Lauues and Libertyes of Massachusetts (1648)

Source: Lauues and Libertyes of Massachusetts, Reprinted from the copy of the 1648 edition in The Henry E. Huntington Library, a special edition of The Legal Classics Library, Division of Gryphon Editions, Birmingham, 1982.

Image: The General Laws and Liberties of the Massachusets [sic] Colony, by Order of the General Court, Holden at Boston, May 15th, 1672, Edward Rawson, Secr. Cambridge: Samuel Green, 1672. Law Library, Library of Congress (023) <>.


  1. 1 Ana-Baptists.
  2. 2 Appeale.
  3. 3 Barratrie.
  4. 4 Bond-Slavery.
  5. 5 Burglarie and Theft.
  7. 7 Children.
  8. 8 Constables.
  9. 9 Criminal causes.
  10. 10 Crueltie
  11. 11 Damages pretended.
  12. 12 Dowries.
  13. 13 Ecclesiasticall:
  14. 14 Escheats.
  15. 15 Forgerie.
  16. 16 Fornication.
  17. 17 Freemen, Non-Freemen.
  18. 18 Fugitives, Strangers.
  19. 19 Gaming.
  20. 20 Heresie.
  21. 21 Idlenes.
  22. 22 Jesuits.
  23. 23 Impresses.
  24. 24 Imprisonment.
  25. 25 Indians.
  26. 26 In-keepers, Tippling, Drunkenes.
  27. 27 Juries, Jurors.
  28. 28 Justice.
  29. 29 Lands, Free lands.
  30. 30 Lying.
  31. 31 Man-slaughter.
  32. 32 Masters, Servants, Labourers.
  33. 33 Monopolies.
  34. 34 Oppression.
  35. 35 Poor.
  36. 36 Prescriptions.
  37. 37 Prisoners, Prisons.
  38. 38 Profane Swearing.
  39. 39 Protestation contra Remonstrance.
  40. 40 Punishment.
  41. 41 Records.
  42. 42 Secresie.
  43. 43 Strangers.
  44. 44 Suits, vexatious suits.
  45. 45 Tile-earth.
  46. 46 Tobacco.
  47. 47 Torture.
  48. 48 Usurie.
  49. 49 Watching.
  50. 50 Wills intestate.
  51. 51 Wolves.
  52. 52 Workmen.
  53. 53 Wrecks of the Sea.


FORASMUCH as the free fruition of such Liberties, Immunities, priviledges as humanitie, civilitie & christianity call for as due to everie man in his place, & proportion, without impeachment & infringement hath ever been, & ever will be the tranquillity & stability of Churches & Comon-wealths; & the deniall or deprivall thereof the disturbance, if not ruin of both:

It is therefore ordered by this Court, & Authority thereof, That no mans life shall be taken away; no mans honour or good name shall be stayned; no mans person shal be arrested, restrained, bannished, dismembred nor anywayes punished; no man shall be deprived of his wife or children; no mans goods or estate shal be taken away from him; nor any wayes indamaged under colour of Law or countenance of Authoritie unles it be by the vertue or equity of some express Law of the Country warranting the same established by a General Court & sufficiently published; or in case of the defect of a law in any particular case by the word of God. And in capital cases, or in cases concerning dismembering or banishment according to that word to be judged by the General Court. [1641]





Forasmuch as experience hath plentifully & often proved that since the first arising of the Ana-baptists about a hundred years past they have been the Incendiaries of Common-wealths & the Infectors of persons in main matters of Religion, & the Troublers of Churches in most places where they have been, & that they who have held the baptizing of Infants unlawful, have usually held other errors or heresies together therewith (though as hereticks used to doe they have concealed the same untill they espied a fit advantage and opportunity to vent them by way of question or scruple) and wheras divers of this kinde have since our coming into New-England have appeared amongst our selvs, some wherof as others before them have denied the Ordinance of Magistracy, and the law fulnes of making warre, others the lawfulnes of Magistrates, and their Inspection into any breach of the first Table: which opinions if connived at by us are like to be increased among us & so necessarily bring guilt upon us, infection, & trouble to the Churches & hazzard to the whole Common-wealth:

It is therefore ordered by this Court & Authoritie therof, that if any person or persons within this Jurisdiction shall either openly condemn or oppose the baptizing of Infants, or goe about secretly to seduce others from the approbation or use therof, or shal purposely depart the Congregation at the administration of that Ordinance; or shal deny the Ordinance of Magistracy, or their lawfull right or authoritie to make war, or to punish the outward breaches of the first Table, and shall appear to the Court wilfully and obstinately to continue therin, after due meanes of conviction, everie such person or persons shall be sentenced to Banishment. [1644]


1. ...

2. Wheras the Countrye is put to great charges by this Court's attending sutes commenced or renewed either by appeal, petition or review: It is ordered by this Court & Authoritie therof, That in all such cases if it appear to the Court that the Plaintiffe in any such action, appeal, petition or review hath no just cause of any such proceeding the said Plaintiffe shall bear the whole charges of the Court both for time and expences which they shall judge to have been expended by his occasion: and may further impose a fine upon him as the merit of the cause shall require, but if they shal finde the Defendant in fault they shall impose the charges upon such Defendant. [1647]

Appearance Non-apearance.






It is ordered, decreed and by this Court declared; that if any man be proved and judged a common barrater, vexing others with unjust, frequent and endless sutes: it shall be in the power of Courts both to reject his cause and to punish him for his Barratrie. [1641]




It is ordered by this Court and authoritie therof, that there shall never be any bond-slavery, villenage or captivitie amongst us; unlesse it be lawfull captives, taken in just warrs, and such strangers as willingly sell themselves, or are solde to us: and such shall have the libertyes and christian usages which the law of God established in Israell concerning such persons doth morally require, provided, this exempts none from servitude who shall be judged thereto by Authoritie. [1641]

Bounds of townes and persons.

Burglarie and Theft.

Forasmuch as many persons of late years have been, and are apt to be injurious to the goods and lives of others, notwithstanding all care and meanes to prevent and punish the same; ---

It is therefore ordered by this Court and Authoritie therof that if any person shall commit Burglarie by breaking up any dwelling house, or shall rob any person in the filed, or high wayes; such a person so offending shall for the first offence be branded on the forehead with the letter (B). If he shall offend in the same kinde the second time, he shall be branded as before and also be severally whipped: and if he shall fall into the like offence the third time he shall be put to death, as being incorrigible. And if any person shal commit such Burglarie, or rob in the fields or house on the Lords day besides the former punishments, he shal for the first offence have one of his ears cut off. And for the second offence in the same kinde he shal loose his other ear in the same manner. And if he fall into the same offence a third time he shal be put to death if it appear to the Court he did it presumptuously. [1642 1647]

2. ...


