The 2000 election "dilemma" in Florida brings to mind a situation in
Orange County, Virginia in 1742. At that time, though, there was no
recount, and "chads" were not pivotal to the outcome. Booze,
intimidation, swords, pistols, and betting were involvedas was one
of my ancestors. As fate would have it, he was involved with the
booze, the intimidation, the swords, the pistols, and the betting.
And he was not even running for office.
This information came to light while I was searching for ancestral
names in the published Journals of the House of Burgesses of
Virginia, 1742-47. These journals have been published and are
available, generally, in some sort of microtext format. I accessed
them at the university where I attended graduate schooluniversity
libraries are an excellent source of material of this type,
especially when it's of a broader, more general historical interest.
I remember going to the index thinking I would not find anything on
this ancestor, John Rucker. Was I wrong!
John was not running for office, but he apparently had strong
political feelings. Parts of a House of Burgesses transcription are
included here, including the original spelling. (I turned off my
spellchecker for this one.)
[Note: This material has been edited for space, and the typing has
been changedFs to Ssto help readers make sense of the "old style"
writing. However, the original spelling has been preserved. It should
further be noted that type changes from the old script S (which
resembled a lowercase F) to our style S have resulted in the changed
spelling of some names: Mr. William Ruffell changed to Mr. William
Russell, and Mr. Jonathan Gibfon changed to Mr. Jonathan Gibson.]
(Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1742-47, pp. 50-51)
FRIDAY, JUNE 4, 1742
Mr. Conway, from the Committee of Privileges and Elections, reported
[on] the Petition of Mr Thomas-Wright Belfield . . . complaining of
an undue Election and Return of Mr Robert Slaughter . . . and Mr
Henry Downs . . . as Burgesses . . . for the County Of Orange; . . . it appeared to the Committee . . . That Mr Robert Slaughter, Mr Henry
Downs, Mr Thomas-Wright Belfield, Mr Thomas Chew, Mr Zachariah
Taylor, Mr William Russell, and Mr James Wood, stood Candidates for
the Election; and that the Poll was opened on Friday the Twentieth
Day of November last, about Twelve of the Clock.
That as soon as the Poll was opened, John MacCoy, Honorius Powell,
John Snow, and Timothy Terrill, and several others, throng'd into the
Court-house in a riotous Manner, and made such a Disturbance, that
the Sheriff and Candidates were obliged to go out of the Court-house,
'til the House was clear'd, and the People appeas'd:
And that the said Mr Chew, whilst he was on the Bench, called for a
Bowl of Punch, and had it brought to him; upon which, the Sheriff
stay'd the Poll, and said he would not have any Punch drank on the
Bench, but wou'd have a fair Election; to which Mr Chew replied, he
would have Punch, and drink it, and that the Sheriff should not
. . . the Candidates and Sheriff return'd into the Court-house, and
proceeded in taking the Poll; Mr Jonathan Gibson and John Newport,
the Under-Sheriff . . . [stood at] . . . the Court-house Doors, with
drawn Swords across the Doors, in order to let the Voters pass in and
out quietly and regularly in their Polling.
That after the Under-Sheriff was placed at the Door, one Mr John
Rucker came to the Door, and demanded Entrance, which he had; and
then the said Rucker threw the Under-Sheriff and another Person
headlong out of the Doors; and when the Under Sheriff recovered his
Post, the said Rucker insisted to clear the Doors, so that everone
might have free Entrance, and seized the Under-Sheriff's Sword with
both his Hands, endeavouring to break it, which the Under-Sheriff
prevented, by drawing it through his Hands.
That then one John Burk came to the said Rucker's Assistance, and
laid violent Hold on the Under-Sheriff, who was rescued by the By-
standers. That towards Night . . . the People throng'd into the
Court-house in a drunken riotous Manner, one of them jumping upon the
Clerk's Table, and dancing among the Papers, so that the Sheriff was
unable to clear the Bar, or the Clerks to take the Poll:
Whereupon the Candidates desired the Sheriff to adjourn the Poll
'til Eight of the Clock the next morning, which he refus'd to do,
unless the Candidates would give him Bond to indemnify him . . .
several of the Candidates agreeing to give such Bond, the Under-
Sheriff, by Direction of the High-Sheriff, adjourned the Poll 'til
Eight of the Clock next Morning; and thereupon a great many of the
Freeholders who had not voted, returned home; and Mr Chew and Mr
Belfield went to Mr Belfield's House . . . That when the Sheriff had
prepared a Bond ready for the Candidates signing, Mr Russell . . .
offered it to Mr Chew and Mr Belfield to execute, who refused, saying
the Poll was adjourn'd, and their Friends gone home.
[Russell returned to the courthouse and the sheriff re-opened the
poll until about eight that night. Russell and several freeholders
went to the courthouse to be polled, but the sheriff refused them and
declared that Slaughter and Downs had been duly elected.]
It also appeared to the Committee, that the said John Rucker did,
before and during the Time of the Election give several large Bowls
of Punch amongst the People, crying out for those Persons who
intended to vote for Mr Slaughter to come and drink of his Punch; and
that the said Rucker stood at the Court-house, and kept out those who
were Mr Belfield's Friends and after the Election was over, confessed
he had won several Pistoles upon Mr Slaughter's being elected the
On 5 June 1742, the House declared that Slaughter had not been duly
elected. They also indicated that John Rucker (among others) "are
guilty of great misdeameanors and breaches . . ." and that these men
(including Richard Winslow, Orange County Sheriff) be sent for in the
custody of the serjeant [sic.] at arm.
On 19 June 1742 a petition was read from John Rucker (and some of
the other men) which indicated they were truly sorry and that they
would not behave in a way that would incur the displeasure of the
house in the future. They were discharged from custody and paid their
Very interesting indeed. I didn't learn cold and hard genealogical
"facts," but I certainly learned something about John. And sometimes
published transcripts of this type mention divorces and occasionally
other court matters as well.
More about Voting in Virginia?
Learning more about voting in Virginia might help me understand the
transcription. In order to learn more about voting in Colonial
Virginia, I visited the Library of Virginia's Web site. This site
contained a page that provided
information on the voting process in Colonial Virginia. In short, it
indicated that male landowners generally voted vocally at the local
courthouse, and that Poll Books were used to record the vote and to
maintain an accurate count. Finding this information was a good
genealogical lesson that visiting the Web site for state archives and
state historical societies is always an excellent idea for any state
and time period.
Subscribing to mailing lists for historians in your states of
interest is another way to get "non-genealogical" information.
Remember that some of these lists do not accept genealogical queries,
but genealogists frequently have historical questions. It may be that
the posts to these lists are archived and can be searched for
specific terms or phrases. (If you are posting a query, though, it's
important to remember that, as with any mailing list, you shouldn't
expect others to do your research for you. It's best to do your
Have you searched published transcriptions of early statewide
governmental legislative bodies, either from the colonial or
territorial era? Such transcriptions may make reference to your
ancestor, if he (or she) was an early settler of the area. The LDS
research outlines (available at FamilySearch) include
some of these materials in their bibliographies. Other guides to
research in your state of interest may also reference such materials.
Some states provide some colonial information on the state's archives
Web site. The sites of the Maryland State Archives and the Virginia Library have particularly strong collections.
So, do I have any votes for Mr. Slaughter?
Michael John Neill, is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing.
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