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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
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Letter from John Urmston to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel
Urmston, John
July 07, 1711
Volume 01, Pages 763-772

[From N. C. Letter Book. S. P. G.]
MR. URMSTON'S LETTER.


North Carolina July 7th 1711

Hond Sir

Since my arrival here I have written divers letters to you and others which I hope were laid before the Hon'ble Society so fraught with unpleasant relations of my own and the Countrys circumstances that I am almost persuaded you scarce expected to have heard any more from me I am almost bereft of life and the little sense I had and after a years fatigue and almost a continual bad health am at last together with my family in manifest danger of perishing for want of food we have lived many a day only on a dry crust and a draught of salt water out of the sound such regard have the people for my labours so unworthy of the favor the Society have shewn them in providing Missionarys and sending books so great is their esteem for the Ministry and our endeavours which I can assure you you have on my part been very hearty for the most part but they think I am beholden to them for coming to hear me they will be at no charge or trouble and yet expect I shoud give my attendance notwithstanding in many places there are great Rivers from one two to six twelve and fifteen miles over no ferry boats neither will they be at the trouble of setting me over I am destitute of all help both as to housekeeping and the discharge of my duty to the Society as I would be that will answer the end of his Mission must not only have a good horse but a large boat and a couple of experienced Watermen not knowing when the confusion of this unhappy Country would be over or any settlement made for the church and Ministry after seven months uneasiness in a sorry house I at

