Thursday, April 5, 2012

John Pleasants, Liberty of Conscience

John Pleasants, a planter of considerable wealth in Henrico County, was a Quaker. Previous to 1679 he was convicted for violating the provisions of the statute passed for the repression of his sect, but the sentence was no enforced.  He allowed Quaker services to be held in his house and was warned that if he continued to do this, his execution would be ordered pursuant to an old judgment. The English Conventicle Act, passed in 1664, imposed penalties on those taking part in religious meetings in private houses. Pleasants refused to desist and thus fell victim to persecution.  For one thing, he and his wife were indicted for living together without the sanction of legal marriage simply because they had been united in a Quaker ceremony; they were fined two hundred and forty pounds sterling. In addition. a fine of twenty pounds sterling was imposed on each o them for every month they had respectively refrained from attending services. Had these fines been collected by execution on Pleasants' estate, it would have precipitated ruin upon his affairs.  Fortunately for him, Governor Culpeper intervened under the authority of the order recently promulgated in England granting liberty of conscience to all the subjects of the king.  Pleasants was apparently prominent in his community, because, inn 1692, he was elected a member of the House of Burgesses, but declined to take the required oaths.  From the British Colonial Papers, vol. x1viii, No. 11, Governor Culpeper wrote: "Pursuant to Instructions for libery of conscience, I stopped execution against a Quaker, John Pleasants." 20 Sept 1683.

Souces:  Henrico County Records, vol. 1677-92, orig. p. 116; Henrico County Minute Book, 1682=1701, p. 40.