pursue her religious beliefs, and to raise her children as members of the Church of England. He asked for confirmation of his authority as a father to direct the religious education of the children.
The governor and Council granted both requests in part. Ann Walker was allowed freedom to attend church as she wished, and George Walker, "as Long as he proffesses to Be a Christian and Continues in the Exercise of it," was allowed to direct the religious education of the children, retaining "that authority over his Children that properly Belongs to Every Christian man."

The Church of England was the established church in colonial Virginia, but many Virginians in 1708 were Presbyterians or Quakers, as some earlier Virginians had been Puritans and many later Virginians were Baptists or Methodists. The documents concerning the Walker family demonstrate the importance of religious beliefs among early Virginians, how differences of religious opinion could divide members of a family, how such important differences affected the religious education of children, and how families members might call on officers of the government to settle such controversies. In this instance, the authority of the husband prevailed over the wishes of the mother, even though the mother was the orthodox regular member of the Church of England and the father was not.

Directive to Ann Walker. 25 April 1708. Manuscript. RG 1, Colonial Papers. Library of Virginia.