Petty Crime Family in Early Virginia

Dateline Virginia, March 1661/2: A husband and wife with their two servants gets lashes for striking the High Sheriff. It’s one symptom of a dysfunctional family.

The excerpt speaks for itself.

Modernized transcription begins:

Upon the complaint of Col. Edmund Scarburgh, late High Sheriff of Northampton County on his Majesty’s behalf against John Alford and Elizabeth his wife, Teige Miskell and William Jump for rebellion and disobedience which this committee examining, and after a full hearing of all parties do report that we kind the said John Alford and Elizabeth his wife, both by full testimony, their own confession, and ill behavior before us, to be rebellious and insolent persons and guilty of wounding the said Col. Scarburgh, late High Sheriff, on the head and Teige Miskell  and William Jump disobedients [those who disobey]:

It is therefore ordered by this Grand Assembly for reforming the like disorders that the said Alford and Elizabeth his wife, with Teige Miskell and William Jump be returned by the same conduct that brought them to the County of Northampton and there to be delivered to the High Sheriff who is to take security of them for good behavior;

And at the next court held for the same county that the said John Alford shall receive thirty lashes on his bare back and Elizabeth  his wife twenty lashes and Teige Miskell and William Jump ten apiece, and the said John Alford pay all costs and charges for himself, wife and servants.

Transcription ends.

The Bible recommends a judge to sentence a criminal with lashes at the discretion of the judge (Deut. 25:2-3).

Do you favor this kind of punishment for certain crimes? If not, what punishment would you recommend?


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Ann Baynton, Abandoned Wife, Philadelphia, 1688

Henry Reynolds: Accused of Murder in Philadelphia, 1685

Peter Steward Is Caught Red-Handed in Chester County, PA

America’s first “Sherlock Holmes”: Philadelphia 1688-1690

One Troubled Servant in Chester County, Pennsylvania, 1685-1688


Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1659/60-1693, ed. H. R. McIlwaine (Richmond: 1914), p. 123

2 thoughts on “Petty Crime Family in Early Virginia

  1. I very much enjoyed your interesting recounting of this story as it is one I am familiar with. It is apiece of folklore I came across while researching my Alford line coming out of St.Peters Parish, New Kent County, VA, 17th century era. Not exactly sure if John is their blood kin, but this is the oral tradition that came down to me though Southern Iroquois tradition. It is believed that as you say this couple had a history of “run-ins” with local “law enforcement” of the day. A thorn in their side shall we say?? In this particular instance it is believed that they were speaking out against the Crown’s treatment of some local Native Americans and the Crown’s recent enslavements of local Natives. Were they related to this couple or too their servants perhaps?? Not exactly sure. But in this case it is possible this punishment was meant to silence their voice of free and unappreciated speech
    as much as teaching them a path to “better behavior.”


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