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Guest contributor Tricia Noel joins us to share an interesting discovery left by an anonymous artist on some New Kent County church records.

Although they can provide valuable genealogical and historical information to researchers, poring over church records can be dull and tedious work. The records of Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church in New Kent County (Accessions 30117, 19729, and 19740), however, are anything but boring. The vestry books and register, which cover 1685-1801, are heavily adorned with drawings and sketches. These drawings, which occupy many of the records’ margins and blank spaces, are mostly amusing depictions of horses, dogs, people, and a building or two. Some drawings of most interest to the historian include several of people with clear depictions of contemporary clothing, including a man in a knee-length, cut away coat, and another in a long, curly wig. The faces were drawn with an attention to expression, and many, with their large noses, huge feet and messy hair, are not flattering. There are a few depictions of symmetrical, Colonial style houses. There are several dogs, one of them labelled “Rover,” many horses and deer, and one unknown creature, covered with bristles and with a mouth full of dangerous-looking teeth. Several of the images include odd captions, such as “Give me an apple.” It is not known who the anonymous artist was, but one can imagine one of the minister’s children discovering an empty margin or blank spot with delight in a time when paper was too pricy for most people to purchase just for the enjoyment of drawing upon.

If you can tear yourself away from these intriguing sketches, the Saint Peter’s records are also chock full of valuable information. The vestry books, which date back to 1685, list birth, baptism and death dates for hundreds of New Kent County residents, priceless information in a county which suffered catastrophic record loss through fires. The register, although it contains no drawings, lists the same information for 1733 through 1801. The register even includes the baptism record of Martha Washington’s brother William Dandridge from 1735. Especially interesting to the researcher are the dozens of birth, baptism and death records for slaves and free blacks. “Peter, negrow belonging to David Craford, bornd ye 10 day of Octo 1688,” reads one such entry. “Mary, daughter of Ann Holt, a free Mulatto woman, born Decr 20 [1734],” reads another. Some of the information is very thorough. From the registry we learn that Jessee Crump was born out of wedlock, that William Thomas drowned, and that Charles Ryster hanged himself. Another very detailed entry is for a James Morriss, an English bricklayer married to Elizabeth Mosse of Williamsburg, which includes their marriage date, death dates, places of burials, children’s names, residences, and children’s death dates. The vestry book also includes an indenture binding out to apprenticeship a daughter born out of wedlock to a mixed-race woman. The indenture is signed by Col. John Dandridge, the father of Martha Washington, and her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis.

The Saint Peter’s records are an invaluable treasure of information on colonial New Kent – or for those who just want to admire its artwork.

-Tricia Noel, Reference Archivist


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