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Rhode Island: 32: [Providence Agreement] - Donald S. Lutz, Colonial Origins of the American Constitution: A Documentary History 
Colonial Origins of the American Constitution: A Documentary History, ed. Donald S. Lutz (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1998).
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The complete text is taken from Charles Evans, “Oaths of Allegiance in Colonial New England,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, n.s., 31 (April 13–October 19, 1921): 424. Evans’s spelling is used.
August 20, 1637
Roger Williams, who refused to take any of the oaths required by the Massachusetts Bay Colony because he believed any oath constituted taking God’s name in vain, moved with his followers to Providence, which was founded using this document. The simple covenant formula is familiar, but without the oath it becomes a compact resting on implicit popular sovereignty. In addition to being one of the first political compacts, the Providence Agreement also contains the first expression in the new world of the separation of church and state—achieved by limiting the town meeting to “civil things.” The following year the second Rhode Island colony was established at Aquidneck (Pocasset), using an oath in the traditional covenant form (see the Government of Pocasset ). A minority withdrew the following year from Pocasset and drew up its civil compact at Newport without an oath (see the Newport Agreement ). Another colony, which was established at Portsmouth, drew up its new agreement two days after Newport’s (see the Government of Portsmouth ); unlike the Newport Agreement, the Portsmouth one contained an oath. The Providence Agreement of 1637 was replaced by the Plantation Agreement at Providence, 1640 . Portsmouth and Newport joined in a federation in 1642 that allowed each town to retain its respective government and thus to preserve the differences (see the Organization of the Government of Rhode Island ). Warwick formed itself in 1647 , and finally, in 1647 these towns all united in the Acts and Orders , which was a complete constitution.
We whose names are hereunder, desirous to inhabit in the town of Providence, do promise to subject ourselves in active and passive obedience to all such orders or agreements as shall be made for the public good of the body in an orderly way, by the major consent of present inhabitants, masters of families, incorporated together in a Towne fellowship, and others whom they shall admit unto them only in civil things.
[Signed by Richard Scott and twelve others.]
[Government of Pocasset]
Complete text, with the original spelling, taken from J. R. Bartlett, ed., Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in New England: Vol i, 1636 to 1663 (Providence: A. Crawford Greene and Brother, State Printers, 1856), 52–53.
March 7, 1638
Consult the comments accompanying the Providence Agreement  for the historical setting of this document. A typical political covenant, this document is distinguished by references to biblical passages containing the underlying principles. The reader might want to consult these passages. The second part of the agreement was passed later in the day after a break for lunch.
The 7th day of the first month, 1638
We whose names are underwritten do here solemnly in the presence of Jehovah incorporate ourselves into a Bodie Politick and as he shall help, will submit our persons, lives and estates unto our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and to all those perfect and most absolute laws of his given us in his holy word of truth, to be guided and judged thereby.
Exod. 24. 3, 4.
2 Cron. 11. 3
2 Kings. 11. 17
[Signed by William Coddington and eighteen others.]
The 7th of the first month, 1638.
We that are Freemen Incorporate of this Bodie Politick do Elect and Constitute William Coddington, Esquire, a Judge amongst us, and so covenant to yield all due honour unto him according to the lawes of God, and so far as in us lyes to maintaine the honour and privileges of his place which shall hereafter be ratifyed according unto God, the Lord helping us so to do. William Aspinwall, Sec’ry
I, William Coddington, Esquire, being called and chosen by the Freemen Incorporate of this Bodie Politick, to be a Judge amongst them, do covenant to do justice and Judgment impartially according to the lawes of God, and to maintaine the Fundamentall Rights and Privileges of this Body Politick, which shall hereafter be ratifyed according unto God, the Lord helping us to do so.
William Aspinwall is appointed Secretary.
It is agreed that William Dyre shall be Clarke of this Body.
The complete text, with the original spelling, is taken from Bartlett, Vol. i, 1636 to 1663, 69.
April 28, 1639
This is the document drawn up by the dissenting minority that withdrew from the settlement at Pocasset (see the discussion of the Providence Agreement ). It is not an oath but rests on the agreement among the people, implying popular sovereignty. It was drawn up in Pocasset before they left.
Pocasset. On the 28th of the 2d [month], 1639
It is agreed.
By vs whose hands are underwritten, to propagate a Plantation in the midst of the Island or elsewhere; And doe engage ourselves to bear equall charges, answerable to our strength and estates in common; and that our determinations shall be by major voice of judge and elders; the Judge to have a double voice.
[Signed by William Coddington and eight others.]
[The Government of Portsmouth]
The complete text, with original spelling, is taken from Bartlett, Vol. i, 1636 to 1663, 70–71. The gaps are in the original, and brackets indicate illegible words that have been supplied on the basis of context.
April 30, 1639
See the discussion of the Providence Agreement  for events leading up to this agreement. The Portsmouth agreement is unusual in that it is a compact; however, those signing it invoke the authority of the king, although he is unaware his authority is being used. The compact thus has the form of a civil compact without the legal status because the king has not signed it. We can only guess at the reason for this format, but it avoids invoking God’s name as well as it avoids using an implicit popular sovereignty that might, for some reason, have made these people uneasy. It certainly would make it easier for the king to approve the document post hoc. Another unusual feature is that it appears to establish government by arbitration.
Aprill the 30th, 1639
We, whose names are under [written doe acknowledge] ourselves the legall subjects of [his Majestie] King Charles, and in his name [doe hereby binde] ourselves into a civill body politicke, unto his lawes according to matters of justice.
[Signed by William Hutchinson and thirty associates.]
According to the true intent of the [foregoing instrument, wee] whose names are above particularly [recorded, do agree] joyntly or by the major voice to g[overne ourselves by the] ruler or judge amongst us in all [transactions] for the space and tearme of one [yeare, he] behaving himselfe according to the t[enor of the same.]
We have freely made choice of [ ] to be ruler or judge among us.
We have also, for the help and ease [of the conducting of] public business and affairs for [the colony] for one yeare, allso chosen unto him William Ballston, William Freeborne, John Porter, John [ ], John Wall, Philip Sherman, as allso William Aspinwall to lay out lands as they shall be disposed.
We have also made choice of [ ] amongst us for this yeare ensuing.
It is appoynted that there shall be [a court held every] yeare, every quarter, one for to doe right betwixt man and [man—a] jury of twelve men; as also it is [ordered, that] the eight men chosen unto him [shall hold a] meeting amongst themselves, to consult [together]; as also to put an end to any controverzy, if it amount not to the value of fortie [shillings.] The Judge, with the rest of the eight men [shall decide it] if brought to ye publicke Court.
Plantation Agreement at Providence
Taken from Bartlett, Vol. i, 1636 to 1663, 27–31. The text is complete, with the original spelling.
August 27, 1640
The Providence Agreement, 1637  created a highly democratic political system centered around a town meeting. This document does not replace that one but supplements it. Apparently the town meeting was spending too much time resolving disagreements between individuals, many of the disagreements involving money and property; so here the town has created an arbitration structure, with a set of guidelines for the arbiters, aimed at resolving such disagreements. In England, and in most other places, these disagreements would normally be taken to a court. Here, the panel of elected arbiters stands in for a civil court, which guarantees such disputes will be settled more by the ethic of neighborliness using community values and standards rather than on the basis of legalisms and standing precedent.
Report of Arbitrators at Providence, containing proposals for a form of government Providence the 27th of the 5th mo. in the yeare (so called) 1640.
Wee, Robert Coles, Chad Browne, William Harris, and John Warner, being freely chosen by the consent of our louing friends and neighbours the Inhabitants of this Towne of Providence, having many differences amongst us, they being freely willing and also bound themselves to stand to our Arbitration in all differences amongst us to rest contented in our determination, being so betrusted we have seriously and carefully indeavoured to weigh and consider all those differences, being desirous to bringe vnity and peace, although our abilities are farr short in the due examination of such weighty things, yet so farre as we conceive in laying all things together we have gone the fairest and equallest way to produce our peace.
i. Agreed, We have with one consent agreed that in parting those particler properties which some of our friends and neighbours have in Patuxit, from the general Common of our towne of Providence, to run vppon a streight line from a fresh spring being in the Gulley, at the head of that cove running by that point of land called Saxafras vnto the town of Mashipawog, to an oake tree standing neere vnto the corne field, being at this time the neerest corne field vnto Patuxit, the oake tree having four marks with an axe, till some other land marke be set for a certaine bound. Also, we agree that if any meadow ground lyeing and joineing to that Meadow, that borders uppon the River of Patuxit come within the aforesaid line, which will not come within a streight line from long Cove to the marked tree, then for that meadow to belong to Pawtuxit, and so beyond the towne of Mashipawog from the oake tree between the two fresh Rivers Pawtuxit and Wanasquatucket of an even Distance.
ii. Agreed. We have with one consent agreed that for the disposeing, of those lands that shall be disposed belonging to this towne of Providence to be in the whole Inhabitants be the choise of five men for generall disposeall, to be betrusted with disposeall of lands and also of the towne Stocke, and all Generall things and not to receive in any six dayes as townesmen, but first to give the Inhabitants notice to consider if any have just cause to shew against the receiving of him as you can apprehend, and to receive none but such as subscribe to this our determination. Also, we agree that if any of our neighbours doe apprehend himselfe wronged by these or any of these 5 disposers, that at the General towne meeting he may have a tryall. Alsoe wee agree for the towne to choose beside the other five men one or more to keeppe Record of all things belonging to the towne and lying in Common.
