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"An act for the more effectuall suppressing the severall sins and offences of swaring, cursing, profaineing Gods holy name, Sabbath abuseing, drunkenness, ffornication, and adultery" (1691)

In this law, "An act for the more effectuall suppressing the severall sins and offences of swaring, cursing, profaineing Gods holy name, Sabbath abuseing, drunkenness, ffornication, and adultery," passed in its April 1691 session, the General Assembly addressed the perennial problems of swearing, drunkenness, and extramarital sex. The act would be revised in the 1696 session.

Transcription from Original

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WHEREAS notwithstanding the many good laws before this time made and still in force prohibiting swearing, curseing, prophaneing Gods holy name,

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Sabbath abuseing, drunkenness, fornication and adultery, perticularly the 13th act of assembly, entituled, Church wardens to make presentments, the 9th act of assembly entituled, Sundays not to be prophained, with severall other acts against the aforesaid crimes and vices, partly for want of due observation of the same laws, have not produced the desired effect, and partly for the imperfection that is found and doth appeare in them in not directing what method shall be followed to bring the offenders to condign punishment, and for want of sufficient penalties being appointed in the said lawes; and as the said acts and statutes were at the time of makeing them, thought to be very good and beneficiall to the commonwealth (as all of them yet are) so as if the substance of as many of the said lawes as are necessary to be continued, shall be digested and reduced into one sole law and statute, and in the same a method prescribed for the punishment of offenders with an account of what penalties the offenders therein shall incur, there is good hope that it will come to pass that the same law, being duly executed, will suppress the aforementioned vices, reforme our lives, and be a means that the blessings of Almighty God be showred down upon us; forasmuch therefore as all swareing, curseing and prophaining Gods holy name, is forbidden by the word of God, Bee it enacted by their majesties leiutenant governour, councell and burgesses of this present general assembly, and the authority thereof, and it is hereby enacted That no person or persons whatsoever shall from henceforth swear, curse, or prophaine Gods holy name, and if any person or persons shall offend herein, and shall thereof be convicted by the oath of two witnesses, or by confession of the party, then every such offender shall for every time soe offending, forfeit and pay the summ of one shilling; and forasmuch as nothing is more acceptable to God then the true and sincere service and worship of him according

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to his holy will, and that the holy keeping of the Lords day is a principall part of the true service of God, which in very many places of this dominion hath been, and is now prophained and neglected, by a disorderly sort of people, Bee it enacted by their majesties leiutenant Governour, Councell and Burgesses of this present General Assembly, and the authority thereof, and it is hereby enacted, That there shall be no meetings, assemblies, or concourse of people out of their own parishes on the Lords day, and that no person or persons whatsoever shall travell upon the said day, and that no other thing or matter whatsoever be done on that day which tends to the prophanation of the same, but that the same be kept holy in all respects, upon pain that every person and persons so offending and being convicted as aforesaid shall loose and forfeit twenty shillings.

And whereas that loathsom and odious sin of drunkenness is of too common use within this dominion, being the root and foundation of many other enormous sins, as blood shed, stobbing, murther, swearing, fornication, adultery and such like, to the great dishonor of God and of this dominion, the overthrow of many good acts and manuall trades, the disableing of divers workmen, and the generall impoverishing of many of their majesties good subjects, abusively wasting the good creatures of God. Bee it enacted by their majesties leiutenant governour, councell and burgesses of this generall assembly, and the authority thereof, and it is hereby enacted, That all and every person and persons who shall from henceforth be drunk, and of the same offence of drunkenness be lawfully convicted as aforesaid shall for every such offence forfeit and pay ten shillings, and if the offender or offenders of any, or of all the aforesaid vices or crimes be not able to pay the said fines and forfeitures aforementioned, then every offender or offenders therein, shall be committed to the stocks for every offence, there to be and remaine for the space of three full hours; and whereas fornication and adultery are two filthy and greivous sins and offences as well against the law of God, as of the law of man, Bee it enacted by their majesties leiutenant governour, councill and burgesses of this generall assembly and the authority hereof, and it is hereby enacted, That

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every person and persons committing fornication, and being convicted as aforesaid, shall for every time so offending forfeit and pay the summ of ten pounds sterling, and that every person and persons committing adultery, and being convicted as aforesaid, shall for every time so offending forfeit and pay the sume of twenty pounds sterling, and if the offender or offenders of any of the aforesaid two sins and offences of fornication and adultery be not able to pay the fines and forfeitures for the said offences mentioned, then every offender and offenders therein shall for every time so offending receive on his, her, or their, bare backs, thirty lashes well laid on, or three moneths imprisonment without bail or maineprise; and whereas many inhabitants of this countrey of dissolute and ill lives and conversations entertain many times in their houses women of ill names and reputation, suspected of incontenency or by other indirect meanes provide for the maintenance of such women whose company they frequent, Bee it enacted by their majesties leiutenant governour, councell and burgesses of this generall assembly and the authority thereof, and it is hereby enacted, That every person and persons who shall so harbour, entertaine or provide for the maintenance of such women or women, or frequent her or their company, or the company of any other lewd, after publique admonition to avoid the same, given by the minister and Church wardens, by and with the consent of the vestrey and vestryes of the parish or parishes wherein such person or persons shall dwel, and in case there be no minister then the Church wardens of the same, by the consent aforesaid, shall forfeit and pay for every time it shall be proved, that he or they have been in company of such woman or women after such admonition as aforesaid, as if he or they had really been convicted of adultery, and every woman or women guilty of the same offence shall receive the like punishment. And be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, and it is hereby enacted, That the grand juries of every respective county within this dominion do twice yearly make presentments against the offenders of this law, to the court of the county where the offence shall be committed, and that the justices of

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the same punish the offenders according to this act, all which said forfeiture shall be divided into three equall parts, one third thereof towards the building and repairing the Church or Chappel of ease in the parish where the said offence shall be committed one third towards the maintenance of the minister of the same, and the other third for him or them that will sue or informe for the same by bill, plaint, or information, or action of debt in any court of record within this dominion, in which no essoign, protection or wager of law shall be allowed.