In one of these Courts, in January last, a Negro woman Slave was tryed for stealing; and as I knew her to be a Christian (for not long before she had, upon some pretence, I forget what, sued for her Freedom in the General Court, where she was examined touching her Faith of which she gave a tolerable account) I desired a Lawyer to attend the Tryal, and in case she was found Guilty, to inform the Justices that notwithstanding she was a Slave, it was my opinion, as a christian, she was Intitled to the benefit of the Clergy; upon which after some little debate, for it was never Inquired into before, the Question was put, and the judges were divided, so it was agreed to be deferr’d until another and a fuller Court. When a report was made to me of their Proceedings, and fearing it might go against her if I left to be determined there, I advised with our ablest Lawyers, and from the county court had it Adjourned into the General Court, resolving to have this Matter argued in the most public manner by our best Lawyers, as a thing of great consequence, by which all the courts in the country for the future should govern themselves, and not doubting but it would be carried in favour of the Christian though a black one; But when the Day of hearing came, notwithstanding four out of five of the Gentlemen learned in the Law, of which number the King’s Attorney General was one, gave it as their opinion, supported by Proper Arguments, that she had a Right to plead the benefit of that statute, when put the Question, we were divided here too, six and six; and now it rests to be determined by the opinion of the Sollicitor & Attorney General in England, which I shall send for as soon as our Lawyers have drawn up a State of the Case as they have directions to do, with the sense of the Laws of this Country, and political reasons for and against it. But I can assure your Lordship that there is no Law against it, if there is, I think it ought to be repealed: and for political reasons, they are of equal force against white as black People being Christians. I shant trouble your Lordship with particulars, but thought it my Duty to acquaint your Lordship with it, not knowing whether Mr Commissary will do so or not, who was one of the judges.
— Extract from letter of Lt. Governor William Gooch to the Bishop of London, Williamsburg, 28 May 1731.