Wee agree, as formerly hath bin the liberties of the town, so still, to hould forth liberty of Conscience.
iii. Agreed, that after many Considerations and Consultations of our owne State and alsoe of States abroad in way of government, we apprehend, no way so suitable to our Condition as government by way of Arbitration. But if men agree themselves by arbitration, no State we know of disallows that, neither doe we: But if men refuse that which is but common humanity betweene man and man, then to compel such vnreasonable persons to a reasonable way, we agree that the 5 disposers shall have power to compell him either to choose two men himselfe, or if he refuse, for them to choose two men to arbitrate his cause, and if these foure men chosen by every partie do end the cause, then to see theire determination performed and the faultive to pay the Arbitrators for theire time spent in it: But if those foure men doe not end it, then for the 5 disposers to choose the 3 men, and for the certainty hereof, wee agree the major part of the 5 disposers to choose the 3 men, and the major part of the 3 men to end the cause hauing power from the 5 disposers by a note under theire hand to performe it, and the faultive not agreeing in the first to pay the charge of the last, and for the Arbitrators to follow no imployment till the cause be ended without consent of the whole that have to doe with the cause.
Instance. In the first Arbitration the offendor may offer reasonable terms of peace, and the offended may exact upon him and refuse and trouble men beyond reasonable satisfaction; so for the last arbitrators to judge where the fault was, in not agreeing in the first, to pay the charge of the last.
iv. Agreed, that if any person damnify any man, either in goods or good name, and the person offended follow not the cause vppon the offendor, that if any person giue notice to the 5 Disposers, they shall call the party delinquent to answer by Arbitration.
Instance. Thus, if any person abuse an other in person or goods, may be for peace sake, a man will at present put it vp, and it may so be resolue to revenge: therefore, for the peace of the state, the disposers are to look to it in the first place.
v. Agreed, for all the whole Inhabitants to combine ourselves to assist any man in the pursuit of any party delinquent, with all our best endeavours to attack him: but if any man raise a hubbub, and there be no just cause, then for the party that raised the hubbub to satisfy men for their time lost in it.
vi. Agreed, that if any man have a difference with any of the 5 Disposers which cannot be deferred till general meeting of the towne, then he may have the Clerk call the towne together at his [discretion] for a tryall.
Instance. It may be, a man may be to depart the land, or to a farr parte of the land; or his estate may lye vppon a speedy tryall or the like case may fall out.
vii. Agreed, that the towne, by the five men shall give every man a deed of all his lands lying within the bounds of the Plantation, to hould it by for after ages.
viii. Agreed, that the 5 disposers shall from the date hereof, meete every month-day vppon General things and at the quarter-day to yeeld a new choise and give vp theire old Accounts.
ix. Agreed, that the Clerke shall call the 5 Disposers together at the month-day, and the generall towne together every quarter, to meete vppon general occasions from the date hereof.
x. Agreed, that the Clerke is to receive for every cause that comes to the towne for a tryall 4d.1 for making each deed 12d. and to give vp the booke to the towne at the yeeres end, and yeeld to a new choice.
xi. Agreed, that all acts of disposall on both sides to stand since the difference.
xii. Agreed, that every man that hath not paid in his purchase money for his Plantation shall make vp his 10s.2 to be 30s. eqval with the first purchasers: and for all that are received townsmen hereafter, to pay the like summe of money to the town stocke.
These being those things wee have generally concluded on, for our peace, we desireing our loveing friends to receive as our absolute determination, laying ourselves downe as subjects to it.
[Signed by the four writers in the document plus thirty-five others.]
[Organization of the Government of Rhode Island]
Complete text, with the original spelling, taken from Bartlett, Vol. i, 1636 to 1663, 111–15.
March 16–19, 1642
Finding themselves sharing an island in Narragansett Bay, the towns of Portsmouth and Newport united using a document that mixed a few general principles and brief institutional descriptions with, among other miscellany, ordinances on the killing of foxes and deer. The most important result was the election of a common representative body. Another important feature, however, was religious toleration (it prohibited anyone from being held delinquent from doctrine). As a founding document this one is defective for two reasons—the colony-wide institutions are underspecified and the relationship between the colony governments and town governments is unclear. Although defective in these respects, as well as confusing in its organization and content, the document served as a kind of constitution for five years but was later replaced by the Acts and Orders of 1647 .
The Generall Court of Election began and held at Portsmouth, from the 16th of March, to the 19th of the same mo., 1641.
1. It was ordered and agreed, before the Election, that an Ingagement by oath should be taken of all the officers of this Body now to be elected, as likewise for the time to come; the ingagement which the severall officers of the State shall give is this; To the Execution of this office, I Judge myself bound before God to walk faithfully and this I profess in ye presence of God.
2. Mr. Will’m Coddington is chosen Governour for one whole yeare, or till a new be chosen.
Mr. Wm. Brenton is chosen Dep’ty Governour, for one whole yeare, or, &c.
Mr. John Coggshall is chosen Assistant for one whole yeare, or, &c.
Mr. Rob’t Harding is chosen Assistant for one whole yeare, or, &c.
Mr. Wm. Balston is chosen Assistant and Treasurer for one whole yeare, etc.
Mr. John Porter is chosen Assistant for one whole yeare, or until, &c.
Wm. Dyre is chosen Secretary for one whole yeare, or until, &c.
Mr. Rob’t Jeoffreys is chosen Treasurer for one whole yeare, or, &c.
Thomas Gorton and Henry Bull are chosen Sergeant Attendants of Portsmouth for one yeare, or till a new be chosen.
Thomas Cornell and Henry Bishop are chosen Constables of Nuport, for one yeare, or till a new be chosen.
3. It is ordered and unanimously agreed upon, that the Government which this Bodie Politick doth attend vnto in this Island, and the Jurisdiction thereof, in favour of our Prince is a democracie, or Popular Government; that is to say, It is in the Powre of the Body of Freemen orderly assembled, or the major part of them, to make or constitue Just Lawes, by which they will be regulated, and to depute from among themselves such Ministers as shall see them faithfully executed between Man and Man.
4. It was further ordered, by the authority of this present Courte, that none bee accounted a Delinquent for Doctrine: Provided, it be not directly repugnant to ye Government or Lawes established.
5. It was further ordered, that all such who shall kill a Fox shall have six shillings and eight pence, for his paines, duly paid vnto him by the Treasurer of ye Towne in which lands it was killed: Provided, that he bring the Head thereof to said Treasurer; and this order shall be of sufficient authority to the Treasurer to pay and discharge the said summ.
6. It is further ordered, that all Men who shall kill any Deare (except it be upon his own proper Land), shall bring and deliver half the said Deare into the Treasurie, or pay Forty shillings; and further it is ordered, that the Governour and Deputy Governour shall have authority to give forth a Warrant to some one deputed of each Towne to kill some against the Court times for the Countries use, who shall by his Warrant have Libertie to kill wherever he find; Provided, it be not within any man’s enclosure, and to be paid by the Treasurer: Provided, also, that no Indian shall be suffered to kill or destroy at any time or any where.
7. It is ordered from henceforth, that the Quarter Session Courts shall alway be kept the first, the first Tuesday in March; the second, the first Tuesday in June; the third, the first Tuesday in September; the last, the first Tuesday in December.
8. It is ordered, that Eight Gunns and their furniture with two corsletts, now in the hands of Mr. Willbore, shall be taken off by the Threasurie Joint-lie, as part of satisfaction for what debts from him is now dew thereto: and that the said Armes be equally divided to each Towne.
9. It is ordered, that the Deputie Governour and Mr. Willbore, and Mr. Coggshall, and Mr. Jeremy Clarke, shall be joyned in commission with the Two Treasurers that now bee, to examine the Treasurie, and to even the accounts, and then to present them so rectified to the next General Court; and what oneveness there is found to bee, the one Treasurer shall make payment to the other Treasurer within twentie dayes after the period of their commission: the limits which are set for the performance of this, shall be three weeks from the date hereof.
10. It is ordered, that Mr. Porter, Mr. Balston, Mr. Easton, and Mr. Jeoffreys shall runn the line between the two Towns within twentie dayes after the date hereof, or else shall forfeit a Mark a peece; and performing it within the (time or) tearme they shall have a Mark a peace for their Labour.
11. It is ordered, that each Towne shall provide a Towne Book, wherein they shall Record the Evidences of the Lands by them impropriated; and shall also have Powre to give forth a Coppie thereof, which shall be a clear evidence for them and theirs, to whom it is so granted.
12. It is ordered, that the Officers of Justices of the Peace is confirmed to the Magistrates.
13. It is ordered, that no Fiers shall be kindled by any whatsoever to runn at Randome, eyther in Meadows or Woods; but what by him that so kindled it shall forthwith be put out, that it damnifie none. And that if damage shall accrew, satisfaction to the utmost shall be awarded.
14. It is ordered, that a Booke shall be provided, wherein the Secretary shall write all such Lawes and Acts, as are made and constituted by the Body, to be left alway in that Towne where the said Secretary is not resident; and also that coppies of such Acts as shall be made now or hereafter, at the Generall Courts concerning necessary uses and ordinances to be observed, shall be fixed upon some public place where all men may see and take notice of them; or that coppies thereof be given to the Clerks of the Band, who shall read them at the head of the Companie.
15. It is ordered, that a Manual Seale shall be provided for the State, and that the Signett or Engraving thereof, shall be a sheafe of Arrows bound up, and in the Liess or Bond, this motto indented: Amor vincent omnia.
16. It is ordered, that Ingagement shall be taken by the Justices of the Peace in their Quarter Sessions of all men or youth above fifteen years of age, eyther by the oath of Fidelity, or some other strong cognizance.
17. It is ordered, that a Line be drawen and a way be cleared between the Townes of Nuport and Portsmouth, by removing of the wood and mowing it; that drift Cattle may sufficiently pass; and for the performance thereof, Capt. Morris, of the one Towne, and Mr. Jeoffreys of the other, are appointed to draw the Line, and to be paid therefore, and the Townes to perform the rest.
18. It is ordered, that the Traine Bands shall choose among the Freemen, one or more such as shall be for their commanders, and present them to the Towne. The Major vote of the Towne, by the Authority of this Court, shall have the negative voise for the Establishment of them, and shall order their Powre till the next Generall Courte.
19. It is ordered, that the major part of the Courts, being lawfully assembled at the place and houre appointed, shall have full Powre to transact the business that shall be Presented: Provided, it be the Major part of the Body entire, if it be the Generall Court (present) or the Major part of the Magistrates, with the Jury in the inferior Courts; and that such acts concluded and issued be of as full authority as if there were all present. Provided, there be due and seasonable notice given of every such Court.