If any man after legal conviction shall HAVE OR WORSHIP any other God, but the LORD GOD: he shall be put to death. Exod. 22. 20. Deut. 13. 6. & 10. Deut. 17. 2. 6.

2. If any man or woman be a WITCH, that is, hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit, they shall be put to death. Exod. 22. 18. Levit. 20. 27. Deut. 18. 10. 11.

3. If any person within this Jurisdiction whether Christian or Pagan shall wittingly and willingly presume to BLASPHEME the holy Name of God, Father, Son or Holy-Ghost, with direct, expresse, presumptuous, or high-handed blasphemy, either by wilfull or obstinate denying the true God, or his Creation, or Government of the world: or shall curse God in like manner, or reproach the holy Religion of God as if it were but a politick device to keep ignorant men in awe; or shal utter any other kinde of Blasphemy of the like nature & degree they shall be put to death. Levit. 24. 15. 16.

4. If any person shall commit any wilfull MURTHER, which is Man slaughter, committed upon premeditate malice, hatred, or crueltie not in a mans necessary and just defence, nor by meer casualty against his will, he shall be put to death. Exod. 21. 12. 13. Numb. 35. 31.

5. If any person slayeth another suddenly in his ANGER, or CRUELTY of passion, he shall be put to death. Levit. 24. 17. Numb. 35. 20. 21.

6. If any person shall slay another through guile, either by POYSONING, or other such devilish practice, he shall be put to death. Exod.21. 14.

7. If any man or woman shall LYE WITH ANY BEAST, or bruit creature, by carnall copulation; they shall surely be put to death: and the beast shall be slain, & buried, and not eaten. Lev. 20. 15. 16.

8. If any man LYETH WITH MAN-KINDE as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed abomination, they both shal surely be put to death: unles the one partie were forced (or be under fourteen years of age in which case he shall be seveerly punished). Levit. 20. 13.

9. If any person commit ADULTERIE with a married, or espoused wife; the Adulterer & Adulteresse shal surely be put to death. Levit. 20. 19. & 18. 20. Deut. 22. 23. 27.

10. If any man STEALETH A MAN, or Man-kinde, he shall surely be put to death. Exodus 21. 16.

11. If any man rise up by FALSE-WITNES wittingly, and of purpose to take away any mans life: he shal be put to death.
Deut. 19., 16. 18. 16.

12. If any man shall CONSPIRE, and attempt any Invasion, Insurrection, or publick Rebellion against our Common-Wealth: or shall indeavour to surprize any Town, or Townes, Fort, or Forts therin; or shall treacherously, & perfidiously attempt the Alteration and Subversion of our frame of Politie, or Government fundamentally he shall be put to death. Numb. 16. 2Sam. 18. 2Sam. 20.

13. If any child, or children, above sixteen years old, and of sufficient understanding, shall CURSE, or SMITE their natural FATHER, or MOTHER; he or they shall be put to death: unles it can be sufficiently testified that the Parents have been very unchristianly negligent in the education of such children; or so provoked them by extream, and cruel correction; that they have been forced therunto to preserve themselves from death or maiming. Exod.21. 17. Lev. 20. 9. Exod. 21. 15.

14. If a man have a stubborn or REBELLIOUS SON, of sufficient years & understanding (viz) sixteen years of age, which will not obey the voice of his Father, or the voice of his Mother, and that when they have chastened him will not harken unto them: then shal his Father & Mother being his natural parents, lay hold on him, & bring him to the Magistrates assembled in Court & testifie unto them, that their Son is stubborn & rebellious & will not obey their voice and chastisement, but lives in sundry notorious crimes, such a son shal be put to death. Deut. 21. 20. 21.

15. If any man shal RAVISH any maid or single woman, committing carnal copulation with her by force, against her own will; that is above the age of ten years he shal be punished either with death, or with some other grievous punishment according to the circumstances as the Judges, or General court shall determin. [1641]

Cask & Cooper.

Cattel. Corn-fields. Fences.

Causes. Small causes.

Charges Publick.


Forasmuch as the good education of children is of singular behoof and benefit to any Common-wealth; and wheras many parents & masters are too indulgent and negligent of their duty in that kinde. It is therfore ordered that the Select men of everie town, in the severall precincts and quarters where they dwell, shall have a vigilant eye over their brethren & neighbours, to see, first that none of them shall suffer so much barbarism in any of their families as not to indeavour to teach by themselves or others, their children & apprentices so much learning as may inable them perfectly to read the english tongue, & knowledge of the Capital Lawes: upon penaltie of twentie shillings for each neglect therin. Also that all masters of families doe once a week (at the least) catechize their children and servants in the grounds & principles of Religion, & if any be unable to doe so much: that then at the least they procure such children or apprentices to learn some short orthodox catechism without book, that they may be able to answer unto the questions that shall be propounded to them out of such catechism by their parents or masters or any of the Select men when they shall call them to a tryall of what they have learned of this kinde. And further that all parents and masters do breed & bring up their children & apprentices in some honest lawful calling, labour or imployment, either in husbandry, or some other trade profitable for themselves, and the Common-wealth if they will not or cannot train them up in learning to fit them for higher imployments. And if any of the Select men after admonition by them given to such masters of families shal finde them still negligent of their dutie in the particulars aforementioned, wherby children and servants become rude, stubborn & unruly; the said Select men with the help of two Magistrates, or the next County court for that Shire, shall take such children or apprentices from them & place them with some masters for years (boyes till they come to twenty one, and girls eighteen years of age compleat) which will more strictly look unto, and force them to submit unto government according to the rules of this order, if by fair means and former instructions they will not be drawn into it. [1642]

2. ...

3. If any parents shall wilfully, and unreasonably deny any childe timely or convenient marriage, or shall exercise any unnatural severitie towards them, such children shal have libertie to complain to Authoritie for redresse in such cases. [1641]

4. ...

Clerk of writs.




