How to Become a Citizen in Earliest Virginia

Dateline: 1666 and 1667. One had to take certain steps to become a citizen, including belonging to the right religion and having a trade.

A denizen is an alien who is admitted to the right of citizenship. They had to take the Oath of Allegiance and the Oath of Supremacy.

Also, back then and in Old Europe, the Catholic kings of Spain and France and the pope were eager to stamp out Protestantism. The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) was a free-for-all between Catholics and Protestants and devastated Europe, particularly Germany.

So the Protestant colonists were scared to allow Catholics into their fragile start-up.

Today Catholics and Protestants no longer fight each other, fortunately. Can anyone guess which religion is the biggest threat? Hint: click on submit.

Modernized transcription begins:

Whereas John Petit, a Frenchman by birth but an ancient inhabitant of the Country whereof his marriage abode, children, many services and approved fidelity have justly made him reputed a member, have petitioned that he might be admitted into a stricter tie of obedience to his sacred Majesty by being made denizen of this Country—It is by the Governor, Council and Burgesses of this grand Assembly granted and ordered that the said John Petit be made a free denizen of this his Majesty’s Country of Virginia and thereby vested and indulged in all such freedoms, liberties, privileges and immunities whatsoever as any denizen is capable of by law or by his Majesty’s gracious declaration or anything therefrom justly inferred, provided the said Petit take the Oaths of Supremacy and Allegiance to his Majesty before his Majesty’s Commissioners in the Court of that County where he inhabits.

Whereas John Martin, a Dane by birth and a boatwright by trade, has long lived in this Country and truly and honestly behaved himself towards his Majesty and all his liege people and having full resolutions to make his constant abode in this Country, has petitioned he might be admitted a denizen, It is by the Governor, Council and Burgesses of this Grand Assembly granted and ordered that the said John Martin be made a free denizen of this Country of Virginia and thereby vested and indulged with all such freedoms, liberties, privileges, and immunities whatsoever as any denizen is capable of by law or by his Majesty’s gracious declaration or anything therefrom justly inferred provided the said John Martin take the Oaths of Supremacy and Allegiance to his Majesty before his Majesty’s Commissioners in the Court of that County where he inhabits.

Whereas Andrew Herbert, a Dutchman by birth, long since removed himself, his family, and Estate from Monadas into this Country and here purchased a plantation and thereupon lived and resolved here to live and die his Majesty’s faithful subject, has petitioned he might be admitted a denizen of this Country—It is by the Governor, Council, and Burgesses of this Grand Assembly, granted and Ordered that the said Andrew Herbert be made a free denizen of this Country etc. ut in Aliis.

Whereas William Martin, a Dutchman by birth, long since removed himself, his family and estate from Delaware Bay into this Country and here purchased a plantation and has since lived in this Country and truly and honestly behaved himself towards his Majesty and liege people and having full resolution to live and die in this Country, has petitioned he might be admitted a denizen of this Country. It is ordered by etc.

Whereas Peter Godson a Frenchman by birth hath long since lived in this Country a servant and a freeman and of the reformed Religion and truly and honestly behaved himself towards his Majesty and his laws and here purchased Land and married an English woman and has here three children by her and having full resolution to make his constant abode in this Country and to live and die his Majesty’s subject has petitioned he might be admitted a Denizen thereof—It is Ordered by etc.

Whereas John de Young, by birth a Dutchman, has long since lived in this Country a freeman and servant and of the Reformed Religion and truly and faithfully demeaned [right demeanor or behavior] himself towards his Majesty and laws and here purchased land and married an English woman and had many children by her and having full resolution to make his constant abode in this Country and to live and die his Majesty’s faithful subject, has petitioned he might be admitted a denizen thereof—It is by the Governor, Council, and Burgesses of this Grand Assembly granted and ordered that the said John De Young be made a free denizen, ut in Aliis, etc.

Whereas Cornelius Noel has long lived in this Country servant and freeman and of the Reformed Religion and taken up land with a full resolution to make his constant abode in this Country and to demean [live in right demeanor or behavior] himself as a true and faithful servant towards his Majesty and his liege people, has petitioned he might be admitted a denizen of this Country—It is by the Governor, Council, and Burgesses of this Grand Assembly granted and ordered that the said Cornelius Noel be made a free denizen ut in Aliis etc.

….

Whereas Bertrain, a servant alien born, has long lived in this County servant and freeman and of the Reformed Religion, who has a full resolution to make his abode and to demean [live in right demeanor, behave himself] himself as his Majesty’s true and faithful subject has petitioned that he might be admitted a denizen of this Country—It is ordered by the Governor, Council and Burgesses of this Grand Assembly and granted that the said Bertrain, servant, be made a free denizen of this his Majesty’s Country of Virginia and thereby vested and indulged with freedoms, liberties, privileges, and immunities whatsoever any denizen is capable of by law or his Majesty’s gracious declaration or anything therefrom justly inferred provided the said servant take the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy to his Majesty before his Majesty’s Commanders in the Court of that County where he inhabits.

Transcription ends.

Those examples show at least five steps to becoming a citizen.

(1) They applied to become citizens;

(2) They were productive in farming or a trade;

(3) They were law-abiding and of good character;

(4) They were settled and married though some of the examples show single servants applying and getting citizenship;

(5) They had to belong to the right religion (Protestantism).

Then the fledgling government accepted them.

On that last point, a hundred and twenty years later, the constitutional Founders decided to insert religious freedom in the First Amendment. The Sixth Amendment says that the test act (really aimed at Catholics) is not required to hold public office.

Journal of the House of Burgesses, 1619-1776, vol. 2, (1659/60-1693), ed. H. R. MciLwaine, Richmond: 1914, pp. 41-42, 51.

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