Complete text, with the original spelling, taken from Bartlett, Vol. i, 1636–1663, 134–35.
August 8, 1647
Unlike Providence, Pocasset, Portsmouth, and Newport, Warwick did not write its own founding document prior to the granting of an official charter in 1644 because its inhabitants did not feel it lawful to erect their own government without explicit authority from England. Written three years after Rhode Island was chartered as a colony, the Warwick Agreement reflects the need to fit into the frame of that charter. The result is the purest example during the colonial era of a civil covenant sanctioned by the king.
Know all men, Colonies, Peoples, and Nations, unto whom the same hereof shall come; that wee, the chiefe Sachems, Princes or Governours of the Nanhigansets (in the part of America, now called New-England), together with the joynt and unanimous consent of all our people and subjects, inhabitants thereof, do upon serious consideration, mature and deliberate advise and counsell, great and weighty grounds and reasons moving us thereunto, whereof one most effectual unto us, is, that noble fame we have heard of that Great and mighty Prince, Charles, King of Great Britaine, in that honorable and princely care he hath all his servants, and true and loyall subjects, the consideration whereof moveth and bendeth our hearts with one consent, freely, voluntarily, and most humbly to submit, subject, and give over ourselves, peoples, lands, rights, inheritances, and possessions whatsoever, in ourselves and our heires successively for ever, unto the protection, care and government of that worthy and royal Prince, Charles, King of Great Britaine and Ireland, his heires and successors forever, to be ruled and governed according to the ancient and honorable lawes and customes, established in that so renowned realme and kingdome of Old England; we do, therefore, by these presents, confesse, and most willingly and submissively acknowledge ourselves to be the humble, loving and obedient servants and subjects of his Majestie; to be ruled, ordered, and disposed of, in ourselves and ours, according to his princely wisdome., counsell and lawes of that honorable State of Old England;
and wrighting us of what wrong is, or may be done unto us, according to his honorable lawes and customes, exercised amongst his subjects, in their preservation and safety, and in the defeating and overthrow of his, and their enemies; not that we find ourselves necessitated hereunto, in respect of our relation, or occasion we have, or may have, with any of the natives in these parts, knowing ourselves sufficient defence, and able to judge in any matter or cause in that respect; but have just cause of jealousy and suspicion of some of His Majesty’s pretended subjects. Therefore our desire is, to have our matters and causes heard and tried according to his just and equall lawes, in that way and order His Highness shall please to appoint:
having ourselves been the chief Sachems, or Princes successively, of the country, time out of mind; and for our present and lawfull enacting hereof, being so farre remote from His Majestie, wee have, by joynt consent, made choice of foure of his loyall and loving subjects, our trusty and well-beloved friends, Samuel Gorton, John Wickes, Randall Houlden and John Warner, whom we have deputed, and made our lawful Attornies or Commissioners, not only for the acting and performing of this our Deed, in the behalfe of his Highnesse, but also for the safe custody, careful conveyance, and declaration hereof unto his grace: being done upon the lands of the Nanhigansett, at a Court or Generall Assembly called and assembled together, of purpose, for the publick enacting, and manifestation hereof.
And for the further confirmation, and establishing of this our Act and Deed, wee, the abovesaid Sachems or Princes, have, according to that commendable custome of Englishmen, subscribed our names and sett our seals hereunto, as so many testimonies of our fayth and truth, our love and loyalty to that our dread Soveraighne, and that according to the Englishmen’s account.
Acts and Orders of 1647
Spelling is as it appears in Bartlett, Vol. i, 1636 to 1663, 38–65. The text is quite lengthy and herein is reproduced only in part. Sections excluded deal with more standard or mundane aspects of law, such as fraud, forgery, trespassing, larceny, assault, robbery, and burglary.
The Acts and Orders of 1647, like the Pilgrim Code of Law, 1636  and Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, 1639 , is a complete document of foundation and qualifies as a true constitution. Like these other early colonial constitutions, the Acts and Orders creates a federal system wherein the towns composing it continue to have functioning governments with their own powers and competencies. In 1663 Rhode Island received a new charter from the king, which essentially ratified the government established by the Acts and Orders. In 1776 Rhode Island retained this charter as the constitution for its new independent statehood simply by removing any references to the king, and the charter was not replaced until 1842. Scholars of American constitutionalism thus put the duration of the Acts and Orders, Rhode Island’s first constitution, at 195 years, which was a record duration for a modern constitution until the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 turned 196 in 1976. The Acts and Orders is also notable in that it was the first colonial foundation document specifically based on English principles of law instead of principles and practices derived from religion.
Acts and Orders
Made and agreed upon at the Generall Court of Election, held at Portsmouth, in Rhode Island, the 19, 20, 21 of May, Anno. 1647, for the Colonie and province of Providence.
Mr. John Coggeshall is chosen Moderator of the present Assembly.
2. It was Voted and found, that the major part of the Colonie was present at this Assemblie, whereby there was full power to transact.
3. It was further agreed, that in case the Assemblie departe unto the number of Fortie; those fortie shall stay and act as if the whole were present, and be of as full authoritie.
4. It was agreed, that all should set their hands to an engagement to the Charter.
5. It was agreed and ordered, that a week before any General Courte, notice should be given to every Towne by the head officer, that they chuse a Committee for the Transaction of the affaires there, except it bee for the Election of Generall Officers; and such as go not, may send their votes sealed.
6. It was ordered, upon the request of the Commissioners of the Towne of Providence, that their second instruction should be granted and established unto the, Vidg’t. Wee do voluntarily assent, and are freely willing to receive and to be governed by the Lawes of England, together with the way of the Administration of them, soe far as the nature and constitution of this Plantation will admit, desiring (soe far as possible may be,) to hold a correspondence with the whole Colonie in the modell that hath been latelie shewn vnto us by our worthy Friends of the Island, if the Generall Court shall compleate and confirm the same, or any other Modell as the Generall Courte shall agree vpon according to our Charter.
7. It was unanimously agreed, That we do all owne and submit to the Lawes, as they are contracted in the Bulke with the Administration of Justice, according thereto, which are to stand in force till the next Generall Courte of Election, and every Towne to have a Coppie of them, and then to present what shall appeare therein not to be suitable to the Constitution of the place, and then to amend it.
8. It was agreed, that Warwick should have the same priviledges as Providence.
9. It was agreed, that the Generall Courte of Tryall should be held at Newport vpon the second Tuesday of June next ensuing.
10. It was agreed, that the Election of Offices should be by papers.
Mr. John Coggeshall is chosen President of this Province, or Colonie.
Mr. Roger Williams is chosen Assistant of Providence,
Mr. John Samford is chosen Assistant of Portsmouth,
Mr. Wm. Coddington is chosen Assistant of Newport,
Mr. Randall Holden is chosen Assistant of Warwick,
William Dyre is chosen Gen. Recorder,
Mr. Jeremy Clerke is chosen Treasurer.
11. It is ordered, that all cases presented, concerning General Matters for the Colony, shall be first stated in the Townes, Vigd’t, That is, when a case is propounded, The Towne where it is propounded, shall agitate and fully discuss the matter in their Towne Meetings and conclude by Vote; and then shal the Recorder of the Towne, or Towne Clerk, send a coppy of the agreement to every of the other three Townes, who shall agitate the case likewise in each Towne and vote it, and collect the votes. Then shall they commend it to the Committee for the General Courte (then a meeting called,) who being assembled and finding the Major parte of the Colonie concurring in the case, it shall stand for a Law till the next Generall Assembly of all the people, then and there to be considered, whether any longer to stand yea or no; Further it is agreed, that six men of each Towne shall be the number of the Committe premised, and to be freely chosen. And further it is agreed, that when the General Courte thus assembled, shall determine the cases before hand thus presented, It shall also be lawful for the said General Court, and hereby are they authorized, that if vnto them or any of them some case or cases shall be presented that may be deemed necessary for the public weale and good of the whole, they shall fully debate, discuss and determine ye matter among themselves; and then shall each Committee returning to their Towne declare what they have done in the case or cases premised. The Townes then debating and concluding, the votes shall be collected and sealed up, and then by the Towne Clarke of each Towne shall be sent with speed to the General Recorder, who, in the presence of the President shall open the votes; and if the major vote determine the case, it shall stand as a Law till the next General Assemblie then or there to be confirmed or nullified.
12. It is ordered, that the Courte of Election shall alway be held upon the first Tuesday after the 15th of May, annually, if wind or weather hinder not. Then the General Court of Tryall immediately to succeed vpon the dissolving of the said General Court, Vidg’t: the next day; and that the next General Court of Election shall be held at Providence Towne. Further, it is agreed, that forasmuch as many may be necessarily detained, that they cannot come to the General Court of Election, that then they shall send their votes sealed upon unto the said Court, which shall be as effectual as their personal appearances.
13. It is ordered, that each Towne shall choose and order ye authoritie of two Surveyors for the Highways, and appoint time to mend them; also that they are to have notice of all cattle that shall be exported, and returne the marks of them unto the Towne; and if any shall presume to export any without giving notice of it to the men appointed, or their Deputies he shall forfeit all such Cattle so exported, or the worth of them.
14. It is ordered, that the Inhabitants of Portsmouth and Newport here present doe presently choose their officers of the Island; but that this act shall be not precedent for the future, but that the constant course of choosing shall be hereafter, when as the year is out, as the Major votes of the Townes of Portsmouth and Newport shall order it sometimes before the year is out, in some peaceable and moderate way which they shall agree upon.
the engagement of the officers
You. A. B ———, being called and chosen vnto public employment, and the office of ———, by the free vote and consent of ye Inhabitants of the Province of Providence Plantations (now orderly met), do, in the present Assemblie, engage yourself faithfully and truly to the utmost of your power to execute the commission committed vnto you; and do hereby promise to do neither more nor less in that respect than that which the Colonie [authorized] you to do according to the best of your understanding.