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last bought a plantation situated on the North side of the Sound in Chowan precinct between Mr Pollcks & that which was Mr Walkers nowe Moseleys I found a newe house and a kitchen upon it half finished t'will cost me a great deal to make it fit to live in Workmen are dear and sence I have about a dozen Acres of clear ground and the rest woods in all 300 acres had I servants and money I might live very comfortably upon it raise good corn of all sorts and cattle without any great labour or charges could once be stockt but for want thereof shall not make any advantage of my land I have bought a horse some time ago since that three cows and calves five sheep and some Fowls of all sorts but most of them unpaid for together with fourteen Bushells of Wheat for all which I must give English goods at this rate I might have had anything that either this Government or any of the neighboring Colonies afford but had I stock I need not fear wanting either Butter cheese Beef or Mutton of my own raising as good grain of all sorts Missioners as the world goes must be planters too if the have families or starve the Salary alone will not do I am forced to work hard with Axe Hoe & spade I have not a stick to burn for any use but what I cut down with my own hands I am forced to dig a garden raise beans peas &c with the assistance of a sorry Wench my wife brought with her from England my neighbours seem to like well of my industry but are far from affording me their assistance in any thing they love to see new comers put to their shifts as they themselves have been and cannot endure to see any body live as well as themselves without having undergone the slavish part and learnt to live independent of others Men are generally of all trades and women the like within their spheres except some who are the posterity of Old planters or have been very fortunate and have great numbers of slaves who understand most handycrafts men are generally carpenters Joiners Wheelwrights Coopers Butchers Tanners Shoemakers Tallow Chandlers Waterman & what not Women Soap makers Starch makers Dyes &c he or she that cant do all these things or hath not slaves that can over and above all the common occupations of both sexes will have but a bad time on't for help is not to be had at any rate every one having business enoo' of his own this makes tradesmen turn planters and these become tradesmen no Society                      none with another but all seem to live by their own hands of their own produce and what they can spare goes for foreign goods. Nay many live on a slender diet to buy rum sugar and molasses with other such like necessaries which are sold at such a rate that the planter here is but a slave to raise a provision for other Colonies and dare not allow himself to par
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take of his own creatures except it be the corn of the Country in hominy Bread much or otherwise of cooking which after all is fitter for Hoggs than Christians & a little stinking Swamp Water a Bogg or els' Brackish and sometimes downright Salt Water and yet such a wretch as this shall lay out 40 50 it may £60 per annum in Rum & Sugar and yet no wonder I should fare so ill when I tell you that my necessity & long stay in England after chosen Missioner together with the charges of transporting myself & family hither exhausted the money advanced I brought nothing with me but apparel and a few goods not half eno' for my occasions here I have little or nothing and times so confused that I can not say when any provision may be made for me or any other Minister I have hitherto supplied 3 precincts vizt Chowan perquimans pasquotank, which are very remote from one another the more Southerly place I preached at is above 70 miles distant from the most northerly this has been my circuit for the year last past without any omission on my side if I ever failed of officiating on the day appointed it was for the want of a passage so long as I was on Terra firma neither the badness of the Roads Broken Bridges over dangerous places wet or cold weather in Winter nor the excessive heat even to shifting in the woods for want of air even called me to disappoint a congregation albeit they have often failed to meet me every body would have a Church by his own door every Sunday or not at all The whole Precinct can never meet at one place but must have 5 or 6 meetings in each except they had more zeal for Churches might be so fixed as that all might meet in a few hours either by land or water except bad weather or contrary winds prevent they will not willingly come to weekly lectures in regard to pasquetank is very numerous many Quakers and too many loose disorderly professors of the Christian Religion a very factious mutinous and rebellious people most of them allied to the Quakers and at all times at their Beck ready to oppose either Church or state if required by them whence arise all these troubles for the 3 years past this consideration made me to engage myself to preach two Sundays in 4 and twice in the week day at 4 different places for which some of the more sober part proposed a voluntary subscription but not meeting with the readiness many seemed to express could not prevail with a third of the people to contribute the whole amounted to £23. 58 2d whereof I received £13. 11s 6d the rest will never be paid some have been so plain with me as to say they expected I should have have been altogether in their precinct whereas our agreement was drawn and signed others say they dont think they ought to be at any charge since our society have sent me at their own cost and allow me what they
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think is fitting this is the story of most in the Government and are very confident they shall have Missioners sent to every parish but in very deed are not worthy one; Perquimans began a Subscription there is about £9 I think given for one Sunday in 4 and once a month in the Week day I have received £2. 11. 4 no more to be expected there without I would give one half for gathering the other nor that for so small a sum in Chowan I preach'd constant only once a month at the Chapel the like on the South side and west shore of the sound till they could not agree who should set me over the river and where we should meet on the South Shore they gave me two Barrels of skins and the worst pieces of Least Beef—on the West Shore was subscribed £19. 5. 0 Rec'd £4. 13. 4 through their fault not mine our meeting has been discontinued for 4 months so that nothing is to be had more there at the Chapel the Congregation is pretty numerous they have often talked of raising something but as yet nothing done neither dare I seem pressin for fear of reproach I went by land 27 miles along the Sound side towards Virginia where there were as they told me 40 or 50 Children unbaptized I baptized 14 the Season being wet I appointed to be there again that day month but no body came I heard of a great many met to be merry at a reaping of wheat in my way I upbraided them with the neglect of a concern of so great a moment they promised to appoint a day but I have not yet heard from them albeit some weeks are past they said as their phrase was they would employ me and employ me and contribute for the future but the time past was not thought of there are about 40 or fifty families at Allegator and Scogalong about 20 miles down the sound towards the South East from where I lived many marry'd and have children who never were baptized nor ever saw a minister on their shore I have offered to go thither provided they would procure me a passage a day has been twice prefix'd But they never came for me so indifferent are they and cold in their souls health and tis to be feared live like Beasts I have heard of monstrous doings among them Pampticough I have not yet visited by reason the roads till now were impassible I intended to have gone there this month but War being revived among us we are all in confusion there is no stirring abroad Coll Hide has done all that in him lay to bring the Country into good order and promote religion but is therefore hated and threatened with fire and sword and all of his party which you'l easily believe me to be of and therefore not only fare ill but am in some danger My horse happened to break pasture and run into an enemys ground and when taken up some ruffians said had their party known whom he belonged to they had certainly shot
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him to such a height are our divisions brought and when they will cease I know not except her Magesty takes the Government into her own hands I have preach'd 4 times in Corritack and administered the Sacraments I had 86 Communicants & at the several times baptized 10 Infants I have administered the Lord's Supper 3 times in Pasquetank and once in Perquimans the first time I had 17 Communicants the second 5 the third 7 and the fourth 9 I have baptized in these three precincts 154 children Preached 77 times the people being acquainted with the psalmody instead thereof I commonly Catechise but never fail of so doing when there is a psalm sung people are mighty averse to God Fathers and God Mothers and therefore in anywise will not have their children baptized others think no body more fit than their parents; to tell them of the orders of the Church avails not they'l not hearken to the ordinances of man but will have express scripture for all they are to do or observe; there is not a scism or corruption broached in England but here it hath its defenders but the most numerous are those that dissent from everything that is called religion Libertines Men & Women of loose dissolute and scandalous lives and practices, it is usually said our Colonies are chiefly peopled by such as have been educated at some of the famous Colleges of Bridewell Newgate or the Mint what must our inhabitants be not suffered to live in other places for their wicked courses many of whom after their transportation from England have been banished out of all or most of the other colonies or for fear of punishment have fled hither. this is a nest of the most notorious profligates upon earth Women forsake their husbands come in here and live with other men they are sometimes followed then a price is given to the husband and madam stays with her Gallant a report is spread abroad that the husband is dead then they become Man and Wife make a figure and pass for people of worth and reputation arrive to be of the first Rank and Dignity what to do with such I know not nor how a reformation can be hoped for I have not been wanting in my endeavours I have spoiled a good horse enslaved myself hazard my life to little purpose save the discharge of my conscience and the hopes I have of gaining the approbation of the Society the people you see are generally bad yet caress'd by the Quakers my irreconcilable enemies these excite aid and assist nay and join with them in destroying the Government and opposing the Establishment of the Church their aim and design is to overthrow the Church and deface the few footsteps there are of the Christian Religion among us and establish their nonsensical tenets in the room thereof There were several Quakers that bore arms in a late attempt upon Col. Hide which was
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carried on with great cunning malice and rage but the aggressors were happily repulsed and what further wickedness they are contriving time will show they rove about the country in great bodies ravage and plunder all such as are not on their side it would be too tedious to give you a succinct account of every thing that has past since the first beginning of the confusions of this unhappy Government all owing to the Quakers who 7 or 8 years ago procured one Daniel a monster Wickedness to be Deputy Governor for ever since this Government depended on Ashley River Government that office was on sale the Quakers thought they could manage him they grew saucy & he restive they soon procured another worse than he to succeed him one Cary Madam Knightly a Lady of known worth can give you an account of him she lives at Kensington neither did this answer their expectations they made a purse and sent one Porter a known Villian the son of a Quaker and he one in disguise to the proprietors accused the said Cary of Many things indeed gross eno' and with a great deal of truth sufficient to cause him to be turned out accordingly he was discharged from his Office and there being no Govr at Ashley River then Sr Nathaniel Johnson being put out by the Whigs this porter brought an order to the Council to chose as was customary in such cases one of their Brethren to be president till a Govr was appointed Mr. Glover a sober discreet and the only man of parts in the country was chosen The Quakers dislike him and by the force of arms thrust in Cary whom the proprietors had deposed into the presidentship here were two presidents one appointed by the Lords proprietors and the other set up by the roguish Quakers neither was obeyed the honest party would not obey Cary and the other Mr. Glover so that for two years and upwards here was no law no justice Assembly or Courts of Judicature so that people did and said what list Olivers days come again Coll Hide arrived but through Coll Teints death had no Commission he was chosen president by all sides after Long debates he persists in Mr. Glovers opinion of not suffering the Quakers who had deputations either forged or granted by those who were not proprietors to be of the Council or have any thing to do in the administration. an Assembly was called with much difficulty We had the majority as to what has been transacted in temporals I must refer you to the President and Council their journal if you can get a sight of it which is laid before the proprietors or a Copy which I believe my Lord Rochester will have to show the Queen and council and beg your pardon and patience while I add what relates to the interest of the Church.

