The court records abound in curiosities in the way of cases tried before the courts. The courts were strict, and did their best to preserve order, and never failed to administer justice to the best of their ability. The scandal-monger, liar, slanderer, and the common scold fared badly. I have only time for an instance or two, which must have been amusing to those not implicated, who beheld the execution of the sentences. For instance, Goody (or Goodwife) Curtis, the wife of John Curtis, tried to milk her cow one evening in the pen of Thomas Powell. At the same time Goody Powell was milking her cow. Goody Curtis’s cow, being a young one, not gentle, and not used to being milked in that pen, would not standstill, and disturbed Goody Powell, who lost patience and began to abuse Mrs. Curtis, calling her hard names, and the like, to which Mrs. Curtis replied but little, which seemed to exasperate Mrs. Powell so much that she proceeded to slap Mrs. Curtis’s face; whereupon Mrs. Curtis left the pen, cow, and all, in “high dudgeon,” and had Mrs. Powell arrested, who was sentenced to deliver one pot of sweet milk per day to John Curtis, for his use or any other, for sixty days, at the cowpen of Thomas Powell, and publicly to ask Mrs. Curtis’s forgiveness.
Robert Wyard slandered Mrs. Alice Travellor, the wife of George Travellor, “insomuch that he liked to have taken away the reputation of the said Alice.” He was arrested, tried, and sentenced to appear in a white sheet, with a white wand in his hand, three several Sabbath days, in church, during the whole time of divine worship, and to ask Mrs. Travellor’s forgiveness.
This Mrs. Travellor must have been a fascinating woman. She was married four times, and in each instance to a very prominent colonist: first, to Geo. Travellor; second, to William Burdette; third, to Captain Peter Walker; and fourth, to Major-General John Custis. She died about 1658 or 1660. Of Wm. Burdette there is an item such as is seldom seen in the court records: ” George Scovell did lay a wager with Mr. Mountney (10£ sterling to 5£), calling us to witness the same, that Mr. Burdette should not marry the Widow Saunders while they lived in Virginia; and, not content, but would wager 4o£ sterling to 1o£ sterling more that Mr. Wm. Burdette should never marry the Widow Saunders.” He might have done well, possibly, to have followed Mr. Weller’s advice to his son Samuel: “Samivil, my son Samivil, bevare of vidders.”
Henry Charlton disliked the Rev. William Cotton, the rector of Hunger’s parish. One day at church he remarked that “if he had Mr. Cotton without the churchyard, he would kick him over the Palysadoes and calling of him black-coated raskall.” For this he was sentenced “to build a pair of stocks and set in them 3 several Sabbath days at the church door during the time of Divine service, and there ask Mr. Cotton’s forgiveness publicly.”
Joane Butler and Marie Drewe got to quarreling one day; naughty words passed between them, a regular case of “the pot calling the kettle black.” Edward Drewe caused Joane’s arrest, and upon trial she was sentenced to repeat a full and formal retraction verbatim, after the minister, in church, between the first and second lessons, upon the next Sabbath, or else be drawn across King’s Creek, from one cowpen to the other, at the “starne” of a boat or “canew.” She would not retract; and was drawn across the creek, for Thomas Butler, Joane’s husband, caused Marie Drewe’s arrest, and upon trial the same sentence was meted out, “or else she was to undergo the same punishment which Joane Butler hath suffered.”
Robert Wyard stole a pair of pantaloons, and was sentenced to appear in church during the whole time of worship for three Sundays with a pair of breeches tied around his neck, and with the word “Thief” written upon his back.
These were slight offences, but heavier ones sometimes occurred, and then the criminals were sent to Jamestown to be tried by the Governor and Council, who constituted the Court of Appeals.
Source: Upshur, Thomas. Eastern-Shore History; An Address Delivered at Accomack Courthouse on June 19, 1900, Being the Occasion of the Dedication of the New Courthouse at that Place. Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. Bound Edition, Year Ending June, 1902.