Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia
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Oath of Allegiance

  • Oath of Allegiance Sworn in Bedford County, August–November 1777
  • Oath of Allegiance Sworn in Bedford County, August–November 1777
  • Oath of Allegiance Sworn in Bedford County, August–November 1777
In 1777 all Virginia state government officials were required to take the oath of allegiance to the Commonwealth.
Related documents:
  • 5th Va. Convention Motion for Independence
    Fifth Virginia Revolutionary Convention Called for Independence, May 15, 1776
  • Declaration of Independence
    Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
  • United States Constitution
    United States Constitution, September 17, 1787
« Return to The Revolution Begins

Oath of Allegiance Sworn in Bedford County, August–November 1777

After the fifth and last Virginia Revolutionary Convention voted in May 1776 to instruct the Virginia members of the Continental Congress to introduce a resolution to declare the colonies independent, it adopted a new constitution in June. The body also called for all officers of the new state government to take an oath of allegiance to Virginia. Prior to 1776, all men holding public office took an oath of allegiance to the king.

At the May 1777 meeting of the General Assembly, the legislature passed an act declaring that "Whereas allegiance and protection are reciprocal, and those who will not bear the former are not entitled to the benefits of the latter . . . all free born male inhabitants of this state, above the age of sixteen years, except imported servants during the time of their service, shall, on or before the tenth day of October next, take and subscribe the following oath or affirmation before some one of the justices of the peace of the county, city, or borough where they shall respectively inhabit." The law dictated the wording of the oath (which included renouncing King George III), required militia officers to disarm recusants (men who refused to take the oath), and prohibited recusants from "holding any office in this state, serving on juries, suing for any debts, electing or being elected, or buying lands, tenements, or hereditaments."

Isham Talbot, a justice of the peace in Bedford County, prepared this copy of the oath and the list of names of men in his part of the county who had appeared before him and took the oath of allegiance. The annotation indicates that Talbot sent the original list to Colonel John Quarles, the county lieutenant (the commander of the militia) of Bedford County, and that he also made a list of the recusants.

For Educators

Questions

1. What is an oath?

2. Where and when was this document made?

3. Explain the relationship between “allegiance” and “protection,” as described in this document. Why was this important to the leaders of Virginia?

Further Discussion

1. Why was it important for government officers to take an oath to the Commonwealth of Virginia? In what situations do Americans take oaths today? Do you think that Virginians in 1777 considered spoken oaths more important than modern Americans do?

2. Talbot mentions a list of recusants (people who chose not to take the oath). What are some reasons that Virginians might have chosen not to take the oath of allegiance?

I do Swear that I renounce & refuse all Alegiance to George the third King of great Britain his Heirs & successors* & that I will be faithful & bear true Alegienace to the Common Wealth of Virginia as a free & Independant state & that I will not do or cause to be done any matter or thing that will be prejudicial or Injurous to the freedom & Independance thereof as Declared by Congress and also that I will Discover & make Known to some one Justice of the Peace for the said State all Treasons or Tratirous Conspiracies which I now or hereafter shall Know to be formed against this or any of the united States of America.

[126 names of men who signed between August 15 and November 26, 1777]

I do Hereby Certifie the before mentioned persons took the before mentioned Oath before me ISHAM TALBOT {seal}
A list of the recusants I delivered to Colo Quarels but at this time dont recollect who they were IS: TALBOT
Notation:
List of persons who
took the oath of
Fidelity.
IS: TALBOT


*Talbot used the long or leading s, a character that looks similar to the letter "f" but is used as an "s," often as the first of a double s as in assign or address.