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The Assembly was made up of a strange mixture of men of various opinions and inclinations a few Churchmen many Presbyterians Independents but most anythingarians some out of principle others out of hopes of power and authority in the Government to the end that they might Lord it over their Neighbours all conspired to act answerable to the desire of the president and Council I was at this solemn meeting a great part of the time they sat. I preach'd twice before them procured a proclamation for a general fast which was kept on Good friday which otherwise would not have been observed any more than any other day. I administered the Holy Sacrament of the Lords Supper then and did all I could both in public and private discourse to excite them to use there endeavours to establish the Church accordingly they made a very good and proper Act to that End which was to this effect that the worship of God and our most holy religion as by law Established in England should be put in practice and observed here in all particulars as far forth as is compatible with the circumstances of the people a select Vestry of 12 Men in every precinct or parish was thereby appointed all the Burgesses were made members thereof These bound in a penalty to meet in their several parishes on a certain day within 6 weeks after the publication of the Act to chose Church wardens give them power to buy a Glebe build a Church or Churches as there was occasion houses for Ministers provide a sufficient maintenance for them and to use their utmost endeavours to provide that every parish might be supplied with a Clergyman approved of allowed by the Lord Bishop of London I thought it might not be improper to be present at their Vestries at the first that met were very much disordered with drink they quarrelled and could scarce be kept from fighting broke up without doing any thing having first agreed when to meet again when the day came there only met five we pitched upon another day then came but two in another precinct The Vestry met at an Ordinary where rum was the chief of their business they were most of 'em hot headed very averse to go upon business with much ado I prevailed with them to chose two Churchwardens resolve upon building a Church which is very much wanted and tis a shame to be without one since the Quakers have three meeting houses in that and as many in the next precinct whereas we have neither Church nor Chapel in 3 of the precincts and those two we have in Chowan and Pequimans were never furnished ready to drop down that in the former precinct hath neither floor nor seats only a few loose benches upon the sand the Key being lost the door stood open ever since I came into the Country. All the Hoggs and Cattle flee thither for shade in the summer and warmth in Winter