It is ordered by this Court, That Constables are to whip or punish any to be punished by order of Authoritie (where there is not another officer appointed to doe it) in their own towns; unles they can get another to do it.

2. It is farther ordered by the Authoritie aforesaid, That any person tendered to any Constable of this Jurisdiction by any Constable or other Officer belonging to any foreign Jurisdiction in this Countrie, or by warrant from any such authoritie, such shall presently be received, and conveyed forthwith from Constable to Constable, till they be brought unto the place to which they are sent or before some Magistrate of this Jurisdiction who shall dispose of them as the justice of the cause shall require. And that all Hue-&-cries shall be duly received and dilligently pursued to full effect. [1641] [164-]

3. It is ordered by the authoritie of this Court, That everie Constable within our Jurisdiction shall henceforth have full power to make, signe & put forth Pursutes or Hue-&-cries after Murtherers, Manslayers, Peace-breakers, Theevs, Robbers, Burglarers and other Capital offenders, where no Magistrate is neer hand, also to apprehend without Warrant, such as are overtaken with drink, swearing, Sabboth-breaking, lying, vagrant persons, night-walkers, or any other that shall offend in any of these. Provided they be taken in the manner, either by sight of the Constable, or by present information from others. As also to make search for all such persons, either on the Sabboth day or other, when there shal be occasion, in all houses licensed to sell either beer or wine, or in any other suspected or disordered places, and those to apprehend and keep in safe custodie, till opportunitie serve to bring them before one of the next Magistrates for farther examination. Provided when any Constable is imployed by any of the Magistrates for apprehending of any person, he shall not doe it without warrant in writing, and if any person shall refuse to assist any Constable in the execution of his office, in any of the things aforementioned being by him required therto, they shal pay for neglect therof ten shillings, to the use of the Country to be levied by warrant from any Magistrate before whom any such offender shal be brought. And if it appear by good testimonie, that any shal wilfully, obstinately or contemptuously refuse or neglect to assist any Constable as is before expressed, he shall pay to the use of the Country fourty shillings. And that no man may plead ignorance for such neglect or refusal, it is ordered that everie Constable shall have a black staffe of five foot long, tipped at the upper end, about five inches with brasse, as a badge of his office, which he shal take with him when he goeth to discharge any part of his office: which staffe shall be provided at the charge of the town, and if any Magistrate or Constable or any other, upon urgent occasion, shall refuse to doe their best indeavours, in raising & prosecuting Hue-&-cries by foot, & if need be, by horse, after such as have committed Capital crimes, they shall forfeit for everie such offence to the use aforesaid fourty shillings. [1646] See In-keepers, Masters, Oaths, Rates, Untimely death, watching.

Conveyances fraudulant.



Criminal causes.

It is ordered by this court & Authoritie therof, That everie man that is to answer for any criminal cause, whether he be in prison or under Bayle his cause shall be heard and determined at the next Court that hath proper cognisance therof and may be done without prejudice of justice. [1641] See Courts, Lib: com: Punishment, Torture.


It is ordered by this Court and Authoritie therof; That no man shall exercise any tyrany or cruelty towards any bruit creatures which are usually kept for the use of man. [1641]

Damages pretended.

It is ordered by this Court and Authoritie therof; That no man in any Sute or Action against another shall falsly pretend great damages or debts to vex his adversary, and if it shall appear any doth so, the Court shall have power to set a reasonable fine on his head. [1641]

Death untimely.

Deeds and writings.

Deputies for the Generall Court.



Forasmuch as no provision hath yet been made for any certein maintainance for Wives after the death of their Husbands, be it ordered and enacted by this present Court and Authoritie therof;

That every married Woman (living with her Husband in this Jurisdiction or other where absent from him with his consent or through his meer default, or inevitable providence, or in case of divorce where she is the innocent partie) that shal not before marriage be estated by way of joynture in some houses, lands, tenements or other hereditaments for term of her life, shall immediatly after the death of her Husband have right and interest by way of dower, in, and to one third part of all such houses, lands, tenements, rents and hereditaments as her said Husband was seized of, to his own use, either in possession, reversion or remainder in any estate of inheritance (or franc-tenement not then determined) at any time during the marriage to have and injoy for term of her natural life according to the estate of such Husband free, and freely discharged of and from all titles, debts, rents, charges, judgments, executions and other incumbrances whatsoever had, made, or suffered by her said Husband during the said marriage between them; or by any other person claiming by, from, or under him otherwise then by any act or consent of such Wife, as the laws of this Court shall ratefie and allow: and if the Heir of the Husband or other person interested, shall not within one month after lawfull demand made, assigne and set out such widow, her just part with conveniencie or to her satisfaction according to the intent of this Law, then upon a writ of dower in the court of that Shire where the said houses, lands, tenements or other hereditaments shall lye; or in the court of Assistants (if the same lye in several Shires) her dower or third part shal be assigned her to be set forth in severall by mets and bounds, by such persons as the same Court shall appoint for that purpose, with all costs and damages susteined. Provided alwayes that this Law shall not extend to any houses, lands, tenements or other hereditaments solde or conveyed away, by any husband bona fide for valuable consideration, before the last of the ninth month now last past. And it is farther enacted that everie such Wife as is before expressed immediatly after the death of her Husband, shall have interest in, and unto one third part of all such monie, goods and chattels, real and personal of what kinde soever as her Husband shall dye possessed of (so much as shall be sufficient for the discharge of his Funerall and just debts being first deducted) to be allowed and set out to her as is heer before appointed for her Dowrie. Provided alwayes that every such widow so endowed as aforesaid shall not commit or suffer any strip or wast, but shal maintain all such houses, fences and inclosures as shall be assigned to her for her Dowrie, and shall leave the same in good and sufficient repairations in all points. [1647]



1 All the people of God within this Jurisdiction who are not in a Church way and be orthodox in judgment and not scandalous in life shall have full libertie to gather themselves into a Church estate, provided they doe it in a christian way with due observation of the rules of Christ revealed in his word. Provided also that the General Court doth not, nor will heerafter approve of any such companyes of men as shall joyne in any pretended way of Church fellowship unles they shall acquaint the Magistrates and the Elders of the neighbour Churches where they intend to joyn, & have their approbation therin.

2 And it is farther ordered, that no person being a member of any Church which shal be gathered without the approbation of the Magistrates and the said Churches shal be admitted to the Freedom of this Common-wealth.

