Oath of Allegiance Sworn in Bedford County, August–November 1777
After the fifth and last Virginia Revolutionary Convention voted in May 1776 to instruct the Virginia members of the Continental Congress to introduce a resolution to declare the colonies independent, it adopted a new constitution in June. The body also called for all officers of the new state government to take an oath of allegiance to Virginia. Prior to 1776, all men holding public office took an oath of allegiance to the king.
At the May 1777 meeting of the General Assembly, the legislature passed an act declaring that "Whereas allegiance and protection are reciprocal, and those who will not bear the former are not entitled to the benefits of the latter . . . all free born male inhabitants of this state, above the age of sixteen years, except imported servants during the time of their service, shall, on or before the tenth day of October next, take and subscribe the following oath or affirmation before some one of the justices of the peace of the county, city, or borough where they shall respectively inhabit." The law dictated the wording of the oath (which included renouncing King George III), required militia officers to disarm recusants (men who refused to take the oath), and prohibited recusants from "holding any office in this state, serving on juries, suing for any debts, electing or being elected, or buying lands, tenements, or hereditaments."
Isham Talbot, a justice of the peace in Bedford County, prepared this copy of the oath and the list of names of men in his part of the county who had appeared before him and took the oath of allegiance. The annotation indicates that Talbot sent the original list to Colonel John Quarles, the county lieutenant (the commander of the militia) of Bedford County, and that he also made a list of the recusants.
1. What is an oath?
2. Where and when was this document made?
3. Explain the relationship between “allegiance” and “protection,” as described in this document. Why was this important to the leaders of Virginia?
1. Why was it important for government officers to take an oath to the Commonwealth of Virginia? In what situations do Americans take oaths today? Do you think that Virginians in 1777 considered spoken oaths more important than modern Americans do?
2. Talbot mentions a list of recusants (people who chose not to take the oath). What are some reasons that Virginians might have chosen not to take the oath of allegiance?