What Was Function of Church Wardens in Colonial Virginia?

Church history is a wide net that catches not just the famous preachers and theologians and the political reactions they caused. Here is an English-American gentleman who soon became a church warden. What did they do exactly?

He happens to be a distant ancestor, but that’s not the point of the post. Rather, let’s learn what he did as a church warden.

THE BASICS

William Clopton was born in 1655 in Eastwood County, Essex, England, the son of Rev. William Clopton and Elizabeth Sutcliffe. He died between September 29, 1731 and October 29, 1732, in New Kent County, Virginia, closer to the latter date, in 1632. He married Ann Booth Dennett before January 24, 1689/90.

In a vestry record dated 29 Sep 1731, William Clopton is paid 600 pounds of tobacco for keeping Charles Barker. Yet in another vestry record dated 29 Oct 1732, Clopton’s executors are mentioned, though unnamed. So we know he died between those dates (see below).

The fact that he has executors to see the probate through means he left a will. Unfortunately the records in New Kent County were destroyed in a fire, many decades later.

A deposition dated April 24, 1685 says that William Clopton is 30 years old, which means he was born in 1655 (slightly edited): “The deposition of William Clopton aged about thirty years sayeth” (see below for the rest)….

In a deposition by Elizabeth Cole, dated April 24, 1683 (see below), Ann Clopton implies that her husband William Clopton is poor—though poor in comparison to Capt Archer. This may simply be rhetoric spoken at the moment of disappointment in court. Also, that was Elizabeth Cole’s report of what Mrs. Clopton was alleged to have said.

The Register of St. Peter’s Parish says: “Ann Clopton, wife of Mr. Wm. Clopton, departed this life March 4th, 1716” (p. 57).

William and Ann were Anglicans. They are buried in the churchyard of St. Peter’s Parish, New Kent County.

WILLIAM CLOPTON’S CHURCH RECORDS

William Clopton was a prominent leader in church life and governance of St. Peter’s Parish, often serving as the clerk, church warden, and vestryman.

Please see these links to the Vestry Book and do a ctrl-f name search on Clopton:

https://archive.org/stream/vestrybooksaint00vagoog/vestrybooksaint00vagoog_djvu.txt

The pdf file of the Vestry Book may be easier to read; also do a ctrl-f name search on Clopton:

https://ia802702.us.archive.org/2/items/vestrybooksaint00vagoog/vestrybooksaint00vagoog.pdf

If either of those two links go dead, google search: text vestry st peter’s parish.

For the records of the Register of the parish, please click on either of these two links:

http://www.archive.org/details/parishregisterofOOstpe

https://archive.org/stream/parishregisterof00stpe/parishregisterof00stpe_djvu.txt

Do a ctrl-f search on Clopton

If either of those links go dead, do a google search: text register st peter’s parish

For a shortcut to only the Cloptons appearing in the Register, please click on this post (onsite):

Clopton Birth, Marriage and Death Records in St. Peter’s Parish, New Kent Co., Virginia

Here are the highlights of the entries, omitting some repetitive data:

5 Jan 1695

Wm Clopton attends vestry meeting

10 Apr 1696

“it is ordered that Mr. Gideon Macon & Mr. William Clopton do officiate as Church wardens of this parish two years ensuing the date hereof in the room [place] & stead of Capt. John Lydall & Mr. John Parks, who have officiated the time aforesaid.”

16 Nov 1696

Wm Clopton is the church warden; and this entry in the vestry book is repeated on 19 Jan 169-;

18 Dec 1697

“Capt. Thomas Bray is elected to be one of the vestry of this parish in place and of Will Clopton who was this day chosen clark [clerk] of the vestry & requested to be at the next vestry to take the oath according to law & and that the clark give him notice thereof.”

We now know he went by the nickname “Will,” as so many other Williams did.

The next several entries (many are omitted)  show him carrying out his clerical duties.