3 - 12 ...

13 Forasmuch as the open contempt of God's word and Messengers therof is the desolating sinne of civil States and Churches and that the preaching of the word by those whom God doth send, is the chief ordinary means ordained of God for the converting, edifying and saving the soules of the Elect through the presence and power of the Holy-Ghost, therunto promised: and that the ministry of the word, is set up by God in his Churches, for those holy ends: and according to the respect or contempt of the same and of those whom God hath set apart for his own work & imployment, the weal or woe of all Christian States is much furthered and promoted; it is therfore ordered and decreed,

That if any christian (so called) within this Jurisdiction shall contemptuously behave himselfe toward the Word preached or the Messengers therof called to dispense the same in any Congregation; when he doth faithfully execute his Service and Office therin, according to the will and word of God, either by interrupting him in his preaching, or by charging him falsely with any errour which he hath not taught in the open face of the Church: or like a son of Korah cast upon his true doctrine or himselfe any reproach, to the dishonour of the Lord Jesus who hath sent him and to the disparagement of that his holy Ordinance, and making Gods wayes contemptible and ridiculous: that everie such person or persons (whatsoever censure the Church may passe) shall for the first scandall be convented and reproved openly by the Magistrate at some Lecture, and bound to their good behaviour. And if a second time they break forth into the like contemptuous carriages, they shall either pay five pounds to the publick Treasurie; or stand two hours openly upon a block or stool, four foot high on a lecture day with a paper fixed on his breast, written in Capital letters [AN OPEN AND OBSTINATE CONTEMNOR OF GODS HOLY ORDINANCES] that others may fear and be ashamed of breaking out into the like wickedness. [1646]

14 - 16 ...



It is ordered by this Court and Authoritie therof, That where no Heir or Owner of houses, lands, tenements, goods or chattels can be found: they shall be seized to the publick Treasurie till such Heirs or owners shall make due claim therto, unto whom they shall be restored upon just and reasonable terms. [1646]


Fayrs & Markets.




Fish. Fisher-men.


It is ordered by this Court and Authoritie therof, That if any person shall forge any Deed or conveyance, Testament, Bond, Bill, Releaf, Acquittance, Letter of Attourney or any writing to pervert equitie and justice, he shall stand in the Pillory three several Lecture dayes and render double damages to the partie wronged and also be dissabled to give any evidence or verdict to any Court or Magistrate. [1646]


It is ordered by this Court and Authoritie therof, That if any man shall commit Fornication with any single woman, they shall be punished either by enjoyning to Marriage, or Fine, or corporall punishment, or all or any of these as the Judges in the courts of Assistants shall appoint most agreeable to the word of God. And this Order to continue till the Court take further order. [1642]

Freemen, Non-Freemen.

WHERAS there are within this Jurisdiction many members of Churches who to exempt themselves from all publick service in the Common-wealth will not come in, to be made Freemen, it is therfore ordered by this Court and the Authoritie therof,

That all such members of Churches in the severall towns within this Jurisdiction shall not be exempted from such publick service as they are from time to time chosen to by the Freemen of the severall towns; as Constables, Jurors, Select-men and Surveyors of high-wayes. And if any such person shall refuse to serve in, or take upon him any such Office being legally chosen therunto, he shall pay for every such refusall such Fine as the town shall impose, not exceeding twenty shillings as Freemen are lyable to in such cases. [1647]

Fugitives, Strangers.

It is ordered by this Court and Authoritie therof, That if any people of other nations professing the true Christian Religion shall flee to us from the tyrannie or oppression of their persecutors, or from Famine, Wars, or the like necessarie and compulsarie cause, they shall be entertained and succoured amongst us according to that power and prudence God shall give us. [1641]


UPON complaint of great disorder by the use of the game called Shuffle-board, in houses of common entertainment, wherby much pretious time is spent unfruitfully and much wast of wine and beer occasioned, it is therfore ordered and enacted by the Authoritie of this Court;

That no person shall henceforth use the said game of Shuffle-board in any such house, nor in any other house used as common for such purpose, upon payn for every Keeper of such house to forfeit for every such offence twenty shillings: and for every person playing at the said game in any such house, to forfeit for every such offence five shillings: Nor shall any person at any time play or game for any monie, or monyworth upon penalty of forfeiting treble the value therof: one half to the partie informing, the other half to the Treasurie. And any Magistrate may hear and determin any offence against this Law. [1646 1647]

Generall Court.



ALTHOUGH no humane power be Lord over the Faith & Consciences of men, and therfore may not constrein them to beleive or professe against their Consciences: yet because such as bring in damnable heresies, tending to the subversion of the Christian Faith, and destruction of the soules of men, ought duly to be restreined from such notorious impiety, it is therfore ordered and decreed by this Court;

That if any Christian within this Jurisdiction shall go about to subvert and destroy the christian Faith and Religion, by broaching or mainteining any damnable heresie; as denying the immortalitie of the Soul, or the resurrection of the body, or any sin to be repented of in the Regenerate, or any evil done by the outward man to be accounted sin: or denying that Christ gave himself a Ransom for our sins, or shal affirm that wee are not justified by his Death and Righteousnes, but by the perfection of our own works; or shall deny the moralitie of the fourth commandement, or shall indeavour to seduce others to any the herisies aforementioned, everie such person continuing obstinate therin after due means of conviction shall be sentenced to Banishment. [1646]

Hydes & Skins.



It is ordered by this Court and Authoritie therof, that no person, Housholder or other shall spend his time idlely or unproffitably under pain of such punishment as the Court of Assistants or County Court shall think meet to inflict. And for this end it is ordered that the Constable of everie place shall use speciall care and diligence to take knowledge of offenders in this kinde, especially of common coasters, unproffitable fowlers and tobacco takers, and present the same unto the two next Assistants, who shall have power to hear and determin the cause, or transfer it to the next Court. [1643]


THIS Court taking into consideration the great wars, combustions and divisions which are this day in Europe: and that the same are observed to be raysed and fomented chiefly by the secret underminings, and solicitations of those of the Jesuiticall Order, men brought up and devoted to the religion and court of Rome; which hath occasioned divers States to expell them their territories; for prevention wherof among our selves, It is ordered and enacted by Authoritie of this Court,

