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Charter of Liberties


CHARTER OF LIBERTIES, drafted in 1683 by the first representative assembly in New York as an instrument of provincial government. The hallmark of Governor Thomas Dongan's administration, the charter de-fined the colony's form of government, affirmed basic political rights, and guaranteed religious liberty for Christians. It divided the colony into twelve counties, or "shires," that were to serve as the basic units of local government. Freeholders from each shire would elect representatives to serve in the assembly.

Though the powerful Anglo-Dutch oligarchy approved of both Dongan and the work of the assembly, not all colonists approved of the charter. Under the charter, the governor retained appointive powers; Dongan lost no time wielding them on behalf of an influential few. Only eight of the first eighteen assemblymen were Dutch, and of those Dutch appointed by Dongan, most were from among the most anglicized, who had long held sway in the colony. Moreover, the charter contained provisions that were offensive to Dutch cultural traditions, including laws governing widows' property rights and primogeniture.

The Charter of Liberties was disallowed in 1685, when, on the death of Charles II, New York became a royal colony under King James, who created the Dominion of New England, incorporating all of New England and New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.


Archdeacon, Thomas J. New York City, 1664–1710: Conquest and Change. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1976.

Biemer, Linda Briggs. Women and Property in Colonial New York: The Transition from Dutch to English Law, 1643–1727. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1983.

Kammen, Michael G. Colonial New York: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Leslie J.Lindenauer

See alsoAssemblies, Colonial ; Colonial Charters ; New York Colony .

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