Anne Orthwood's Bastard: Sex and Law in Early Virginia

Anne Orthwood's Bastard: Sex and Law in Early Virginia

Anne Orthwood's Bastard: Sex and Law in Early Virginia

Anne Orthwood's Bastard: Sex and Law in Early Virginia

Synopsis

In 1663, an indentured servant, Anne Orthwood, was impregnated with twins in a tavern in Northampton County, Virginia. Orthwood died soon after giving birth; one of the twins, Jasper, survived. Orthwood's illegitimate pregnancy sparked four related cases that came before the Northampton magistrates -- who coincidentally held court in the same tavern -- between 1664 and 1686. These interrelated cases and the decisions rendered in them are notable for the ways in which the Virginia colonists modified English common law traditions and began to create their own, as well as what they reveal about cultural and economic values in an Eastern shore community. Through these cases, the very reasons legal systems are created are revealed, namely, the maintenance of social order, the protection of property interests, the protection of personal reputation, and personal liberty. Through Jasper Orthwood's life, the treatment of the poor in small communities is set in sharp relief.

Excerpt

John Stringer and the other four justices who adjudicated Waters v. Bishopp came from relatively humble backgrounds. Like William Kendall, they were largely self-made men who achieved economic preeminence by establishing extensive commercial networks, arranging advantageous marriages, and accumulating land and servants. Their wealth, in turn, helped them attain political power and social rank. Obedience by the community did not come easily, however. The justices worried constantly about maintaining their newly minted status, feeling insecure in ways unknown to well-born local leaders in England. Insecurity made them acutely sensitive to perceived slights, but it also spurred them to work harder to win popular approval. The magistrates took their responsibilities seriously, enforcing English and colonial law as well as they could, given the limits of their knowledge. They recognized the importance of maintaining the appearance of fairness and usually dispensed justice impartially, though they missed few chances to nudge the law in directions that coincided with their own economic interests. Their jurisprudence may have looked rustic by contemporary English standards, but the Eastern Shore owed much of its social stability to the justices' resolute, if testy, administration of the local legal system.

Stringer, the presiding justice, was born in England in 1611 and emigrated to the Eastern Shore in the 1630s. The roots of his pros-

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