That no Jesuit, or spiritual or ecclesiastical person [as they are termed] ordained by the authoritie of the Pope, or Sea of Rome shall henceforth at any time repair to, or come within this Jurisdiction: And if any person shal give just cause of suspicion that he is one of such Societie or Order he shall be brought before some of the Magistrates, and if he cannot free himselfe of such suspicion he shall be committed to prison, or bound over to the next Court of Assistants, to be tryed and proceeded with by Banishment or otherwise as the Court shall see cause: and if any person so banished shall be taken the second time within this Jurisdiction upon lawfull tryall and conviction he shall be put to death. Provided this Law shall not extend to any such Jesuit, spiritual or ecclesiasticall person as shall be cast upon our shoars, by ship-wreck or other accident, so as he continue no longer then till he may have opportunitie of passage for his departure; nor to any such as shall come in company with any Messenger hither upon publick occasions, or any Merchant or Master of any ship, belonging to any place not in emnitie with the State of England, or our selves, so as they depart again with the same Messenger, Master or Merchant, and behave themselves in-offensively during their aboad heer. [1647]



IT is ordered, and by this Court declared, that no man shall be compelled to any publick work, or service, unless the Presse be grounded upon some act of the General Court; and have reasonable allowance therfore: nor shall any man be compelled in person to any office, work, wars, or other publick service that is necessarily and sufficiently exempted, by any natural or personal impediment; as by want of years, greatness of age, defect of minde, failing of senses, or impotency of lims. Nor shall any man be compelled to go out of this Jurisdiction upon any offensive wars, which this Common-wealth, or any of our freinds or confederates shall voluntarily undertake; but only upon such vindictive and defensive wars, in our own behalf, or the behalf of our freinds and confederates; as shall be enterprized by the counsell, and consent of a General Court, or by Authoritie derived from the same. Nor shall any mans cattle or goods of what kinde soever be pressed, or taken for any publick use or service; unless it be by Warrant grounded upon some act of the General Court: nor without such reasonable prizes and hire as the ordinarie rates of the Countrie doe afford. And if his cattle or goods shall perish, or suffer damage in such service, the Owner shall be sufficiently recompenced. [1641]


IT is ordered and by this Court declared; that no mans person shall be restrained or imprisoned by any authoritie whatsoever before the Law hath sentenced him therto: if he can put in sufficient securitie, Bayle or Mainprize for his appearance, and good behaviour in the mean time: unles it be in crimes Capital, and contempt in open Court, and in such cases where some expresse Act of Court doth allow it. [1641]


It is ordered by Authoritie of this Court; that no person whatsoever shall henceforth buy land of any Indian, without licence first had & obtained of the General Court: and if any shall offend heerin, such land so bought shall be forfeited to the Countrie.

Nor shall any man within this Jurisdiction directly or indirectly amend, repair, or cause to be amended or repaired any gun, small or great, belonging to any Indian, nor shall indeavour the same. Nor shall sell or give to any Indian, directly or indirectly any such gun, or any gun-powder, shot or lead, or shot-mould, or any militarie weapons or armour: upon payn of ten pounds fine, at the least for everie such offence: and that the court of Assistants shall have power to increase the Fine; or to impose corporall punishment (where a Fine cannot be had) at their discretion.

It is also ordered by the Authoritie aforesaid that everie town shall have power to restrein all Indians from profaning the Lords day. [1633 1637 1641]

2 ...

3 It is ordered by this Court and Authoritie therof, that in all places, the English and such others as co-inhabit within our Jurisdiction shall keep their cattle from destroying the Indians corn, in any ground where they have right to plant; and if any of their corn be destroyed for want of fencing, or hearding; the town shall make satisfaction, and shall have power among themselves to lay the charge where the occasion of the damage did arise. Provided that the Indians shall make proof that the cattle of such town, farm, or person did the damage. And for encouragement of the Indians toward the fencing in of their corn fields, such towns, farms or persons, whose cattle may annoy them that way, shall direct, assist and help them in felling of trees, ryving, and sharpening of rayls, & holing of posts: allowing one English-man to three or more Indians. And also to draw the fencing into place for them, and allow one man a day or two toward the setting up the same, and either lend or sell them tools to finish it. Provided that such Indians, to whom the Countrie, or any town hath given, or shall give ground to plant upon, or that shall purchase ground of the English shall fence such their corn fields or ground at their own charge as the English doe or should doe; and if any Indians refuse to fence their corn ground (being tendred help as aforesaid) in the presence and hearing of any Magistrate or selected Townsmen being met together they shall keep off all cattle or lose one half of their damages.

And it is ordered that if any harm be done at any time by the Indians unto the English in their cattle; the Governour or Deputie Governour with two of the Assistants or any three Magistrates or any County Court may order satisfaction according to law and justice. [1640] [1648]

4 Considering that one end in planting these parts was to propagate the true Religion unto the Indians: and that divers of them are become subjects to the English and have ingaged themselves to be willing and ready to understand the Law of God, it is therfore ordered and decreed,

That such necessary and wholsom Laws, which are in force, and may be made from time to time, to reduce them to civilitie of life shall be once in the year (if the time be safe) made known to them, by such fit persons as the General Court shall nominate, having the help of some able Interpreter with them.

Considering also that interpretation of tongues is appointed of God for propagating the Truth: and may therfore have a blessed successe in the hearts of others in due season, it is therfore farther ordered and decreed,

That two Ministers shall be chosen by the elders of the Churches everie year at the Court of Election, and so be sent with the consent of their Churches (with whomsover will freely offer themselves to accompany them in that service) to make known the heavenly counsell of God among the Indians in most familiar manner, by the help of some able Interpreter; as may be most available to bring them unto the knowledge of the truth, and their conversation to the Rules of Jesus Christ. And for that end that something be allowed them by the General Court, to give away freely unto those Indians whom they shall perceive most willing & ready to be instructed by them.

And it is farther ordered and decreed by this Court; that no Indian shall at any time powaw, or performe outward worship of their false gods: or to the devil in any part of our Jurisdiction; whether they be such as shall dwell heer, or shall come hither: and if any shall transgresse this Law, the Powawer shall pay five pounds; the Procurer five pounds; and every other countenancing by his presence or otherwise being of age of discretion twenty shillings. [1646]


In-keepers, Tippling, Drunkenes.

