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In Their Own Words

January 21, 1740

Colonial Court Looked at Moral Issue

William Stephens wrote in his journal of the colonial Georgia court looking at an issue of morality, with the urging of George Whitfield:

“…The Court now sat again, when upon calling over the Names of those that had been summoned to serve upon the Grand Jury, seventeen appeared: And whereas it had been frequently complained of, as well by Mr. Norris in his Time of Ministry, as now of late by Mr. Whitfield, that several Persons in this Town lived most scandalous Lives with their Whores, and went on impunè in open Defiance of all Laws both divine and human, to the great Reproach of the Place in which they lived; and therefore hoping that the Magistracy would take Notice of it, since there could be no Process against such notorious Offences, by any ecclesiastical Law, where those Offences were committed: The Court now sitting thought it high Time to take some Cognizance of it; and Mr. Parker (who since the Time of the Trustees Appointment of a new Set of Magistrates, declined as much as possible taking upon him to act, but in such Cases only where it was unavoidably necessary) desiring to be excused from giving the Charge as usual to the Grand Jury, looking on himself in no other Light, than as one substituted by the General to fill that Place on the Bench, till the Trustees Pleasure was farther known (as noted on the 15th of October last) and Mr. Fallowfield declining to take upon him, which he knew himself not well qualified for: Mr. Jones undertook that Part; and among other Things proper to be recommended to their Consideration, insisted strongly upon it as their Duty, to make a Presentment to the Court, of all such Offences as came to their Knowledge, either through common Fame, or such Evidence as might be produced, which were committed against the known Laws of God and Man, or were contra bonos mores; particularly specifying Adultery, and Inconsistency: After which, Mr. Whitfield, sitting near the Bench, rose, and made an Oration, setting forth the Heinousness of such Crimes, in very pathetick Terms; shewing that we must never expect a Blessing on this Colony, unless the civil Power would give all possible Assistance, in rooting out this accursed Thing; concluding that it was his firm Persuasion, the slow Progress that. was made in the Advancement of the Colony, was owing to God’s not permitting it to prosper while such barefaced Wickedness was, through Neglect, suffered to remain among us; which every good Man was ready to allow: But I found a pretty many who thought so, seemed not well pleased at his taking upon him to harangue the Grand Jury with what would more properly have come from the Pulpit; and I myself then feared, it would have a different Effect upon the Grand Jury from what was hoped and ex- pected.”

Source: Allen D. Candler, ed. The Colonial Records of the State of Georgia, Vol. IV, Stephens’ Journal 1737-1740, Atlanta, GA, 1906, pp. 495-496.