3 Oct 1698

To Will Clopton, clk …………………… 2289

He got that many pounds of tobacco for his services

Same date: “Will Clopton this day sworn Clark of this vestry”

Same date:  “Whereas at a vestry held for this parish on the 27 Sept’. 1697 it was ordered that Mr. Gideon Macon, Mr. John Roper, and Will Clopton should meet such Gen’l [gentlemen] as the vestry of Blissland parish should appoint & remark the line between the two parishes, which order hath not yet been executed.

25 Nov 1700

In an account list:

To Clopton, his acct. for recording proclamations and drawing over the lists of tithables …… 0220

Same date

Ordered that William Clopton be continued clerk of that parish and vestry for this insuing year and to be paid accordingly.

William Clopton being appointed Surveyor of the highways in the place and stead of Stephen Crump and aploying [applying] himself to defray for help to do the work is ordered those tithables following, viz. Capt. Thomas Bray, Stephen Mitchell, Stephen Nichol, Jr., Will Forgison [Ferguson], William Crump, William Bourne, Stephen Crump, Richard Crump, the widow Crump’s tithables, Pelham More and John Crump Jr., all which did formeraly belong to Stephen Crump’s precincts.”

22 Oct 1701

To William Clopton, Cla’k for one year ……….. 2289

To William Clopton for Record procla. …………. 110

“The Parish Levy being proportioned amounts to eighty four pounds of tobacco p polo [sic], which same of eighty-four pounds of tobacco William Clopton is hereby ordered and empowered to collect and receive from each and every tithable person in this parish and in case of nonpayment to Levy the same by distress and that the same Clopton give bond to the Church wardens of the said collection.”

Ordered that Will. Clopton be continued cl’k of this parish and vestry for this ensuing year and to be pad as formerly.

23 Sep 1702

At the house of Mr. John Park, Jr.

To Wm Clopton, cl’k for one year ……………. 2289

To Wm. Clopton, miscast last year, 128 C.C., 101…. 829

Ordered that Mr. Wm. Clopton be continued clerk for the ensuing year and to be paid as usual.

1 June 1704

“Pursuant to an Act of Assembly made at a General Assembly begun the 20th April 1704 for the division of this parish the freeholders and housekeepers of this said parish who are Capt. Richard Littlepage, Mr. Geo. Poindexter, Mr. Will Bassett, Mr. Rich’d Allen, Mr. Thomas Butts, Jr., William Clopton, Col. John Lightfoot, Mr. John Forster, Mr. John Parke, Jr., Mr. John Scott, Mr. Thomas Massie, Mr. William Waddell, who have accordingly taken the oaths pointed [sic] by law subscribed to the Test and to be conformable to the doctrine and discipline  of the Church of England, all the above gentlemen except Mr. William Bassett and Mr. John Parke, Jr. sworn before Col. Joseph Forster.”

14 June 1704

William Clopton not any way relinquishing or foregoing the place and office of a vestryman is continued clerk of this vestry and parish till the 1st day January next, and to be paid as formerly.”

29 Aug 1704

In an accounts list:

To Wm. Clopton, clerk for 5 months ……… 893

1 Nov 1704

Col. John Lightfoot, Mr. Wm. Waddill, Mr. Wm. Bassett, Mr. Rich’d Allen, Mr. John Park, Jr., Mr. Tho. Massey, Mr. John Forster, Mr. Wm. Clopton, vestrymen.

In an accounts list:

To Wm Clopton, Clerk, for 7 months ……. 1394

To Wm Clopton p acct. …………………… 100

6 Jan 1704

Ordered that Wm. Clopton be clerk of this vestry & to be paid five hundred pounds of tobacco p annum.

Church wardens: Wm Clopton, Geo. Poindexter.