FORASMUCH as there is a necessary use of houses of common entertainment in every Common-wealth, and of such as retail wine, beer and victuals; yet because there are so many abuses of that lawfull libertie, both by persons entertaining and persons entertained, there is also need of strict Laws and Rules to regulate such an employment: It is therfore ordered by this Court and Authoritie therof;

That no person or persons shall at any time under any pretence or colour whatsoever undertake to be a common Victuailer, Keeper or a Cooks shop, or house for common entertainment, Taverner, or publick seller of wine, ale, beer or strongwater (by re-tale), nor shall any sell wine privatly in his house or out of doors by a lesse quantitie, or under a quarter cask: without approbation of the selected Townsmen and Licence of the Shire Court where they dwell: upon pain of forfeiture of five pounds for everie such offense, or imprisonment at pleasure of the Court, where satisfaction cannot be had.

And every person so licenced for common entertainment shall have some inoffensive Signe obvious for strangers direction, and such as have no such Signe after three months so licenced from time to time shall lose their licence: and others allowed in their stead. And any licenced person that selleth beer shall not sell any above two pence the ale-quart: upon penaltie of three shillings four pence for everie such offence. And it is permitted to any that will to sell beer out of doors at a pennie the ale-quart and under.

Neither shall any such licenced person aforesaid suffer any to be drunken, or drink excessively viz: above half a pinte of wine for one person at one time; or to continue tippling above the space of half an hour, or at unreasonable times, or after nine of the clock at night in, or about any of their houses on penaltie of five shillings for everie such offence.

And everie person found drunken viz: so that he be therby bereaved or disabled in the use of his understanding, appearing in his speech or gesture in any of the said houses or elsewhere shall forfeit ten shillings. And for excessive drinking three shillings four pence. And for continuing above half an hour tippling two shillings six pence. And for tippling at unreasonable times, or after nine a clock at night five shillings: for everie offence in these particulars being lawfully convict therof. And for want of payment such shall be imprisoned untill they pay: or be set in the Stocks one hour or more [in some open place] as the weather will permit not exceeding three hours at one time.

Provided notwithstanding such licenced persons may entertain sea-faring men, or land travellers in the night-season, when they come first on shore, or from their journy for their necessarie refreshment, or when they prepare for their voyage or journie the next day early; so there be no disorder among them; and also Strangers, Lodgers or other persons in an orderly way may continue in such houses of common entertainment during meal times, or upon lawfull busines what time their occasion shall require.


Juries, Jurors.

IT is ordered by this Court and Authoritie therof, that the Constable of everie town upon Proces from the Recorder of each Court, shall give timely notice to the Freemen of their town, to choos so many discreet men as the Proces shal direct which men so chosen he shall warn to attend the Court whereto they are appointed, and shall make return of the Proces unto the Recorder aforesaid: which men so chosen shall be impannelled and sworn truly to try betwixt partie and partie, who shall finde the matter of fact with the damages and costs according to their evidence, and the Judges shall declare the Sentence (or direct the Jurie to finde) according to the law. And if there be any matter of apparent equitie as upon the forfeiture of an Obigation, breach of covenant without damage, or the like, the Bench shall determin such matter of equitie.

2 Nor shall any tryall passe upon any for life or banishment but by a special Jurie so summoned for that purpose, or by the General Court.

3 It is also ordered by Authoritie aforesaid that there shall be Grand-Juries summoned everie year unto the several Courts, in each Jurisdiction; to inform the Court of any misdemeanours that they shall know or hear to be committed by any person or persons whatsoever within this Jurisdiction. And to doe any other service of the Common-wealth that according to law they shall be injoyned to by the said Court; and in all cases wherin evidence is so obscure or defective that the Jurie cannot clearly and safely give a positive verdict, whether it be Grand, or Petty Jurie, it shall have libertie to give a Non liquet or a special verdict, in which last, that is, a special verdict the judgement of the Cause shall be left unto the Bench. And all Jurors shall have libertie in matters of fact if they canot finde the main issue yet to finde and present their verdict so much as they can.

4 And if the Bench and Jurors shall so differ at any time about their verdict that either of them cannot proceed with peace of conscience, the Case shall be referred to the General Court who shall take the question from both and determin it.

5 And it is farther ordered that whensoever any Jurie of tryalls, or Jurors are not clear in their judgements or consciences, concerning any Case wherin they are to give their verdict, they shall have libertie, in open Court to advise with any man they shall think fit to resolve or direct them, before they give in their verdict. And no Freeman shall be compelled to serve upon Juries above one ordinary Court in a year: except Grand-jurie men, who shall hold two Courts together at the least, and such others as shall be summoned to serve in case of life and death or banishment. [1634] [1641 1642]See Secresie.


IT is ordered, and by this Court declared; that every person within this Jurisdiction, whether Inhabitant or other shall enjoy the same justice and law that is general for this Jurisdiction which wee constitute and execute one towards another, in all cases proper to our cognisance without partialitie or delay. [1641]

Lands, Free lands.

IT is ordered, and by this Court declared; that all our Lands and Heritages shall be free from all Fines and Licences upon alienations, and from all Hariots, Wardships, Liveries, Primerseizins, year, day and wast, Escheats and forfeitures, upon the death of Parents or Ancestors, be they natural, unnatural, casual or judicial and that for ever. [1641] See Abilitie, Escheats, Strangers.



Liberties Common.


WHERAS truth in words as well as in actions is required of all men, especially of Christians who are the professed Servants of the God of Truth; and wheras all lying is contrary to truth, and some sorts of lyes are not only sinfull (as all lyes are) but also pernicious to the Publick-weal, and injurious to particular persons; it is therfore ordered by this Court and Authoritie therof,

That everie person of the age of discretion [which is accounted fourteen years] who shall wittingly and willingly make, or publish any Lye which may be pernicious to the publick weal, or tending to the damage or injurie of any particular person, or with intent to deceive and abuse the people with false news or reports: and the same duly proved in Court or before any one Magistrate (who hath heerby power graunted to hear, and determin all offences against this Law) such person shall be fined for the first offence ten shillings, or if the partie be unable to pay the same then to be set in the stocks so long as the said Court or Magistrate shall appoint, in some open place, not exceeding two hours. For the second offence in that kinde wherof any shall be legally convicted the sum of twenty shillings, or be whipped upon the naked body not exceeding ten stripes. And for the third offence that way fourty shillings, or if the partie be unable to pay, then to be whipped with more stripes, not exceeding fifteen. And if yet any shall offend in like kinde, and be legally convicted therof, such person, male or female, shall be fined ten shillings a time more then formerly: or if the partie so offending be unable to pay, then to be whipped with five, or six more stripes then formerly not exceeding fourty at any time.