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the first dig holes and bury themselves these with the rest make it a loathsome place with their dung and nastiness which is the peoples regard to Churches hence you may expect a hopeful result from the Vestry I was speaking of while the Rum Bottle went about I entertained the Churchwardens with the Articles of Visitations which Churchwardens of England are bound to answer to I could not bring them to any thought of raising money either for building the Churches buying a Glebe or providing for Minister that is the Great Buggbere here they are not to be at any charge nor much trouble If I would live altogether in that precinct they proposed first £60 per Annum but some more generous than the rest were for allowing £70 per annum which is in the goods they usually pay Ministers with the refuse the worst pay in the country is good enough for us This £70 would purchase here about £15 worth of English Goods as wearing apparel and the like I told them I thought a Missioner was not to sit down in one parish and suffer the next or as many as he could supply with convenience to live in ignorance mere heathens for my part I would not this they imputed to avarice which provoked me to upbraid them with their generosity the last year Well if I would continue to come among them as I had hither to done two Sundays in four and give them two Sermons in the Week day in order to which I must ride 100 miles and forced to quarter in some sorry house or other not fit to lodge a Man in for 11 or 12 days they would be kind for the future but having been ill used by them already I pressed them to give me some assurance not being willing to trust to their generosity they very liberally offered me £25 for the year or proportionable till such time as they had a Minister which I refused and am resolved if I must starve I'll not thereunto add Slavery more than indeed I am able to perform except the Roads were better I had another horse and hoped for a better accomodation both for man and horse than we usually met with they treat us with a great deal of formality and think there is no difference between a Gentleman and a labourer all fellows at Foot Ball. they have since hired a reader for £15 per annum who to them is more welcome than a Minister he is little charge and pleases as well nay many know no difference for these Readers bring us into contempt and breed fanaticism I lent him a book of homilies and enjoined him to use no other Sermons but I hear he goes on the old way which is to transcribe a sermon and then read it to the people which is as much as to say they as we of the Ministry do tho' I believe some of 'em have reason to think otherwise of me