Wm. Clopton, one of the surveyors of this county, applying himself to this vestry for help to clear the Road in his precinct is ordered all the tithables belonging to those persons following, viz. Madd. Sarah Bray, Dan’l Park, Esq., Ju’r Ashew, Stephen Mitchell, James Crump, Wm. Burrow, Stephen Mitchell, Jr., Wm. Forgasen [Ferguson], Robt. Crump, Wm. Crump, John Waddill, Jr., Rich’d Crump, Stephen Crump, Chas. Barker, Thos. Shroasby, Eliza Crump, widow, & Thos. Brigman

John Scott, Thos. Massey, John Park, Jr., Wm Clopton, Wm Waddill, Geo. Pointexter, Ric’d Allen, Wm Bassett, Church wardens

14 June 1704

“William Clopton not in any way relinquishing or foregoing the place and office of vestryman, but that he is continued in the full power and office of a vestryman is continued Clerk of this vestry and parish till the 1st day of January next, and to be paid as formerly.”

8 May 1707

Mr. William Clopton is elected church warden to assist Mr. Richard Allen the ensuing year, according to an order of Vestry, etc.

6 Nov 1710

In an accounts list:

To Mr. Wm Clopton, Sr., his acco. Allowed ……. 0093

This is the first time that Mr. Clopton is referred to as “Sr.”

To Mr. Clopton, Jr., his acct. allowed ……. 0633

21 Nov 1715

In an accounts list:

To Wm. Clopton Jr. Acct. Allowed ………………. 539

29 Sep 1719

To Thomas Weaver for Jane Price, Walter Clopton etc. 275 – Elizabeth Harris 458

This is the first time that Walter Clopton appears in the records.

Same date

“Ordered that Walter Clopton deliver unto Rich’d Allen and Mr. William Clopton, church wardens, the servant man’s mare, which come out of Essex County and that the said church wardens detain the said mare until such time as the owners of her make satisfaction unto the parish for the sum of two hundred and seventy five pounds of tobacco, which was allowed the said Walter Clopton by the vestry for burying and other charges of Thomas Burdenwin or else to pay cash for the said 275 pounds of tobacco at twenty shillings p[er] hundred.”

This is the first time Walter and William appear in the same record. (And at least we know that a hundred pounds of tobacco is the equivalent to twenty shillings.)

20 Oct 1720

Ordered that Mr. Wm. Waddill be church warden in the room [place] of Mr. Wm. Clopton, Sr.

So begins Mr. Clopton’s decline in leadership—he’s pulling back. However, in later meetings he may be attending. It’s difficult to sort out William Sr. from William Jr.

20 July 1722

“Mr. Wm Macon and Mr. Walter Clopton having first taken the oaths according to Law were appointed Vestrymen of the said Parish, having taken the oaths in that case appointed.”

This is the first time that Walter is recorded as being appointed vestryman.

20 Dec 1722

In a list of names attesting to a church meeting, father and son are named:

Hen. Colling, John Scott, Thos. Massie, Rich’d Allen, Wm. Clopton, Eben’r Adams, Wm Macon, Wm Wadill, Will Clopton

30 Sep 1723

Mr. Henry Collings, Minster

Maj. John Scott, Mr. George Poindexter, Mr. Thos. Massie, Mr. Eben. Adams, Mr. Wm Macon, Wm Clopton, Wm Wadell, Walter Clopton. Mr. John Parke, Mr. Thomas Butts, Ch. wardens

This is the first time that father and son appear together as vestrymen, though Wm. could be Walter’s brother.

7 Apr 1724

In a list of names called witnesses to the church proceedings (Wm. could be Walter’s brother):

Henry Collings, Minister; Thos. Massie, Will’m Macon, Wm Clopton, Rich’d Allen, Wm Waddill, Walt’r Clopton.

13 June 1724

Mr. Charles Massie & Mr. Walter Clopton are appointed to view and number Tob’co plants according to law: from the long bridge upon Chickehominy Swamp along the main Road by Mr. Adams’ to the Burnt mill & down black creek by the mouth thereof & to the extent of the parish upward.

Mr. Robt. Clopton & Mr. David Pettison are appointed to view & number tobo. Plants as aforesaid from Mr. Thomas’s Store along the main road by Col. Scott & so to Alex’r Pattison the full breadth of the parish to Black Creek.

