Parish (law Latin, parochia). In English ecclesiastical law, this word has always meant a certain extent of territory, or " circuit of ground," committed to the spiritual charge of one parson, or vicar, or other ecclesiastic. All England is divided into parishes, and they number about 10,000. Camden says parishes began in England about the year 630. Sir Henry Hobart refers them to the council of Lateran in 1179. Selden places their origin between these periods. It seems, however, that about 1,000 years ago, while every man was bound to pay tithes to the church, he paid them to whatever ecclesiastical division of the church he preferred; but a law of King Edgar, about 970, seems to confine the payment to the parish to which the man belonged, and so it has remained ever since. - In the United States the word parish is of frequent use, but it does not mean precisely the same thing as in England, nor does it mean the same thing in all the states. The legal importance of parishes in England depends upon the fact that the rector of each parish is entitled to the tithes of agricultural produce within it, except so far as some qualification of this rule has been made by comparatively recent statutes. In this country tithes were never paid, or rather no legal obligation to pay them ever existed.
But from the first settlement of the country we have had everywhere associations and bodies corporate or organized for ecclesiastical purposes, and these have been generally called parishes. In New England they were originally the same as towns; that is, the persons composing a town, and acting as a town in civil and political matters, also acted as one body in religious or ecclesiastical matters; and the parish had therefore the same territorial limits as the town. As the towns grew more populous, they were divided for ecclesiastical purposes into different parishes, which were still territorial and were contained within local limits. At length, as a diversity of religious sentiment became developed, all religious opinions standing on the same footing in law, parishes began to be formed of persons associated by similarity of religious sentiment and not mere nearness of residence, and therefore with little or no reference to their place of abode. These were called poll parishes, in distinction from territorial parishes. - In Louisiana, the word parish is used to designate what in the other states is called a county.