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If we are like to have a Church Government I humbly pray that the Society would send some directions to the Govr or me about these Readers for if suffered they'l of ill consequence I have seen it in one ffrench a rascal who was at first one of these and now pretends to the Ministry uses me ill prays extempore and does much mischief he tells people he was ordained by the Nice Chancellor of Oxford shews them something posted on the inside of a Book in Latin which he saith are his letters of Orders I think readers should not be allowed to read the absolution nor the Communion or second service nor yet baptize Children as they commonly do. the Governors assuming the power of granting license to Justices to marry is of ill consequence for by virtue thereof are many adulterous Weddings Christians unequally yoked with Quakers or Heathens I have shewed Coll Hide what the Canons require in that behalf but Governors and men in power will not easily be informed of an insignificant worthless priest. notice ought to be likewise taken of an abuse offered to my character Our blessed Vestrymen who are to establish the Church in Order thereto at the first strike at one of the fundamentals of our constitution in understanding the Act of Vestry otherwise than it was intended in a former Act which the Society did not allow of as you may remember it was said expressly that the Minister should always be deemed a Vestryman which is highly necessary here where they are so great strangers to the business of a Vestry being to amend that act by abolishing that power of meeting annually to hire their Minister for the year ensuing they have omitted that for the Minister being a Vestryman whereupon many will have it that the Minister hath nothing to do in Vestry which is contrary to our Establishment in England and will of course destroy this Act too if so understood this is the contrivance of an Enemy and not of a Vestryman who ought to be Exemplar and pious Christians in the Parishes but there are many of them Presbyterians or Independants unfit for such an office but being burgesses when the Act passed thurst themselves into the number of Vestry with no good intent this you'l say is rather History than a Letter I beg pardon for my prolixity hoping the subject will palliate the irksomeness thereof but perhaps not please I wish in my next I may have cause to change my matter and not as hitherto be obliged to acquaint you with things more disagreeable than in my former letters but we are agrieved the Church presented in danger I myself your creature a sufferer my sole dependence is on the Honble Society all good christians here beg for protection & assistance from you the Eyes of all are upon you hoping for some redress from your great and honble body nothing doubting but that they who are at so

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great a charge and trouble in propagating the Gospel among them will cherish and maintain the same here so propagated you have here a true but brief account of the difficulties I struggle with the most ins'portable I hope will procure compassion and speedy relief hard labour and famine can't be borne then see what will make me and think it absolutely necessary a couple of good Negro's with some stock to begin with and Money to buy provisions with till I can raise it within myself this with the £45 the price of my plantation will exceed £80 Per annum Mr Gordon in his request for £100 was not so unreasonable as many thought it to be for the Society will not consider my charge I pray they may be pleased to advance me £40 over and above what will then be due upon the departure of the next Virginia Fleet, which I suppose will not be before spring I have received nothing from the Society since I arrived here fleets are so uncertain I did hope to be hond ere now with a line or two from you

I am Sir your humble Servt
JOHN URMSTON

I wish the Society would write to the Govr & Council about the Library which Dr Bray sent to Bath in Pamplicough thro mistake and being informed that there was the Seat of Government whereas it is the most obscure inconsiderable place in the country I hear Coll Codrington has been a great benefactor to the Society if true it will be an easy matter to order me two Negro's from Barbadoes born there and speak English used to house work and can handle an axe they may be sent by way of Bermudas opportunities are frequent—N B The Vestry of Chowan never met at all, all things are like to remain till the confusions are over which will not be till Coll Hide has his commission if then