17 June 1725

The previous order is repeated.

12 Apr 1726, Easter Sunday

Minister: Mr. John Lang

Vestryman: Mr. Eben’r Adams, Capt. Wm Macon, Mr. John Netherland, Mr. Wm. Clopton, Mr. Wm Waddill, Mr. Walter Clopton;

Church warden: Capt. Thos. Massie

Mr.William Clopton could be Walter’s brother.

But then on the same date, 12 Apr 1726, they appear together as church wardens.

And they are vestrymen together on 19 June 1726 and 24 June 1727; but on 13 June 1727 they appear in the same list as church wardens.

12 Apr 1726 (same date as above)

Mr. Charles Massie and Mr. Walter Clopton are ordered and appointed to view and number tobacco plants according to law the Long Bridge upon Chickahominy Swamp along the main road by Mr. Adams’s to the burnt mill and so down Black Cr. to the mouth thereof and so to the extent of the parish upwards.

Mr. Robert Clopton and Mr. David Pattison are ordered and appointed to view and number tobacco plants according to law from Mr. Thomas’s former store along the main road by Col. Scott’s and so to Alex’r Pattison’s. So to the extent of the parish downwards.

19 June 1726

The previous order is repeated.

29 Sep 1726

In an accounts list:

To Rich’d Crump for work at the Church, Wm. Clopton, Jr. his acct. 172 ½ …… 372 ½

24 June 1727

At a vestry held, Mr. William Clopton and Mr. Walter Clopton are found in the same list of church wardens, and then on the same date their names appear together.

This William is probably Walter’s brother, not his father.

14 Oct 1727

Mr. David Mossom, Minister

Mr. Eben’r Adams, Mr. Thos. Butts, Mr. Wm Waddell, Capt. Wm Marston, Mr. Wm. Clopton, Mr. Walter Clopton, Vestrymen.

Capt. Wm. Macon and Mr. Wm. Browne, Church wardens.

“Ordered that Elizabeth Taylor be allowed 700 pounds of tobacco per annum for keeping May Hazzard.

Signed by David Mossom, Eben’r Adams, Wm. Marston, Thos. Butts, Wm. Clopton, Wm. Waddill, Walt. Clopton, Vestrymen. Will Macon, W. Browne, Ch. wardens”

William here could be the son of William Sr.

23 Apr. 1728

William Clopton is said to be getting old and cannot fulfill his duties as vestryman of St. Peter’s Parish in New Kent County:

Mr. Wm Clopton being very aged and not of ability to attend on vestries, declineth the office of a Vestryman” (Vestry Book of St Peter’s 150).

14 June 1728

Mr. Walter Clopton appears in a church warden list of names. Then on the same date Mr. Charles Massie and Mr. Walter Clopton are nominated and appointed to view and number tobacco plants (see 12 Apr 1726).

Mr. David Pattison & Mr. Robt. Clopton are also renominated and reappointed.

23 June 1729

The previous order about the viewers is repeated.

29 Sep 1731

In an accounts list:

To Wm Clopton for keeping Charles Barker ….. 800

29 Oct. 1732

In a list of accounts, Mr. Wm Clopton’s executors are mentioned (without naming them). This means he died before that date and that he left a will. However, the records of New Kent County were destroyed years later. The item in the list says:

“To Exe’rs of Mr. William Clopton for keeping Cha. Barker” (Vestry Book p. 163).

On the same day the record reads: Robt. Clopton hath agreed to keep Cha. Barker for 800 [pounds] of tobacco” (p. 164).

And on the same date, business carries on: “Ordered that Capt. Jos. Foster, Mr. Robt. Clopton & Mr. Rich’d Crump or any two of them do view the glebe and make their report to the next vestry of the sate and condition the houses & garden paling [sic] at present is in.”

On the same date: Mr. Charles Massie is chosen Church Warden in the room [place] of Mr. Walter Clopton and taken the oath of a Church Warden.