We, the Inhabitants of the Province of Providence Plantations being here orderly met, and having by free vote chosen you ———, to public office and officers for the due administration of Justice and the execution thereof throughout the whole Colonie, do hereby engage ourselves to the utmost of our power to suport and vphold you in your faithful performance thereof.
15. It is ordered, that the Councills of Newport and Portsmouth, shall consult and agree how and in what manner (within these thirtie dayes) the monthly and quarterly Courts shall be ordered, and who shall sit therein; further, it is agreed, that all cases depending shall be heard and issued at the next Generall Court of Tryall.
16. It is ordered, that the Townes shall appoint men to view all Goates and Swine killed or to be killed, and shew the eare markes of them unto the said persons or one of them, whereby it may appeare to be their own; and if any shall presume to conceale eyther Swine or Goats so killed or to be killed, shall forfeit five pounds; one half to the State, the other to him that will sue for it, eyther by action or bill. It shall be lawfull also, for those that are appointed to the service being necessarily detayned, to make, constitute, and appoint a Deputie.
17. It is ordered, that John Cooke and Thomas Brownell, are chosen Water Bailies for the Colonie.
18. It is ordered, that the Seale of the Province shall be an Anchor.
19. It is ordered, that the Councils of the Townes consisting of six men shall be chosen at their next Towne Meetings.
20. It is ordered, that the Sea Lawes, otherwise called the Lawes of Oleron, shall be in force among us for the benefit of Seamen (vpon ye Island,) and the Chief Officers in the Towne shall have power to summon the Court and determine the cause or causes presented.
21. It is ordered, that none shall goe out of the Court without leave; or if any do depart, he shall leve his vote behind him, that his power remain, though his person be absent.
22. It is ordered, forasmuch as Mr. Roger Williams hath taken great paines and expended much time in the obtayning of the Charter for this Province of Noble Lords and Governors; be it enacted and established, that in regard of his so great travaile, charges and good endeavours, we do freely give and grant to the said Roger Williams one hundred pounds, to be levied out of the three townes, Vidg’t: Fifty pounds out of Newport, thirtie pounds out of Portsmouth, and twentie pounds out of Providence, which rate is to be levied and paid in by the last of November next.
23. It is ordered, that forasmuch as there are some remote places inhabited and possessed within our Charter, and it is found necessary that a vigilant eye be had over them, it is ordered, that Newport shall take into their custody the Trading house or houses of the Narragansett Bay; Portsmouth to take in Prudence; and Patuxet shall be left to their choice, whether they will have Providence, Portsmouth or Newport over them. And it is ordered, that the officers of each Towne shall have full power and authoritie in them or eyther of them, according to their precincts, by this present Court assyned.
24. It is ordered, that there is free Libertie granted for the free Inhabitants of ye Province (if they will) to erect an Artillery Garden, and those that are desirous to advance the Art Military, shall have freedom to exercise themselves therein, and to agree of their forme, and choose their officers, as they shall agree among themselves.
25. Provided, [ ] shall choose their officers after the 15th of June next, vpon paine of forfeiting Tenn pounds a Town, if neglected.
26. It is ordered, that in cases of necessity without the bounds of the Townes, a special officer for ye execution of Justice, may be authorized by any of the Generall Officers for a general case.
27. It is ordered, that ye General Officers shall write to the Bay about Patuxet Inhabitants; and also write to the Inhabitants thereof to owne and choose the Government of the Province.
28. It is ordered, that the Dutch, French or other Alliants, or any Englishman inhabiting among them, shall pay the like customs and duties, as we doe among them for all such goods as shall be imported for the English, excepting beaver. Also, we do absolutely prohibit them or any of them to trade or barter with the Indians within our Jurisdiction, upon paine of forfeiture of Shipp and Goods; and this to take effect after due notice given. The Generall Officers are ordered to write to the Dutch Governor, and upon the returne of the answer it shall be commended to the Townes to consider of.
29. It is ordered, that all ye Inhabitants in each Towne shall choose their Military Officers from among themselves on the first Tuesday after the 12th of March; and that eight sevarall times in the yeare, the Bands of each plantation or Towne, shall, openlie in the field, be exercised and disciplined by their Commanders and Officers, in the months of May, August, January and February excepted; and on the first Monday of ye other months, all the Train Bands to make their personal appearances completely armed, to attend their colors, by 8 o’clock in the morning, at the second beate of ye Drum; and if any appear not, they shall forfeit and pay five shillings into the hands of the Clarke of ye Band; and if any shall come defective in his Armes or furniture, he shall forfeit and pay ye sum of twelve pence, after the Town Council have caused them to be supplied; and that all men who shall come and remaine ye space of twenty days, shall be liable to ye injunction of this order; Provided, herdsmen, fighter-men and such as be left of necessity at Farmes, shall pay two shilings and sixpence for every dayes absence: And that the two Chief officers in each Towne, to witt: one of the Commonweale, the other of the Band, upon the exhibition of the complaint by ye Clark (which shall be within three dayes after the fault committed,) shall judge and determine of ye reasons of the excuses, who, upon the hearing thereof, shall determine whether every such person shall pay five shillings, two shillings and sixpence, or nothing; and according as they find any defective, shall give their warrants to ye Clark to distraine their Goods if they shall refuse to pay what is ordered. And if the Clarke shall neglect to gather up what is ordered, he shall forfeit and pay so much into the hands of the Captain, the next training day; And that all the fines and forfeitures shall be imployed to the use and service of the Band. And the Towne Councils shall have power to cause those which are defective in armes, to be supplied in an equal way according to Estate and strength. And if any of ye Traine Band after his appearance shall refuse or neglect the command of his Captain, to be exercised and disciplined, he shall forfeit as much as if he had not appeared: And that the Town Council shall order the power of the Military Officers within the Towne, and in all caes that concerne ye whole, the President and ye foure assistants, and ye Captains of every Band shall be the Councill of Warr; that if any of the Officers of ye Band be at any time left out, they shall beare Armes again, for ye Constitution of our place will not beare the contrary: that every Inhabitant of the Island above sixteen or under sixty yeares of age, shall alwayes be provided of a Musket, one pound of powder, twenty bullets, and two fadom of Match, with sword, rest, bandaleers all completely furnished.
30. It is ordered, that in regard of ye many incursions that we are subjected vnto, and that an Alarum for ye giving of notice thereof is necessary when occasion is offered. It is agreed, that this form be observed. Vidg’t: Three Muskets distinctly discharged, and a Herauld appointed to go speedilie threw the Towne, and crie, Alarum! Alarum!! and the Drum to beate incessantly; upon which, all to repair (upon forfeiture and the Town Councill shall order) unto the Town House, there to receive information of the Town Councill what is farther to be done.
31. It is ordered and agreed, that if any person or persons, shall sell, give deliver, or any otherwayes convey any powder, shott, lead, gunn, pistoll, sword, dagger, halberd or pike to the Indians that are or may prove offensive to this Colonie, or any member thereof, he or they, for the first offence, shall forfeit ye sum of five pounds; and for his second offence, offending in the same kind, and being lawfully convicted, shall forfeit ten pounds; half to the State, and half to him that will sew for it, and no wager of Law by any means to be allowed to the offender. And, it is further ordered, that if any person shall mend or repaire their Guns, or [ ] he shall forfeit the same penaltie.
32. It is ordered, that the Towne Officers shall given their engagements in their severall Townes to ye General Officer in that Towne, before they execute their office.
33. It is ordered, that if the Indians shall offer to putt away upon exchange or barter, their false peag for good, and warrant it so to be, and it be found otherwise, it shall be confiscated to the Public Treasury.
34. It is ordered, that every Towne shall have a coppy of the Lawes and Orders, and that each Towne shall pay for their coppy; and also, that the Councell for the Townes shall order the fees for their Officers, and the Generall Officers shall order the fees of the General Officers: Provided, that nothing already concluded in the Bulck of Lawes be any wayes crossed or envaded.
for the province of providence.
Forasmuch as we have received from our Noble Lords and Honored Governours, and that by virtue of an ordinance of the Parliament of England, a free and absolute Charter of Civill incorporation, &c. Wee do joyntlie agree to incorporate ourselves, and soe to remaine a Body Politicke by the authoritie thereof, and therefore do declare to own ourselves and one another to be Members of the same Body, and to have right to the Freedome and priviledges thereof by subscribing our names to these words, following: vidg’t.
Wee, whose names are here vnder written, doe engage ourselves to the vttmost of our Estates and Strength, to mainteyne the authority and to enjoy the Libertie granted to vs by our Charter, in the extent of itt according to the Letter, and to mainteyne each other by the same authoritie, in his lawfull right and Libertie.
And with this our Charter gives vs powre to governe ourselves and such other as come among vs, and by such a forme of Civill Government as by the Voluntarie consent, &c., shall be found most suitable to our Estate and condition,
It is agreed, by this present Assembly thus incorporate, and by this present act declared, that the forme of Government established is democraticall; that is to say, a Government held by ye free and voluntarie consent of all, or the greater parte of the free Inhabitants.
And now to the end that we may give, each to other, (notwithstanding our different consciences, touching the truth as it is in Jesus, whereof, upon the point we all make mention,) as good and hopeful assurance as we are able, touching each man’s peaceable and quiett enjoyment of his lawfull right and Libertie, we doe agree vnto, and by the authoritie above said, Inact, establish, and confirme these orders following.
That no person, in this Colonie, shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseized of his Lands or Liberties, or be Exiled, or any other otherwise molested or destroyed, but by the Lawfull judgment of his Peeres, or by some known Law, and according to the Letter of it, Ratified and confirmed by the major part of the Generall Assembly lawfully met and orderly managed.
2. That no person shall (but at his great perill,) presume to beare or execute any office, that is not lawfuly called to it, and confirmed in it; nor though he be lawfully called and confirmed, presume to doe more or less than those that had powre to call him, or did authorize him to doe.
3. That no Assembly shall have powre to constitute any Lawes for the binding of others, or to ordaine Officers for the execution thereof, but such as are founded upon the Charter and rightlie derived from the General Assemblie, lawfully met and orderly managed.
