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George Washington’s Rare Anti-Catholic Test Oath, Taken before being Appointed Colonel and Commander in Chief of all Virginia Forces
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“there is no Transubstantiation in the sacrament of the Lords supper or in the elements of Bread and wine...”

GEORGE WASHINGTON. Document Signed. A list of subscribers to the declaration denying Catholic doctrines. Washington’s signature is the 9th in the second column below the declaration. May 22, 1754 – July 17, 1755.

Inventory #23200       PRICE ON REQUEST

Most Roman Catholics in colonial America lived in Maryland, which had been founded by the Catholic Calvert family as a sanctuary for all Christians. However, anti-Catholic feelings ran deep, and these Maryland Catholics were deprived of their religious freedom and many civil rights. They were excluded from voting and holding public office, forbidden to have churches and schools, and were subject to numerous other legal disabilities. In the 18th century, some Catholics settled in Pennsylvania where they enjoyed religious toleration. Hardly any Catholics were to be found in the other colonies, since their religion was forbidden by law.

In 1624 Virginia was made a crown colony, and over the next century, Catholics faced increasingly restrictive legislation enacted against them. In 1641, a law decreed that Catholics would be fined 1000 pounds of tobacco if they tried to hold public office. The next year, all priests were given five days to leave the colony. In 1661, Virginia citizens were required to attend the established Protestant services or face fines. In 1699, Catholics were deprived of their voting rights, and they were declared incompetent as witnesses in 1705, and in 1753 such incompetency was made to cover all cases. This particular test oath stemmed from one of the first acts of George I’s reign. In an attempt to thwart future attempts by Catholics at the English throne, the king and Parliament passed “An act for the further security of his Majesty’s person and government, and the succession of the crown in the heirs of the late princess Sophia, being protestants; and for extinguishing the hopes of the pretended Prince of Wales, and his open and secret abettors” on the heels of James Francis Edward’s  (the “Old Pretender”) attempt at the monarchy.

On various occasions, Virginians were required to take the (anti-Catholic) “test oath” like this one to hold a state-related office.  The signatures in the right hand column seem to belong to the early months of 1754; those in the left are dated from May 22, 1754 to July 17, 1755 (though it isn’t clear that the dates were written at the same time as the signatures).  

The earliest date on the document is May 22, 1754, when Washington was off leading the Virginia militia in the disastrous Battles of Jumonville Glen and Fort Necessity, returning in June. In May through July 26, 1755, Washington was away from Virginia serving as General Braddock’s volunteer aide for his fateful expedition as a volunteer aide-de-camp.

There are several reasons Washington would have needed to take this oath. It would have been required of him to accept Virginia Governor Dinwiddie’s late 1755 official appointment of Washington as Colonel and Commander in Chief of all Virginia forces, as well as necessary to run (unsuccessfully) for the House of Burgesses in December 1755. Or it could have been church related; he also signed an oath attesting to the “Doctrine and Discipline of the Church of England” in 1765 when he served on the Pohick Church’s vestry and purchased a family pew. It is in the collection of the New-York Historical Society.

Washington’s service in the British army during the French and Indian war was the reason for his being chosen in 1775 to lead America’s troops.  Without agreeing to sign this document, it is possible that Washington would not have been given a leadership position, and America’s Independence may not have been gained from Britain.

Regardless of their treatment in America, most Catholics favored the American Revolution. Charles Carroll of Carrollton signed the Declaration of Independence. Daniel Carroll of Maryland and Thomas Fitzsimons of Pennsylvania sat in the Constitutional Convention and signed that venerable document. Slowly and gradually, perhaps due in part to the rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence, Catholics acquired full civil rights in the various states.

Signed by George Washington and over a dozen others. Document folds, small holes, and ragged edges in no way affect the large Washington signature.  On the verso of the leaf is a similar oath, “to be conformable to the Doctrine and Discipline of the Church of England,” subscribed only by Nicholas Minor. George William Fairfax and his brother Bryan, who both signed this document, were good friends of Washington. There were, however, dark overtones to the friendship between the two George’s; Washington was reputedly in love with Fairfax’s wife, Sally.  The other signers of this document, for the most part, are Washington’s neighbors and members of the Truro Parish.

Transcript

I A. B. do declare that there is no Transubstantiation in the sacrament of the Lords supper or in the Elements of Bread and wine at or after the consecration thereof by any person whatsoever.

22 May 1754                          

Anthony Russell John Colvill
17. July 1754 Wm Ramsay
Stephn Lewis John Carlyle
19 Sept. 1754 Thos Bullock
Nicho: Minor Hugh West
18 March 1755 GW Fairfax
Go: Mercer John Wolf
John Carlyle Thos. Colvell
Lee Massey Bryan Fairfax
15 July 1755 G:o  Washington
G W Fairfax  
John Wolf John West Jr.
John Carlyle James Tower
Charles Broadwater  
  Charles Broadwater
John West Jun. Go: West
Wm Ramsay The mark of  ES
Friedling Turner Francis Summer
Thos Colwell Friedling Turner
17 July 1755  
Samson Turly John Mercer
Samson Darrell Henry Begess Jun.
  Willian De Peyrain

  


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