IT is ordered by this Court and Authoritie therof; that if any person in the just, and necessarie defence of his life, or the life of any other, shall kill any person attempting to rob, or murther in the field, or high-way, or to break into any dwelling house if he conceive he cannot with safety of his own person otherwise take the Felon, or Assailant, or bring him to Tryall he shall be holden blameles. [1647]



Masters, Servants, Labourers.

IT is ordered by this Court and the Authoritie therof, that no servant, either man or maid shall either give, sell or truck any commoditie whatsoever without licence from their Masters, during the time of their service under pain of Fine, or corporal punishment at the discretion of the Court as the offense shall deserve.

2 And that all workmen shall work the whole day allowing convenient time for food and rest.

3 It is also ordered that when any servants shall run from their masters, or any other Inhabitants shall privily goe away with suspicion of ill intentions, it shall be lawfull for the next Magistrate, or the Constable and two of the chief Inhabitants where no Magistrate is to presse men and boats or pinnaces at the publick charge to pursue such persons by Sea or Land and bring them back by force of Arms.

4 It is also ordered by the Authoritie aforesaid, that the Free-men of everie town may from time to time as occasion shall require agree amongst themselves about the prizes, and rates of all workmens labours and servants wages. And everie person inhabiting any town, whether workman, labourer or servant shall be bound to the same rates which the said Freemen, or the greater part shall binde themselves unto: and whoever shall exceed those rates so agreed shall be punished by the discretion of the Court of that Shire, according to the qualitie and measure of the offence. And if any town shall have cause of complaint against the Freemen of any other town for allowing greater rates, or wages then themselves, the Quarter Court of that Shire shall from time to time set order therin.

5 - 9

Militarie Affairs.

Mills, Millers.


IT is ordered, decreed, and by this Court declared; that there shall be no Monopolies graunted or allowed amongst us, but of such new inventions that are profitable for the Countrie, and that for a short time. [1641]

Oaths, Subscription.


FOR avoyding such mischiefs as may follow by such ill disposed persons as may take libertie to oppose and wrong their neighbours, by taking excessive wages for work, or unreasonable prizes for such necessarie merchandizes or other commodities as shall passe from man to man, it is ordered, That if any man shall offend in any of the said cases he shall be punished by Fine, or Imprisonment according to the qualitie of the offence, as the Court to which he is presented upon lawfull tryall & conviction shall adjudge. [1635]




IT is ordered by this Court and Authoritie therof; that any Shire Court, or any two Magistrates out of Court shall have power to determin all differences about lawfull setling, and providing for poor persons: and shall have power to dispose of all unsetled persons into such towns as they shall judge to be most fit for the maintainance, and imployment of such persons and families, for the ease of the Countrie. [1639]

Pound, Pound breach.



IT is ordered, decreed, and by this Court declared; that no Custom or Prescription shall ever prevail amongst us in any moral case [our meaning is] to maintein any thing that can be proved to be morally sinfull by the Word of God. [1641]

Prisoners, Prisons.

IT is ordered by Authoritie of this Court; that such malefactors as are committed to any common Prison shall be conveyed thither at their own charge, if they be able, otherwise at the charge of the Country. [1646] See Marshal.

Profane Swearing.

IT is ordered, and by this Court decreed, that if any person within this Jurisdiction shall swear rashly and vainly either by the holy Name of God, or any other oath, he shall forfeit to the common Treasurie for everie such severall offence ten shillings. And it shall be in the power of any Magistrate by Warrant to the Constable to call such person before him, and upon sufficient proof to passe sentence, and levie the said penaltie according to the usuall order of Justice. And if such person be not able, or shall utterly refuse to pay the aforesaid Fine, he shal be committed to the Stocks there to continue, not exceeding three hours, and not lesse then one hour. [1646]

Protestation contra Remonstrance.

IT is ordered, decreed, and by this Court declared; that it is, and shall be the libertie of any member, or members of any Court, Council or civil Assemblie in cases of making or executing any Order or Law that properly concerneth Religion, or any cause Capital, or Wars, or subscription to any publick Articles, or Remonstrance in case they cannot in judgement and conscience consent to that way the major Vote or Suffrage goes, to make their contra-Remonstrance or Protestation in speech or writing, and upon their request, to have their dissent recorded in the Rolls of that Court, so it be done christianly and respectively, for the manner, and the dissent only be entred without the reasons therof for avoyding tediousnes. [1641]


IT is ordered, decreed, and by this Court declared; that no man shall be twice sentenced by civil Justice for one and the same Crime, Offence or Trespasse. And for bodily punishments, wee allow amongst us none that are in-humane, barbarous or cruel. [1641] See Appearance, Torture.

Rates, Fines.


1 - 4

5 It is ordered, decreed, and by this Court declared; that everie man shall have libertie to record in the publick Rolls of any Court, any testimonie given upon oath in the same Court, or before two Assistants; or any Deed or Evidence legally confirmed, there to remain in perpetuam rei memoriam. And that everie Inhabitant of the Countrie shall have free libertie to search and view any Rolls, Records or registers of any Court or Office except of the Council. And to have a Transcript or exemplification therof written, examined and signed by the hand of the Officer of the Office, paying the appointed Fees therefore. Also, everie Action between partie and partie and proceedings against delinquents in criminal Causes shall be briefly and distinctly entred in the rolls of everie Court by the Recorder therof, that such Actions be not afterwards brought again to the vexation of any man. [1647] See Conveyances fraudulent.




IT is ordered, decreed, and by this Court declared; that no Magistrate, Juror, Officer or other man shall be bound to inform, present or reveal any private crime or offence wherin there is no perill or danger to this Colonie, or any member therof, when any necessarie tye of conscience, grounded on the word of God bindes him to secresie; unles it be in case of testimonie lawfully required. [1641] See Oath Grand-Jurie.


Ships, Ship-masters.