4. That no person be employed in any service for the Publick Administration of Justice and Judgment vpon offenders, or between Man and Man, without good encouragement, and due satisfaction from the Publick, eyther out of the common stock, or out of the stocks of those that have occasioned his service; that so, those that are able to serve, may not be unwilling, and those that are able and willing, may not be disabled by being overburthened. And then, in case a man be called vnto Office by a lawfull Assemble, and refuse to beare office, or be called by an officer to assist in the execution of his office, and refuse to assist him, he shall forfeit as much again as his wages would have amounted unto, or be otherwise fined by the judgment of his Peers, and to pay his fine or forfeiture, unless the Colony, or that lawful Assembly release him. But in case of eminent danger, no man shall refuse.
And now, forasmuch as our Charter gives us powre to make such Lawes, Constitutions, Penalties, and Officers of Justice for the execution thereof as we, or the greater part of vs shall, by free consent, agree vnto, and yet does premise that those Lawes, Constitutions, and Penalties soe made shall be conformable to the Lawes of England, soe far as the nature and constitution of our place will admit, to the end that we may show ourselves not only unwilling that our popularity should prove (as some conjecture it will,) an Anarchie, and so a common Tyranny, but willing and exceedingly desirous to preserve every man safe in his person, name and estate; and to show ourselves, in soe doing, to be also vnder authoritie, by keeping within the verge and limitts prescribed us in our Charter, by which we have Authoritie in this respect to act; Wee do agree and by this present act determine, to make such Lawes and Constitutions soe conformable, &c., or rather to make those Lawes ours, and better known among us; that is to say, such of them, and so farr, as the nature and constitution of our place will admit.
touching the common law.
It being the common right among common men, and is profitable eyther to direct or correct all, without exception; and it being true, which that Great Doctor of the Gentiles once said, that the Law is made or brought to light, not for a righteous man, who is a Law vnto himselfe, but for the Lawless and disobedient in the Generall, but more particularly for murderers of Fathers and Mothers; for Manslayers, for whoremongers, and those that defile themselves with mankind; for Menstealers, for Lyars and perjured persons, vnto which, vpon the point, may be reduced the common Law of the Realme of England, the end of which is, as is propounded, to preserve every man safe in his own person, name and estate; Wee doe agree to make, or rather to bring such Lawes to light for the direction or correction of such lawless persons, and for their memories sake to reduce them to these five generall Lawes or Heads; viz.:
1. Under that head of murdering Fathers and Mothers, being ye highest and most unnatural, are comprehended those Lawes that concerne High Treason, Pettie Treason, Rebellion, Misbehaviour, and their accessaries.
2. Under the Law for Manslayers, are comprehended those Lawes that concerne Self-murder, Murder, Homicide, Misadventure, casual death, cutting out the Tongue or Eyes, Witchcraft, Burglarie, Robberie, Burning of Houses, Forcible entryes, Rescues and Escape, Riotts, Routs and Unlawfull Assemblies, Batteries, Assaults and Threats and their accessaries.
3. Under the Law for Whoremongers, and those that defile themselves with mankind, being the chief of that nature, are comprehended those Lawes that concerne Sodomie, Buggerie, Rape, Adulterie, Fornication, and their Accessaries.
4. Under the Law for Menstealers, being the chief of that nature, are comprehended those Lawes that concern Theft of men, Larcenie, Trespasses by Men or beasts, Fraudulent dealing by deceitfull bargaine, Covenants, Conveyances by Barratrie, Conspiracie, Champertie and Maintenance, by forging or rasing records, Writs, Deeds, Leases, Bills, &c., and by using fallse weights and measures and their accessaries.
5. Under the Law for Lyars and perjured persons, being the chiefe of that nature, are comprehended such as concerne perjurie itselfe, breach of covenant, Slander, False witnesse-bearing, and their accessories.
And as necessary concomitants hereof, to prevent Murder, Theft and Perjury, We do joyntlie agree in this present Assemblie, to make or produce such Laws as concerne provision for the poore, soe that the impotent shall be mainteyned and the able employed. And to prevent Poverties, it is agreed, that such Lawes be made and produced as concernes ye ordering of Alehouses, and Taverns, Drunkenness and unlawfull gaming therein; and instead of such to propagate Archerie, which is both man-like and profitable; and to prevent whoredom and those evils before mentioned, it is agreed by this present Assemble to constitute and establish some ordinance touching Marriage, Probate of Wills, and Intestates ...
It is agreed and enacted by this present Assemblie, that no inferiour shall rise up or rebell against his superiour, especially such to whom he more directlie owes faith, dutie, and ready obedience; it being altogether unsuitable to civill order, which by the authoritie of our Charter we purpose to propagate; wherefore, we doe declare that we counte it a kind of Rebellion for a servant to threat, assault, or strike his master; and the penaltie for a threat or assault shall be, to be bound to his good behaviour; for striking especially if it be malitiouslie, to be sent to the House of Correction, there to remaine for six months, or to satisfie his master. It is allso Rebellion for a child to threat, assault, or strike his Parents, and his Penaltie shall be, to be sent to the House of Correction, there to remaine a twelve-month, or to humble himself to his parents’ satisfaction. It is allso Rebellion to threat, assault or strike a Judge of Record; and the penaltie to be bound to his good behaviour, and further fined by his Peers. It is also a kind of Rebellion to withstand an arrest, and the execution of Judgment; the penaltie to be bound to his good behaviour, and to be judged by his Peers.
It is agreed by this present Assemblie, and by this act declared, that for any man to sue words of contempt against a chief officer, especially in the execution of his office, is against good manners, and misbehaviour; and his penaltie shall be, to be bound to appeare at the next Court, where such matters are to be Tryed: where, being lawfully convict by his Peers, he shall be bound to his good behaviour, so to remaine for three months space, or till the next Court following ...
First of Sodomie, which is forbidden by this present Assemblie threwout the whole Colonie, and by Sundry Statutes of England. 25 Hen. viii. 6; 5 Eliz. xvii. It is a vile affection, whereby men given up thereto, leave the natural use of woman, and burne in their lusts, one toward another; and so men with men worke that which is vnseemly, as that Doctor of the Gentiles in his letter to the Romans once spake, i. 27; The Penaltie concluded by that State under whose authoritie we are, is Felonie of death, without remedye. See 5 Eliz. 17.
Buggerie is forbidden by this present Assembly threwout the whole Colonie, and also strengthened by the same Statute of England. It is a most filthy lying with a beast as with a woman, and is abomination and confusion; the just reward whereof prepared to our hands, is Felonie of death, without remedie. See 5 Eliz. 17.
Rape is forbidden by this present Assembly threwout the whole Colonie; and we do hereby declare, that it is when a man through his vile and unbridled affection, lyeth with, forceth a woman against her will; like hereunto is the knowing of a maid carnally who is vnder ye age of Tenn yeares, though it be with her consent. The penaltie we do declare to be Felonie of death. See, for confirmation, 13 Edw. i. 34; and if the Woman consent after, she loseth her dowre of Lands. See 6 Rich. ii. 6. And so doth a married wife that elopeth with her adventurer. 13 Edw. i. 34.
Adulterie and Fornication.
Is forbidden by this present Assembliy threwout the Colonie, with this memento, that the Most High will judge them. 13 Hen. iv. Adultery is declared to be a vile affection, whereby men do turn aside from ye naturall use of their own wives, and do burn in their lusts towards strange flesh; and we do agree, that what penaltie the Wisdome of the State of England have or shall appoint touching these transgressions, the accessarie and effects shall stand in force threwout the whole Colonie.
It is agreed, and by this present Assembly enacted, that the taking away, deflouring or contracting in marriage a maid under sixteen yeares of age, against the will of, or vnknown to the Father or Mother of the Maid, is a kind of stealing of her; and that the penaltie shall be eyther five years’ imprisonment or satisfaction of her parents. 4 Will. and Mary, 8 ...
Touching Liars and Perjured Persons.
Forasmuch as the consciences of sundry men, truly conscienable, may scruple the giving or taking of an oath, and it would be noways suitable to the nature and constitution of our place (who professeth ourselves to be men of different consciences, and no one wiling to force another) to Debar such as cannot do so, eyther from bearing office amongst vs, or from giving in testimony in a case depending.
Be it enacted by the authority of this present Assembly, that a solemn profession or Testimony in a Court of Record, or before a Judge of Record, shall be accounted, threwout the whole Colonie of as full force as an oath; and because many, in giving engagement or testimony, are usually more over awed with the Penaltie which is known, than with the most High, who is little known in the Kingdoms of men.
It is, therefore, further agreed and ordered, that he that falsifieth such a solemn profession or testimony, shall be accounted among vs as a perjured person, and his penaltie shall be that, looke what detriment is or might be brought vpon others by falsifying his engagement or testimony, the same shall fall upon himself. He shall also forfeit five pounds, and be disenabled eyther to beare office, or to give in Testimony in any Court of Record, vntill the Colonie release him; and this forfeiture and determinet, (the partie being lawfully convicted,) shall be, one halfe to the King’s Custome, and the other shall go to the partie grieved that sues for it, by action of debt or bill: but in case the partie be not worth so much, then shall he be imprisoned in the House of Correction till it be wrought out, or else sett in the Pillory in some open place, and have his Eares nayled thereto; and then may the partie grieved receive his dammages; and the procurer shall have the like penaltie. See 5 Eliz. 9.
Breach of Covenant.
Breach of Covenant is by the present Assembly, forbidden threwout the whole Colonie.
It is enacted, and agreed, that they that perform not their Covenants made eyther by word or writing, (excepting those before excepted,) shall be liable to satisfie what the other can prove he is damnified by reason of the non-performance thereof, which he may recover upon an action of the case.
And be it further enacted, that no person retayning a servant, shall putt their servant away, nor no person retayned shall depart from their master, mistress or dame, untill the end of the term covenanted for, vss it be for some reasonable and sufficient cause, witnessed before and allowed by the Head Officer or Officers of the Towne, and three or foure able and discreet men of the Comon Councill or Towne appointed thereto, vnder their hands in writing, for the discharge eyther of Master or Servant.
