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In Their Own Words

August 22, 1739

Child Abuse Case Recorded

William Stephens recorded a case of child abuse in his journal:

“…An heavy Complaint being exhibited against the Moravian Brethren, by Mr. Gilbert (one of the Magistrates;) forasmuch as the honourable Trustees had several Times advised, that those People should be dealt tenderly with; it was thought proper to ask Mr. Jones, Mr. Francis Moor, and me, to be present when it was enquired into: And it may not be improper to take Notice, how that Affair truly appeared. One Robert How, a Freeholder here, the same who had his House burnt, and was so kindly holpen by the Trustees to rebuild it again, though he never did; and moreover, being a Favourite of Mr. Wesley’s, had considerable charitable Collections made for him; by both which Means, his Gains abundantly overpaid his Loss; from that Time laid aside all Thought of Improvement of Land, but seemed rather desirous of appearing an Adept in the Improvement of Grace: And being made Choice of by Mr. Wesley as a Clerk to set the Psalms, and do other little Offices about the Church, he became a close Attender on the Minister, and was looked on by many weak Folks, as a person of extraordinary Piety; such as divers in those Days sought to be distinguished by, and some others since have copied after. This How married a Daughter of Mr. Gilbert, that died, leaving two Children (Girls) behind her, whom their Grandmother shewed a kind Affection for; but their Father purposing to go for England, (since Mr. Wesley was no more expected, and Mr. Whitfield’s Return was impatiently waited for) he disposed of his two Children (most unnaturally, as I conceive) and against the Will of their Grand Parents, to the Family of Moravian Brethren, under a Shew of their being brought up in a stricter Course of Religion, than the established Church afforded, unless it were more purified; though what Kind of Religion these Moravians profess, nobody here knows, except themselves: And to make Payment for the breeding up these two Children, of the Age of about seven or eight Years, their Father contracts for their Servitude in all Kinds of Work implicitly, till their attaining the Age of Twenty-four, and so leaves them. It pleased God to take away one of them, a while since, by Sickness; which no great Notice was taken of, every Body supposing that due Care was taken of her in her Illness; tho’ now, from what has happened to the other, many suspect otherwise: For upon the Grandmother’s hearing accidentally of this Child’s being not well, she went to see her; but was denied that Satisfaction, which made her the more importunate; and taking one of her Neighbours with her, by some Means or other they got Admittance; when they found the poor Child in a most miserable Condition, with cruel Usage, and uncommon Severity; which occasioned this August Complaint, and the present Enquiry into the Matter. The Child was produced, and upon taking oil her Cloaths, she appeared to be scourged in a most terrible Manner, from her Neck down to her Heels, with Stripes laid on by a masculine Hand, most piteous to look at, and her Flesh torn, after the Manner of what a Criminal uses to have, at the Hands of a common Executioner. Three of the Moravians owned it to be of the Brotherhood’s doing, who appeared; that they held a Consultation among themselves (which is their ordinary Way in most Cases) and that this was the Result of it; forasmuch as the Child had fouled her Bed: In Consequence of which Sentence, she was thus inhumanly mangled; and that too not done by a Woman, but a Man of a Cruel Disposition. We sent for a Surgeon to give his Opinion of it; who said, he could not apprehend any Danger from the Stripes, farther, than if the Anguish should throw her into a Fever, he knew not what might happen; and the Child appeared very weak, with her Arms much emaciated. Upon the Whole the Magistrates thought, that the least they could do, was to require good Bail for the Person’s Appearance at the next Sessions, who had been the Instrument of inflicting such Cruelty; and that the other two also should be obliged, on their own Recognizances, to appear at the same Time. In the mean while, the Child was delivered to the Grandmother, to take Care of it…”

Source: Allen D. Candler, ed. The Colonial Records of the State of Georgia, Vol. IV, Stephens’ Journal 1737-1740, Atlanta, GA, 1906, pp. 393-395.