RECORDS OF WILLIAM AND ANN CLOPTON

22 April 1673

Will of Thomas Dennett, decd. of Hampton Parish, York Co. … To son John Dennett, all my lands in Hampton Parish, York Co., and 500 acres in New Kent County, but if he dies underage the tracts to go my next heir by me and my loving wife Anne. The lands in New Kent are not to be let out and at no time cut what is needed to build plantation. To my daughter Eleanor Dennett, a young mare called “Diamond.” My wife Anne may peaceably dwell at land I live on or land in New Kent for life and at my death to my son John. To my wife, ½ my estate and she to be executrix. The other ½ to my children Anne, Sarah, John and Eleanor Dennett; and I also appoint my loving brothers Mr. John Baskervyle and Mr. Robert Bouth overseers of my will; signed Thomas Dennett; wit: Mathew Cutler, William Swinnerton; rec. 15 Aug 1673 (p. 53)

1682

Mr. William Clopton was constable of York-Hampton Parish.

25 Apr 1685

The deposition of William Clopton aged about thirty years sayeth (see below for the rest)

That the coming French Ordinary in the ninth of March of March last he happened to meet with Mr. Thos. Watkinson who asked your deponent to give him a drink of which he asked your deponent why he was so unkind to attach his wife’s silver cup. I answered I had done nothing but what I did by court’s order; the he said the court had done more than they could answer and that he would justify and further the deponent sayeth not; signed Wm Clopton; April 24 1685; sworn to in York Court and is recorded; test: Wm. Maltyward ….

24 May 1688

Judgment is granted John Williams against William Clopton for 274 pounds of tobacco.

25 March 1689

A nonsuit is granted Mr. William Clopton against Henry Powdis, as he not appearing to prosecute his action

24 May 1689

An order against the sheriff is granted Mr. James Archer for the nonappearance of William Clopton.

24 May 1689

An order against the sheriff is granted William Clopton for the nonappearance of Richard Davis.

24 May 1689

An attachment is granted the sheriff against the estate of Richard Davis for £5.2.9 sterling for his nonappearance at the suit of William Clopton.

24 July 1689

Judgement granted William Clopton against Richard Davis for £4.15.3 sterling.

24 July 1689

Judgement granted Richard Davis against William Clopton for £3.10 sterling.

Date

Mr. William Clopton did confess judgment against Col. Thomas Beale for 526 pounds of tobacco.

Date

William Garbin suing Mr. William Clopton upon a former account between them and it appearing that there is due Mr. Clopton 74 pounds of tobacco, Garbin is ordered to pay.

Date

An order against the sheriff is granted William Clopton assignee Mr. Thos. Barbar, for the nonappearance of John Seaburne, rewturnable to next court for judgment.

Date

An attachment is granted William Clopton assignee William Pulham against the estate Darcy Nevyle for £1.10 sterling due per bill.

Date

William Clopton sits on jury in matter of John Williams and William Wade, who return their verdict that they find for the plaintiff 1000 pounds of tobacco.

Date

A nonsuit is granted Mr. William Clopton against Mr. Henry Powers, he not appearing to prosecute his actions

24 Jan. 1689/90

27 Dec. 1689 William and Ann Clopton appoint our trusty and well beloved Mr. Robert Bouth and Mr. Nicholas Harrison attorneys for us to acknowledge unto John Dennett all our interest in a plantation lying on King’s Cr. in Northampton Parish, York Co. Signed William Clopton and Ann Clopton; wit: John Woodmanton, David Clarkson; 30 Dec 1689 New Kent proved by witnesses.

24 Jan. 1689/90 (court held)

14 Dec. 1689 John Dennett of Hampton Parish, York Co., Gent. and Elizabeth his wife to Jane Morce (Morse) of James City County, widow, for £70. 220 acres part of 400 acres granted to Thomas Dennett, father of John Dennett, by patent 15 Aug 1642, which was granted on an elder patent 15 Jan 1670 for 400 acres then granted unto John Dennett grandfather of said John Dennett … bounds renewed in the last survey which was surveyed my James Minge 17 Sep 1683; signed John Dennett, Elizabeth E D Dennett; wit. John Eaton, Richard Wood, Alexander (A W) Wimbish;

24 Jan 1689/90. Acknowledged by John Dennett and Elizabeth his wife; likewise Mr. Robert Booth by virtue of a letter of attorney from Mr. William Clopton and Ann his wife did relinquish all their right to the land herein expressed.