And be it enacted further, that that Master, Mistress or Dame, that putts away their servant without sufficient cause, and so allowed with such a discharge, shall forfeit the sum of forty shillings; and if any servant departe from his or her Master, Mistress or Dame’s service before the end of the Terme covenanted for, vnless it be for some sufficient cause allowed of as before, or not serve according to the Tenure of the promise or covenant, vpon complaint vnto the Head Officers of the Towne and their associates, the matter being fully proved, he shall be committed to Ward without Baile or Mainprize, vntill by sufficient sureties he be bound to his Master, Mistress or Dame, to perform the engagement.
Be it enacted, by the authoritie above said, that he that shall retaine a Servant now lawfully dismissed and sett at liberty from his Master, shall forfeit for every such offence five pounds, which the Master may recover by an action of Debt. See 5 Eliz. 4 ...
Forasmuch as a good name is better than precious ointment, and Slaunderers are worser than dead flies to corrupt and alter the savour thereof, it is agreed, by this present Assembly, to prohibitt the raysing or spreading of false reports, Slaunderers and Libells throwout the whole Colonie; and we further declare that the partie offended or grieved by such False reports, Slaunders, and Libells as hereafter followeth, may bring his action of slaunder against the reporter and speaker thereof, in case vpon demand he reaveale not the author, but if revealed, then against the Author, and shall recover sufficient damages. The cases actionable are these; for a man to say eyther by word or writing, and yet not able to prove it, that another is a Traytor, a Fellon, a Thiefe, a Cutt-purse, or hath stole something; a perjured person, or hath forsworn himselfe in any man’s case; a Bankrupt, a Cheater, or one that lives by cheating; to call and be not able to prove it, an unmarried woman a whore; a young man unmarried, a whoremaster; to say a young man keepeth a House of Bawdery; or that a Tradesman maketh nothing but bad wares; or that a Merchant or shop-keeper hath nothing but rotten, bad and vnsound wares in his house or shopp, or to speak any thing in the dispragement of a Man’s goods that he putts to sale whereby he may be damnified.
It is agreed and ordered, by this present Assembly, that each Towne shall provide carefully for the reliefe of the poore, to maintaiyne the impotent, and to employ the able, and shall appoint an overseer for the same purpose. See 43 Eliz. 2.
It is ordered, Common Scoulds shall be punished with the Ducking Stoole.
It is ordered, by the authority of this present Assembly, that no Taverne, Alehouse or Victualling House, shall be kept threwout the whole Colonie without Licence or Allowance; and whosoever shall keep Taverne or Alehouse, or Victualling house without licence, shall forfeit twenty shillings, which shall be levied to the vse of the poore, and shall by the head officer of the Towne be forthwith discharged. See 3 Car. 3.
Be it also enacted by the authority of this present Assembly, that each Towne shall have power to allow Tavernes, Alehouses, and Victualling houses within its own precincts; and the Head officer of the Towne shall binde by Recognizance every such Taverne, Alehouse keeper and Victualler so allowed, with two such sufficient sureties to keep good order in his house, and not to vse such games as are judged by the Lawes of England to be vnlawfull in such Common houses, as Carding, Dicing, Slide, Groat, &c., and not to suffer any Townsmen to remeine tipling therein for one hours space, vnder the penaltie of ten shillings for every such default, vpon the view of the head officers, or vpon the information of sufficient witnesses vpon their solemn testimony, or by his owne confession; And every Townsman so taken, shall forfeit for every time, three shillings and four pence; which forfeitures shall be taken by distreint and given to the overseer for the use of the Poore.
Drunkenness is forbidden throwout this whole Colonie; and it is further agreed, that the head officer of each Towne, or any other Magistrate shall have powre upon his owne view, confession of the partie or proof vpon one witness his Testimony, to convict a person of drunkenness, who shall be by him enjoyned to pay five shillings, for that fact into the hands of the overseer for the vse of the poore, within one week after the same conviction; and in case the partie refuse so to do or be not able; then shall he be sett in the Stocks, and there remaine for the space of six houres; and for the second offence, being convicted as aforesaid, he shall forfeit ten shillings, to be paid as before; and shall be bound by the head officer or magistrate before whom he is convicted, to his good behaviour, with two sufficient sureties in the summe of tenpounds. 21 Jac. 7 ...
It is agreed, and ordered by this present Assemblie, for the preventing of many evills and mischiefs that may follow thereon, that no contract or agreement between a Man and a Woman to owne each other as Man and Wife, shall be owned from henceforth threwout the Whole Colonie as a lawfull marriage, nor their Children or Issue so coming together to be legitimate or lawfullie begotten, but such as are, in the first place, with the parents, then orderly published in two severall meetings of the Townsmen, and lastly confirmed before the head officer of the Towne, and entered into the Towne clerk’s Booke. And that man that goes contrarie to this present Ordinance established, shall forfeit five pounds to the parents of the Maid, and be bound to his good behavior; and all the accessories shall forfeit five pounds a man, halfe whereof shall go to the grieved parents and the other halfe of the Towne ...
Touching the Public Administration of Justice
According to the Lawes Agreed Upon and
Established Throwout the Whole Colonie.
Be it enacted by this present Assemblie, that for matters of greater weight and moment, there shall be erected a Generall Court of Tryalls for the whole Colonie, and Generall Officers for the Administration of Justice therein.
The Court shall be held twice in the yeare, in case there be matters that are then and there to be Tryed, Sci: upon the next day after the dissolving of the Court of Election held in May, and the other upon the last Tewsday of the eighth moneth, commonly called October, and these Courts to be held at ———.
It is further agreed, that to these Colonie Courts of Tryall, shall appertaine the Tryall of such Crimes as may hazard Life, Limbe, Disfranchisement or Bannishment; and such Trespasses, Debts, and differences (as by the Common Councill eyther of Towne or Townes shall be judged too weightie for a more private determining). Also, such matters of difference as fall out betweene Towne and Towne, or between parties dwelling in two Townes more remote, or in the case of an arrest of a man belonging to a neighbour Colonie, or, in cases of great importance; also, attaints of Inquests, and Tryalls of perjuries, and finally all such matters as are not referred, by any charter or order, vnto any Towne apart, or to the Island, or two Townes joyntlie.
Be it enacted further by the authority of this present Assemblie, that the Generall Officer for the whole Colonie shall be these, Sci: One President, foure Assistants, in every Towne one, one General Recorder, one Publick Treasurer, and a General Sargent; which Officers shall be chosen every yeare in the General Assembly, and towards the latter end of that Session. They shall also be chosen after this matter: for President, Recorder, Treasurer and Serjant each Towne shall present one; and he which the major part of the General Assembly pitcheth upon by paper, shall stand and be confirmed in his Office for that yeare; and for Assistant, each Towne shall present two, and he which the vote by paper pitcheth upon, shall be the Assistant in that Towne.
Be it further enacted, that the President and Assistants shall have such a Commission by which they shall be conservators of the peace in the same Towne where they live and throwout the whole Colony. By this Commission, they shall keep the peace, and in case it be broke by threats, assaults, or affrayes, eyther before any of them or vpon lawfull complaint, he or they shall bind the parties by recognizance with two sufficient sureties vnto the peace, and to prepare at that Court where such matters are to be tryed, and soe to remaine, vntill by proclamation in open Court he shall be acquitted ...
By a speciall commission, the President shall sitt as Chief Judge in the Colonie Courts of Tryall, to see that order and course of Law appointed thereto be dulie observed, and the verdict being given in, he is to pronounce the sentence.
In case it be a matter of Felonie, to deliver vp to the Generall Sargent to the execution, or see it done and performed.
In case it be a matter of Trespass, debt or any other difference betweene Man and Man; he is, together with the Assistants, to tax the costs and to send forth a Writ of Execution unto the Generall Sargant at least tenn dayes before, to give the whole Colonie notice, to the end they may prepare for the Generall Assemblie.
By a speciall commission, all the assistants, if not necessarily deteyned, shall sit with the President in ye Generall Courts of Tryall, and shall supply the roome of a Coroner in each Towne where they dwell.
touching the generall recorder.
Be it enacted by this present Assemblie, that the Generall Recorder’s Office shall be in the generall, to keep a Coppie of all the Records or Acts of the Generall Assemblie, Generall and particular Courts of Judicature, Rolles of the Freemen of the Colonie, Records, Evidences, Sales and Bargaines of Land, Wills and Testaments of the Testators, and orders of the Townsmen touching the Intestate, Records of the Limitts and Bounds of Townes, their Highways, Driftwayes, Commons and Fencings, Priviledges and Liberties. And forasmuch as matters of greatest concernement ought to be kept and preserved with the greatest vigilance: Be it enacted, that the Generall purchases, (which are all we can shew for our right to our Lands, and the Charter which is that which gives vs who are Subjects right to exercise authority one over another,) be kept in a strong chest, having foure severall Locks annexed thereto, and that each Towne keep a key thereof, that soe, as there is a common right and interest therein, there may be no access vnto them in a divided way, (lest also, they be divided) but with a common consent. And let it be further enacted, that this chest be placed in the safest place of the Colonies; and the Generall Recorder, also, shall have the key to the Roome in which it is placed.
