This Day (Unquiett Spiritt Edition)

Published:January 24, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

On this day in 1661, the York County Court was gaveled into session, and with all appropriate fuss the presiding judge demanded the immediate arrest of one William Clutton, servant: “It evidently appearing that ye said Clutton hath at several times & places uttered & spoken mutinous & seditious words tending to ye tumultuous and dangerous behaviour of severall servants in Yorke parish.”

The court also ordered the overseer John Parkes to “take speciall care, & have strict, dilligent eye uppon Isaack friend his servant, who appeares of a turbulent & unquiett spiritt.”

Mutiny. Sedition. Tumult. Danger. Turbulence. And unquiet spirits. So what on earth happened?

Well, a few weeks before, on January 6, a servant called Thomas Collins testified that Friend was the sort to complain of “hard usage,” this being a euphemism for the fact that the servants were fed nothing but corn and water with no meat. When the idea of a petition to the king was shot down (who was going to deliver it?),

Issack said that they would get a matter of fforty of them together, & get Armes & he would be the first & have them cry as they went along, ‘who would be for Liberty, and free from bondage,’ & that there would enough come to them & they would goe through the Countrey and kill those that made any opposition, & that they would either be free or dye for it

Ahh. Mutiny, sedition, tumult, danger, turbulence: check, check, check, check, and check. But who was this fellow Clutton?

According to another witness who also testified on January 6, Clutton, like Friend, was a complainer, always wanting meat, bread, cheese, and “as many cowes for milke as hee himselfe thought good.” Which, according to the overseer John Parkes, set the other servants “to further discontent & murmuring,” the said servants having been “very well sattisfyed till William Clutton came.”

Isn’t that always the way.

IMAGE: Tobacco Production in Jamestown by Sidney King (National Park Service)