A Dispute over the Religious Education of the Children

1708

Jamestown

More than a dozen of our ancestral families lived in the Jamestown settlement in the 17th and early 18th century. Among these were George Walker, the son of a Scottish immigrant, and his wife, Ann Keith, the daughter of the celebrated Scottish preacher, scholar, and Quaker activist, Reverend George Keith (1638-1716). In addition to practicing ship repair and farming, George Walker also was a gunner and storekeeper at the Port Comfort fort. George and Ann Walker lived in Kecoughtan, directly across the James River from Jamestown island.

At the time the couple married, George and Ann were Quakers, as was Ann's father, our ancestor Rev. George Keith. Quakerism was tolerated in Jamestown, though not with enthusiasm. Around 1700, Rev. George Keith renounced Quakerism and returned to the Anglican fold; his daughter Ann did the same. This led to a marital conflict over the religious education of George and Ann's children. George raised no objection to Ann attending Anglican services but would not allow her to take their children with her.

After several years, their dispute ended up before the Jamestown council, when Ann was permitted to sue her husband despite the prevalent social gender inequality. Remarkably, the decision of April 28, 1708, survives in full. The council faced a fundamental belief crisis between their religious and gender bias. In the end, they denied Anne's petition by voting in favor of a husband's prerogative to determine the religion of his children. With their decision, the council avowed that the husband's authority in the home should be supreme.

Several Quaker ministers' travel journals survive that mention the ministers' visits to George and Ann's home and note that the marriage survived the conflict. In later years, the couple warmly received both Quaker visitors and others. The next in line in this lineage, George and Ann's son, George Jr., married Jane Curle. Our family has proven our lineage to both of Jane's grandfathers, Pasco Curle and Colonel William Wilson, for membership in the Jamestowne Society. We are the first family to have proven our lineage to George Walker I for the Society of Colonial Wars.