Be it also enacted, that he that is Generall Recorder, shall supply the roome of the Clerke of the peace or assizes, in the Generall Court of Tryall, as it is a Court of Assize or Goale delivery. And as Clark of assize, his office shall be to receive examination, information, recognizances and bailments, presented by the Officer who committed the Felon to prison. He shall also receive the bill of indictments presented by him who was bound to prosecute the prisoner; he shall read the indictments and enroll the acts of the Court itself, the indictment, the process, the answer, the traverse itself, the verdict, the judgment thereupon, and the execution. And as this Court is a Court of Common Please, soe he shall supply the roome of the master of the office, and in that regard his office shall be, vpon the request of the plaintiff or his Attorney, (in matters that clearly appertaine vnto that Court,) to direct a Writ to the General Sargant to arrest the defendant, in such an action, of such a man, and to take baile for his appearance by such a day as the writ makes mention to be returnable; and in case the General Sargant returne ye defendants Bond by the day appointed, then shall he enter into his appearance, and in case they proceed, his office shall be, to file such declarations and answers. But in case after a declaration is filed in expectation of an answer, or to make his defence, and he doth not, then the plaintiff taketh him by fault, which is called confessing the action; and then the Recorders office shall be, to enter and record a nihil dicit (id est,) he saith nothing thereon, and so shall be send out a writ of enquiry of dammages vnto the Towne where the defendant lives. And the head officer of the Towne, at the next Towne Court, shall enquire of damages, and by a writ of destringes to the Sargant, shall cause the defendant for that purpose to come to the Court, and in case he appeare not, he shall forfeit the distraint, and the head officer of the Towne may distraine again and again. The matter being issued in the Towne, it shall be returned into the office, and the Recorder shall then enter the postia returne, and give forth to the General Sargent a writ of Execution.
touching the publick treasurer.
Be it enacted, that the Publick Treasurer shall only receive such finds, forfeitures, amercements and taxes, as fall vpon such as are not within the liberties of the three Townes specified in the Charter; and Warwick, that is invested with the like priviledges and powre; and that the Townes mentioned shall receive and keep safe in their custody all finds, forfeitures and amercements that shall be levied upon the Inhabitants thereof vntill they be called for by the authority from England; but if vpon our humble petition, they be granted to the Colony, then shall they enjoy them as a helpe in their Government as their custom forever. Moreover, looke what comes into the Publick Treasury by that way, he shall give account of in the Generall Assembly.
touching the generall sargant.
Be it enacted by this present Assemblie, that he that is chosen Generall Sargant shall be an able man of Estate, for so ought a Sheriff to be, whose place he supplies; whose office shall be to attend all Colonye Courts of Tryall, and to serve eyther by himselfe or the Serjants of each Towne, all Writts originall or judiciall; who having arrested a man for that which he is bailable, he shall take baile by an obligation to himselfe, with sufficient sureties; the condition of which shall be, to make appearance in the place, and at the time, the bill, writt, or warrant specifies. He shall also gather vp all fines, forfeitures and amercements, that are made at the Colonie Courts of Tryall, and shall returne them faithfully unto the Treasurie to which they appertaine. When he is chosen, he shall be solemnly engaged to exact no more than his wages, and to take no more than is forfeited; for not serving writts and warrants, he shall lose to the party grieved, treble damages, forfeit Forty Pounds; twentie whereof is the King’s Custome, and twentie shall be to the party that sueth. And he that summons or doth arrest without warrant, shall be imprisoned till he pay to the party grieved ten pounds, his costs and damages, and twentie pounds to the King. See the 43 Eliz. 6. He shall also have the charge of the prison for the Colony, and the prisoners therein.
But forasmuch as Justice cannot be had in the general Court of Judicature, notwithstanding these Officers, without Pleaders and Tryars, be it enacted, that there shall be both, and rules given for their orderly proceedings.
touching the inquest for tryars.
To save needless expenses and travailes, be it enacted, by the authority of this present Assemblie, that all Traitors, Felons, and such as are suspected thereof shall be indicted by twelve or sixteen honest and lawful men of, and also in the Towne where the person was taken, or of, and in the Towne where his Tryall shall be, and at the Court of Tryall. And that three of the most sufficient and least suspicious persons in each Towne bee chosen by the Townsmen tenn days before, and sent to that Court to attend the Tryall of such matters as shall be presented, and that these be returned and arrayed by the General Sargent, so that the parties may have knowledge of them foure dayes before the Sessions of the Justices upon paine of ten pounds; and that they be chosen by neyther old men above seventy yeares, nor mean men, nor such as have a charter of exemption, nor an indictor, nor interested in the deliverance of an indictee. See 42 Edw. iii. 11; 13 Edw. i. 37; 25 Edw. iii. 3; 3 Hen. v. 3; 23 Hen. vi. 9.
And be it further enacted, that no man shall pass vpon the Life of a Man in this Colonie, nor in plea real, no, nor personal in any issue joyned, that amounts in the dammage to the value of forty marks, nor touching forcible entry, nor touching Riotts, who is not clear worth forty pounds, nor in smaller matters in the Towne that is not clearly worth twenty pounds.
And be it further enacted, that men have their peremptory and other challenges, to the full, as they have them in England, where for petty Treason, Murder and Felony, they may challenge to the number of twentie. See 32 Hen. viii. 3.
And be it enacted, that the inquest upon the Tryall of persons indicted of Felonie, shall eyther allow of, or reject the witnesses according to their consciences, of all or the major part of them. 4 Jac. 3.
And be it further enacted, that the inquest being thus chosen by the Townes, and summoned by the Sargant, in case any of them appeare not, their roome shall be supplied by such among those that stand about, or that live in the same Towne (and they refusing, the same fine,) where the Colonie Court of Tryall is held, and every man soe chosen and summoned, if he appeares not, shall lose and forfeit five shillings and ten pence; or what he might have gott if he had attended the service which the Court shall determine, which, by a distringas from the Court, the Serjant shall require, and levie and deliver into the Treasury to which it belongs.
And be it further enacted by the authority of this present Assemblie, that if any false verdict be given in any action, suit, or demand, either in this or in any other Court of the Colonie, in any thing personall, as Trespass, Debt, Difference, &c.; the party grieved shall have a writ of attaint out of this Court of the Colonie, putting in sufficient security against each partie giving in such an untrue verdict, whereby yee parties shall be summoned by great distresses; and in case the thing in demand and the verdict surmounts forty pounds, to the three able men of each Towne shall be added twelve of the same Towne, where the Colonie Court of Tryall shall be, being worth three score pounds a piece, if such and so many are to be had, and in case these find they gaven an vntrue verdict, every one of the former inquest shall forfeit twenty pounds, ten whereof is the King’s custome, and ten pounds shall go to the partie grieved, that sues for it; he shall be also not of credence, neither shall his solemn testimony be taken in any Court, vntill the Colonie release him. But if, eyther the demand or verdict be vnder forty pounds, then shall the inquest be worth fifty pounds a man; and every one of the petty inquest being found guilty, shall forfeit five pounds, the like punishment as is before specified. See 23 Hen. viii. 3; 37 Hen. viii. 5. And in case he that sues for the writ of attaint makes it not good, every party attainted may have his action against him, and recover sufficient dammages.
Be it enacted by the authority of this present Assembly, that any man may plead his own case in any Court, or before any Judge of Record Throwout the whole Colonie, or may make his Attorney to plead for him, or may vse the Attorney that belongs to the Court which may be two in a Towne, to wit; discreet, honest and able men for understanding, chosen by the Townsmen of the same Towne, and solemnly engaged by the head officer thereof, not to vse any manner of deceit to beguile eyther Court or partie. And these being thus chosen and confirmed, shall be authorized, being entertayned, to plead to any Court in the Colonie; but in case such pleader or Attorney shall vse any manner of deceit as is aforesaid, and be thereof attainted, or that shall be notoriously in any default of record, he shall forfeit his place, and never more be admitted to plead in any Court of the Colonie. See 3 Edw. 1, 28; 4 Hen. iv. 18.
Be it also further enacted, that in matters of oversie betweene partie and partie, or Towne and Towne, that belongs to the hearing and determination of the Colony Court of Tryall, the partie complaining, or his attorney, shall goe to the General Record, and in his office shall enter his action; then shall he request a writ to arrest the defendant as is abovesaid, returnable at least twenty dayes before the Court; the bond of the defendant being returned into the Recorder’s Office, the plaintiff or his Attorney, shall, within foure dayes after, file his declaration in the Recorder’s Office (or he shall be non-suited) where the defendant or his Attorney may see it and take forth a coppie thereof; then shall the defendant or his Attorney, file the answer eight dayes before the Court. And so shall they join issue, that Court, and proceed to Tryall, where the witnesses to prove or disprove the issue being produced, the plaintiff and defendant may plead their own cause, or have their Attorneys plead for them before ye Bench, and the inquest; and the verdict and judgment being given, the Recorder shall enter it. But in case the defendant puts in his answer, and at the Court makes his demurr, then shall the Court judge of the sufficiency thereof, and so shall accept the demurr, or proceed; but in case he neyther puts in his answer, nor demurr, or gives in his answer, but puts not in his demurr, and yet appeares not, then shall be entered, he saith nothing; and so shall it be taken for granted he confesseth the action, and then shall go forth a writ from the Court vnto the Towne in which he lives, to enquire of dammages, which being returned to the Recorder, a process or writ shall go forth for Execution.
And now forasmuch as we have prescribed Rules and orders, whereby are declared both the authoritie, office and duty of every person that shall be employed about this Colonie Court of Tryall, and have likewise declared, that the President’s and foure assistants’ office (among other things that belong to their care) is to see that order and course of Law appointed to this Court be dewly observed.
It is agreed, and by the authority of this present Assemblie enacted, that as the former Lawes are committed to their custodie to see them observed or executed, soe are these constitutions, so farr, as they have a respect vnto an orderly finding out of Justice and the administration thereof, committed to their charge, to see them observed.
And furthermore be it enacted, as that which adds to the comely and commendable order of this Court of Judicature, that at eight of the clock in the morning of those dayes vpon which the Court is appointed at the farthest, the President, the Towne Assistants, and the Head Officers of the same Towne where the Court shall be kept, (for their Councill and helpe,) shall sit in the publicke Sessions house, and also the Generall Recorder, where shall attend those that seeke for justice, their pleaders, witnesses, Tryars and the Generall Sarjant with his prisoners ready either to rid his hands of them, or else to doe execution vpon them or others as Justice shall require.
In the first place, the Recorder shall present, and if there be time read over the bills of indictment; and if, in case they have been examined or presented by an inquest before, then shall he pass them over; if not, then shall the President sett apart the honest and lawfull men prepared for that purpose, by a solemn engagement, faithfully to enquire touching the bills, and soe shall send them forth with the same.