14 Dec. 1689. Bond of John Dennett of Hampton Parish, York Co. unto Jane Morce (Morse) of James City County. For £140. To keep the covenants contained in one deed of foeffment or sale on behalf of himself and Elizabeth his wife; signed John Dennett; wit: John Eaton; 24 Jan 1689/90 Acknowledged by John Dennett (pp. 374-78)

24 Jan 1689/90

Acknowledged by John Dennett and Elizabeth his wife; and likewise Mr. Robt. Bouth by virtue of a letter of attorney from Mr. William Clopton and Ann his wife did relinquish and acknowledge all their right and title of land herein expressed. (p. 29)

22 July 1710

From William and Mary College Quarterly (1896), p. 81.

Mr. Clopton turns up next in New Kent, where he was one of the justices. There is an original deed dated July 22, 1710, from “john Bacon of St. Peter’s Parish and New Kent Co. yeoman to Wm Clopton Jr. of same parish and Co., yeoman,” with arms are the same as on the tomb of Ann Clopton and agree in Burke with arms of Clopton, of Co. Suffolk, 1586: Sa. A bend erm. Betw. Two cotises dancette or. Crest—a wolf’s head per scale or. And az. On the tomb the bend has a mullet for difference, indicating a third son.

Again, see this link for an image of the arms: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1915490

SOURCES

John Frederick Dorman, York County, Virginia, Wills Orders, Deeds, etc., no. 8, 1687-1691 Part Two (Washington, D.C. 1975)

—. John Frederick Dorman, York County, Virginia, Wills Orders, Deeds, etc., no. 9, 1691-1694 Part One (Washington, D.C. 1976)

Judith Banks Evans, Lunenburg County, Virginia, Deed Book 11, 1767-1771, New Orleans: Bryn Ffyliaid Publications, 1990.

—, Lunenburg County, Virginia, Deed Book 12, 1761-1777, New Orleans: Bryn Ffyliaid Publications, 1990.

—-, Lunenburg County, Virginia, Deed Book 13, 1777-1784, New Orleans: Bryn Ffyliaid Publications, 1991.

—-, Lunenburg County, Virginia, Deed Book 11, 1787-1790, New Orleans: Bryn Ffyliaid Publications, 1991.

Malcolm Hart Harris, Old New Kent County Some Account of the Planters, Plantations and Places in New Kent County, vol. 1, (West Point, Virginia, 1971).

Lunenburg County, Virginia Deeds, 1764-1771. Miami: T. L. C. Genealogy, 1990.

Lunenburg County, Virginia Deeds, 1761-1777. Miami: T. L. C. Genealogy, 1990.

Lunenburg County, Virginia Deeds, 1784-1787. Miami: T. L. C. Genealogy, 1990.

The Vestry Book of St. Peter’s: New Kent County, Va. from 1682-1758.

Benjamin B. Weisiger, York County, Virginia, Records, 1665 to 1672 (privately published 1987)

—, York County, Virginia Records, 1672-1676 (privately published 1991).

The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 5, no. 2 (Oct. 1896) pp. 81-80

The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 10, No. 1 (July, 1901), pp. 54-56 http://www.jstor.org/stable/1919806

The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 11, No. 1 (Jul., 1902), pp. 67-73 http://www.jstor.org/stable/1915490

The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 4 (Apr., 1909), pp. 294-296

http://www.jstor.org/stable/1915538

F. Edward Wright, York County, Virginia, Marriage References, 1636-1800 (Lewes Delaware: Colonial Roots, 2012).

Footnote

[1] Online Source and print source: William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine Vol. V. October, 1896 No. 2.

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