IT is ordered by this Court and the Authoritie therof; that no Town or person shal receive any stranger resorting hither with intent to reside in this Jurisdiction, nor shall allow any Lot or Habitation to any, or entertain any such above three weeks, except such person shall have allowance under the hand of some one Magistrate, upon such Fine to the Countrie as that County Court shall impose, not exceeding fifty pounds, nor lesse then ten pounds. And of everie person receiving any such for longer time then is heer expressed or allowed, in some special cases as before, or in case of entertainment of friends resorting from other parts of this Country in amitie with us, shall forfeit as aforesaid, not exceeding twenty pounds, nor lesse then four pounds: and for everie month after so offending, shal forfeit as aforesaid not exceeding ten pounds, nor lesse then fourty shillings. Also, that all Constables shall inform the Courts of new commers which they know to be admitted without licence, from time to time. [1637 1638 1647] See Fugitives, Lib. com: Tryalls.


Suits, vexatious suits.

IT is ordered and decreed, and by this Court declared; that in all Cases where it appears to the Court that the Plaintiffe hath willingly & wittingly done wrong to the Defendant in commencing and prosecuting any Action, Suit, Complaint or Indictment in his own name or in the name of others, he shall pay treble damages to the partie grieved, and be fined fourty shillings to the Common Treasurie. [1641 1646]



IT is ordered by the Authoritie of this Court; that all Tile-earth to make sale ware shall be digged before the first of the ninth month, and turned over in the last, & first month ensuing, a month before it be wrought upon pain of forfeiting one half part of all such tiles as shal be otherwise made, to the use of the Common treasurie. [1646]


THIS Court finding that since the repealing of the former Laws against Tobacco, the same is more abused then before doth therfore order,

That no man shall take any tobacco within twenty poles of any house, or so neer as may indanger the same, or neer any Barn, corn, or hay-cock as may occasion the fyring therof, upon pain of ten shillings for everie such offence, besides full recompence of all damages done by means therof. Nor shall any take tobacco in any Inne or common Victualing-house, except in a private room there, so as neither the Master of the said house nor any other Guests there shall take offence therat, which if any doe, then such person shall forthwith forbear, upon pain of two shillings sixpence for everie such offence. And for all Fines incurred by this Law, one half part shall be to the Informer the other to the poor of the town where the offence is done. [1638] [1647]


IT is ordered, decreed, and by this Court declared; that no man shall be forced by torture to confesse any crime against himselfe or any other, unles it be in some Capital case, where he is first fully convicted by clear and sufficient evidence to be guilty. After which, if the Case be of that nature that it is very apparent there be other Conspirators or Confederates with him; then he may be tortured, yet not with such tortures as be barbarous and inhumane.

2 And that no man shal be beaten with above fourty stripes for one Fact at one time. Nor shall any man be punished with whipping, except he have not otherwise to answer the Law, unles his crime be very shamefull, and his course of life vitious and profligate. [1641]







IT is ordered, decreed & by this Court declared, that no man shall be adjudged for the meer forbearance of any debt, above eight pounds in the hundred for one year, and not above that rate proportionably for all sums whatsoever, Bills of Exchange excepted, neither shall this be a colour or countenance to allow any usurie amongst us contrary to the Law of God. [1641] [1643]


FOR the better keeping Watches and Wards by the Constables in time of peace, it is ordered by this Court and Authoritie therof;

That everie Constable shall present to one of the next Magistrates the name of everie person who shall upon lawfull warning refuse, or neglect to watch or ward, either in person, or by some other sufficient for that service. And if being convented, he cannot give a just excuse, such Magistrate shall graunt Warrant to any Constable to levie five shillings of such offender for everie such default; the same to be imployed for the use of the Watch of the same Town. And it is the intent of the Law that everie person of able body (not exempted by Law) or of estate sufficient to hire another shall be lyable to watch and ward, or to supplye it by some other when they shall be therunto required. And if there be in the same house divers such persons, whether sons, servants or sojourners, they shall all be compellable to watch as aforesaid.

Provided that all such as keep families at their Farms, being remote from any Town, shall not be compellable to send their servants or sons from their Farms to watch and ward the Towns. [1636 1646] See Constables, Militarie:

Weights & Measures.


Wills intestate.

IT is ordered, and by this Court declared; that when Parents dye intestate, the eldest son shall have a double portion of his whole estate reall, and personall unles the General Court upon just cause alledged shall judge otherwise. And when Parents dye intestate having no Heirs males of their bodyes, their daughters shall inherit as co-partners, unles the General Court upon just reason shall judge otherwise. [1641]



WHERAS great losse & damage doth befall this Common-wealth by reason of Wolves which destroy great numbers of our cattle notwithstanding provision formerly made by this Court for suppressing of them: therfore for the better incouragement of any to set about a work of so great concernment, it is ordered by this Court and Authoritie therof;

That any person either English or Indian that shall kill any wolfe or wolves within ten miles of any Plantation in this Jurisdiction, shall have for everie wolfe by him or them so killed ten shillings payd out of the Treasurie of the Countrie. Provided that due proof be made therof unto the Plantation next adjoyning where such wolfe or wolves were killed: and also they bring a Certificat under some Magistrates hand, or the Constable of that place unto the Treasurer. Provided also that this Order doth intend only such Plantations as do contribute with us to publick charges, and for such Plantations upon the river of Piscataway that do not joyn with us to carie on publick charges they shall make payment upon their own charge. [1645]



BECAUSE the harvest of hay, corn, hemp and flax comes usually so neer together that much losse can hardly be avoyded, it is therefore ordered by the Authoritie of this Court;

That the Constables of everie town, upon request made to them, shal require any artificers or handy-crafts-men meet to labour, to work by the day for their neighbours in mowing, reaping of corn and inning therof. Provided that those men whom they work for shall duly pay them for their work. And that if any person so required shall refuse, or the Constable neglect his Office heerin, they shall each of them pay to the use of the poor of the town double so much as such dayes work comes unto. Provided no artificer or handy-crafts-man shall be compelled to work as aforesaid, for others, whiles he is necessarily attending on the like busines of his own. [1646]

Wrecks of the Sea.

IT is ordered, decreed and by this Court declared; that if any ships or other vessels, be it freind or enemie, shall suffer ship-wreck upon our Coasts, there shall be no violence or wrong offered to their persons, or goods; but their persons shall be harboured and releived, and their goods preserved in safety, till Authoritie may be certified, and shall take farther order therin. Also, any Whale, or such like great fish, cast upon any shore shall be safely kept, or improved where it cannot be kept, by the town or other proprietor of the land; till the General Court shall set order for the same. [1641 1647]