Then, in case there be any controversies or difficulties between partie and partie that are lawfully and orderly presented to that Court for Tryall, the Recorder shall read them over in the open Courte, and that which was first joyned for issue, shall come first to the hearing. And because the twelve men are to have the hearing and determining of all controversies and differences depending between partie and partie, they shall be first called forth by the President and placed in order before those that are to be judged, from whom they shall receive a solemn charge vpon the perill and penaltie the law hath provided, to do justice between the parties contending, according to evidence. This done, then shall the parties, (having first had their lawfull challenges,) or their Attornies plead their cases before them, produced their witnesses for what they affirme, which shall be taken upon the like perill. When they have sufficiently discussed the difference, then shall the President or any other of the Assistants mind the inquest of the most material passages and arguments that are brought by one and other for the case and against it, without alteration or leaning to one party or another, (which is too commonly seene,) and soe shall the President advise the inquest to goe forth and do justice and right between their neighbours, according to the evidence that has been brought, for what has been pleaded. These being gone forth, then may the Court proceed to deale with such as are bound by recognizance eyther to release them or to continue their Bonds, according as there is just cause, and may read over the Indictments that have been enquired into before, and are now presented as true bills, or that were committed to the inquest in the beginning of the Court and are returned true bills, The twelve men returning with a verdict it shall be recorded, and soe shall they be employed, vntill all the differences be ended.
And forasmuch as it belongs to the Justices to taes the costs, lett the vacant times be so employed.
These controversies, differences and demands being thus all issued, then let the Recorder call to ye Sarjant to bring forth ye Prisoners. Before each prisoner lett his inductment be read, and he demanded what he saieth to the indictment, whether Guilty or not. If he answer Guilty, his confession shall be recorded. If he sayeth not Guilty, then lett him be demanded if he will be tryed by God and the Country, sci: his countrymen. If he consents, the President shall call forth the twelve men before him, wish him to look upon them, and ask if he have any thing against them; if not, then he shall charge them vpon the former perill, to deale faithfully and truly in the matter; it being a matter of consequence and moment, and to proceed to determine according to the light of their consciences, vpon the evidence given in, and if any be found Guilty of death, to be reprieved to the next Court. And thus having issued all matters depending, the President with the assistants and councellors shall give forth writs vnto the Generall Sarjant for the severall executions, and so break vp the Court for that time and sitting.
And be it further enacted, by the authoritie of this present Assemblie, that the perill that any officer shall susteyne, for going without, besides, or beyond his Commission, shall be first lawfuly and orderly judged. And that no officer employed in this Colonie shall think it strange or hard dealing to be brought to his faire Tryall, and Judgment for what he hath done amiss.
Be it enacted, that the Cheife Officers of the Colonie, Island, or Townes, shall be tryed and judged in the Generall Assembly by a committe of the most able and impartiall men, chosen out from among them, against whom they may have also their lawfull challenges: and that all other officers abusing their offices, shall be tryed and judged eyther in the Towne by which they were chosen; or, if the Towne please, or if not chosen by the Towne, then shall they be tryed and judged by the Colonie Courts of Tryalls, And in case any man sues for Justice against an officer or other, and he cannot be heard, or is heard and cannot be righted by any Law extant among vs, then shall the partie grieved petition to the Generall or Law making Assemblie, and shall be relieved.
And now forasmuch as the choice of all the officers that are to be employed in this Colonie, like the Colonies about vs, once a year, whereby it may be easily collected, that he that hath an office or charge this yeare, may have none another; and it would be too prejudicial to the peace of the place or quiet Government thereof, for a man out of a discontented selfwill, or other pretence, not to resigne, together with his office, belonging to the Colonie, Island or Towne, to him that is chosen and appointed thereto ...
Charter of Providence
Taken from Bartlett, Vol. i, 1636 to 1663, 214–16. The text, with the original spelling, is complete.
March 14, 1649
This is not a true charter insofar as it does not proceed from the king. Rather it is typical of many early colonial documents because it proceeds from powers of self-government frequently granted in the original charters from England. It is one of the earliest examples of a town charter being granted from what we would today consider the state level—equivalent to the state of Texas granting Houston a city charter. Note the inhabitants are taking it upon themselves to act on their own and are careful to cite their authority to do so under the charter granted by the king, implying that the king is sanctioning this document. The colonists see a federal relationship between the king and colony and therefore have no difficulty imagining a federal relationship between the colony government and its town governments.
Charter of Providence
Whereas, by virtue of a free and absolute charter of civill incorporation, granted to the free inhabitants of the colonie of Providence, by the Right Honorable Robert, Earl of Warwick, Governor in chiefe with the rest of the Honorable Commoners, bearing the date the 7th day of March, Anno 1643, givinge and grantinge full power and authoritie vnto the said inhabitants to governe themselves and such others as shall come among them, as also to make, constitute and ordaine such lawes, orders and constitutions, and to inflict such punishments and penalties as is conformable to the lawes of England, so neare as the nature and constitution of the place will admit, and which may best suite the estate and condition thereof, and whereas the said towns of Providence, Portsmouth, Newport and Warwick are far remote from each other, whereby so often and free intercourse of help, in decidinge of differences and trying of causes and the like, cannot easilie and at all times be had and procured of that kind is requisite; therefore, upon the petition and humble request of the freemen of the Town of Providence, exhibited unto this present session of the General Assembly, wherein they desire freedome and libertie to incorporate themselves into a body politicke, and we, the said Assembly, having duly weighed and seriously considered the premises, and being willing and ready to provide for the ease and libertie of the people, have thought fit, and by the authoritie aforesaid, and by these presents, do give, grant and confirme unto the free Inhabitants of the towne of Providence, a free and absolute charter of civill incorporation and government, to be knowne by the Incorporation of Providence Plantation in the Narrangansett Bay, in New-England, together with full power and authoritie to governe and rule themselves, and such others as shall hereafter inhabit within any part of the said Plantation, by such a form of civill government, as by voluntarie consent of all, or the greater part of them, shall be found most suitable unto their estate and condition; and, to that end, to make and ordaine such civill orders and constitutions, to inflict such punishments upon transgressors, and for execution thereof, and of the common statute lawes of the colonye agreed unto, and the penalties and so many of them as are not annexed already unto the colonye court of trialls, so to place and displace officers of justice, as they or the greater parte of them shall, by one consent, agree unto. Provided, nevertheless, that the said lawes, constitutions and punishments, for the civill government of the said plantation, be conformable to the lawes of England, so far as the nature and constitution of the place will admit, yet, always reserving to the aforesaid General Assemblie power and authoritie so to dispose the generall governmente of that plantation as it stands in reference to the rest of the plantations, as they shall conceive, from time to time, most conducing to the generall good of the said plantations. And we the said Assemblie, do further authorise the aforesaid inhabitants to elect and engage such aforesaide officers upon the first second day of June, annually. And, moreover, we authorize the said inhabitants, for the better transacting of their publicke affaires, to make and use a publicke seal as the knowne seale of Providence Plantation, in the Narrangansett Bay, in New-England.
In testimonie whereof, we the said Generall Assemblie, have hereunto sett oure handes and seales the 14th of March, anno 1648.
Clerk of the Assemblie.
[General Assembly of Rhode Island Is Divided into Two Houses]
Taken without alteration from Bartlett, Vol. ii, 1664 to 1677, 110.
March 27, 1666
Several colonies independently made this important move to a bicameral legislature—Massachusetts (Massachusetts Bicameral Ordinance ) and Connecticut (Division of the Connecticut General Assembly ) are others noted in this collection. To a certain extent these moves to bicameralism were attempts to emulate the structure and processes of the British Parliament, and to a certain extent they were a response to colonial political inclinations. The documents provide only vague reasons for bicameralism, but it is certain that the British model was not so much slavishly imitated as it was studied for beneficial design characteristics. In British North America, with no true aristocracy to serve as the basis for an upper house, bicameralism was grounded in the desire for a careful, deliberative process as well as in a desire to distinguish representation of specific geographical units, such as towns and counties, from representation of the interests of the entire colony. In short, bicameralism provided a way for the colonists to respond simultaneously to two of their fundamental values—localism and the common good.
The Assembly having taken notice of the motion from the townes of Portsmouth and of Warwick, desiring the Assembly would order that the deputyes may sitt apart from the magistrates as a House by themselves; and consequently the magistrates to sitt as a House by themselves; and that of these two houses may consist the law makeing power, called in the Charter the Gennerall Assembly, of this body, collony, or corporation of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. At this present Assembly haveing well weighed such conveniances, and such considerationes as may perswade to grant the same, and yett to provide against such inconveniancyes as may for want of mature and sound advice proceed therefrom, doe in this presant Assembly enacte and declare that it is freely agreed, that the request of the townes aforesaid, be granted and ordered, that the magistrates sitt by themselves, and the deputyes by themselves, and that each house soe sitting have equal power and priviledge in the proposeing, composing and propagating any act, order and law in Gennerall Assembly; and that neither house in Gennerall Assembly shall have power without the concurrance of the majour part of the other House, to make any law or order to be accounted as an acte of the Gennerall Assembly. This in gennerall, is fully ordered, with a recommendation of the more pertickelar and methodicall settleing the ways and circumstances of ordering and regulating the afaires in each house and addresses, &c., from the one house to the other, vnto the consideration of the Gennerall Assembly, that is to sitt the first Wednesday in the month of May, now next ensuinge: where it is hopefully expected the matter may be fully debated and sett in a good way vpon more deliberation than this presant time can afford. The Court haveing alredye sate long on other weighty matters that lay before them.
Ordered, that the Recorder shall have for his atendance on the Gennerall Assembly in October, and for the Assembly now in March, 1666, for coppies of both, twenty five shillings from each towne.
Ordered, that coppies shall spedily goe forth vnder the seale to each towne.
[1. ]Four pence.
[2. ]Ten shillings.