Front Page Titles (by Subject) 36: Plantation Agreement at Providence - Colonial Origins of the American Constitution: A Documentary History
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36: Plantation Agreement at Providence - 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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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.]
[1. ]Four pence.
[2. ]Ten shillings.