Government and Law
Government and Law
Europeans brought Old World government and legal traditions with them when they settled in North America. There they were confronted with the challenge of transplanting European systems to a strange environment populated by native peoples who did not share European cultural experiences. In the early 1600s, France, the Netherlands (Holland), and England were all governing colonies in North America. By the turn of the eighteenth century, however, England dominated the territory that would become the United States.
French, Spanish, and Dutch colonies
The presence of the French and the English, along with the resistance of Native Americans, had prevented the Spanish from moving beyond the "borderlands"—the Southeast (present-day Florida and Alabama) and the Southwest (present-day New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas). France was operating a thriving colony in New France (present-day Canada), and French missionaries (people who do religious work in foreign countries) had founded settlements around the lower Great Lakes and along the Mississippi River valley to the Gulf of Mexico. Yet the English had kept the French confined to areas outside the borders of English colonies. The Dutch founded the New Netherland colony in 1624, but the English took it over and renamed it New York forty years later. At the end of the colonial period, England governed the thirteen American colonies: Virginia, Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Delaware, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.
No Separation of Church and State
The modern idea of the separation of church and state was nowhere to be found in any of the early European colonies. Churches were actively involved in colonizing North America. French and Spanish settlements were based on missions established by Catholic religious orders, and the Dutch Reformed Church was the official religion in New Netherland. Nearly all of the early English colonies had an official church. For instance, the Church of England (also known as Anglicanism) was instituted in all royal colonies. The New England colonies, however, were heavily influenced by Puritans and usually established the Puritan church. After the English took over New Netherland in 1664, the colony had two established churches, the Dutch Reformed and Anglican.
Some colonists rejected official churches. For instance, the founders of Rhode Island had left Massachusetts because they disliked the Puritans' intolerant attitude toward religious dissenters (those who opposed the church). Therefore, Rhode Island had no official church. Pennsylvania was created in part as a refuge for Quakers, who had been persecuted by both Anglicans and Puritans in England, so Pennsylvania also did not have an official church. Some Anglican colonies, such as Georgia and North Carolina, had so few Anglicans that they tolerated other religious groups.
After conquering rich Native American empires in South America and Mexico (then called New Spain), the Spanish expanded their search for gold and silver farther north (see Chapter 2). They founded the first permanent European settlement in what would become the United States, at Saint Augustine, Florida, in 1565, and Franciscan friars (priests belonging to the order of Saint Francis of Assisi) began a large-scale missionary effort. By 1655 the Franciscans had created a chain of missions (churches surrounded by settlements and often towns) in the region the Spanish called La Florida, from south of Saint Augustine northward to South Carolina and westward to present-day Alabama. In the 1630s Spanish colonies of the Southwest were inhabited by 250 Spaniards, 750 Native Americans, and about 24 Franciscan friars who served 25 missions.
Military government Spanish colonies were governed by the viceroy (representative of the king) of New Spain, whose headquarters were in Mexico City. The other two parts of the government were the audiencias (appeals court) and the Catholic Church (a Christian faith based in Rome, Italy, and headed by a pope). The viceroy supervised all military and governmental functions, including appointing governors of provinces (local regions) such as New Mexico, Texas, and Saint Augustine. New Mexico was headed by a military governor based in Santa Fe, who appointed alcaldes (administrators) to govern the larger towns. Although Texas was sparsely settled, it also had a governor and administrators. Saint Augustine was organized along more traditional Spanish lines. When Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded the city, he assembled a cabildo (council), which collected taxes and distributed lots for houses. Other offices included the treasurer, an accountant, and garrison supervisors.
In theory the three levels of government—the viceroy, the courts, and the church—were supposed to work together, but they were frequently involved in disputes over authority. Conflicts most often occurred between the viceroy and the church. This confusion was partly intentional; government officials in Spain believed that if responsibilities overlapped, no single agency would become too powerful. But another reason was that the system reflected the Spanish monarchy itself: the monarch was seen as both a ruler and a vicar (representative) of Christ, so government and religion were nearly inseparable.
New Mexico was a typical example. Franciscan friars first moved into New Mexico in 1581. Their positive reports prompted the king to award a capitulacion (charter) to military leader Don Juan de Oñate in 1595 to conquer the region for Spanish settlement, which he did in 1598. In the years that followed, the Franciscans had the upper hand and the military served largely to enforce their influence with settlers and Native Americans. The result was a nearly theocratic state (government ruled by the church), until the Spanish were temporarily driven out of New Mexico during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 (see Chapter 2).
Laws not enforced A distinctive feature of Spanish colonization in the Southwest was a land grant called an encomienda, which was used to establish ranches (large farms). Oñate awarded these grants to the conquistadors (conquerors) who invaded New Mexico. Encomiendas could be inherited for up to two generations, but the ranches could be inherited indefinitely and became the basis of many large estates. An encomienda entitled the recipient not only to use the land but also to receive tribute (payment) from people who lived on the land. The first encomiendas were unregulated, and as a result many encomenderos (landowners) enslaved Native Americans and forced them to pay large tributes. Although this practice was against the law, governors and alcaldes often had little incentive to enforce it because the encomenderos were very powerful men. Consequently, after more than eighty years of mistreatment, the Pueblo tribe drove the Spanish out of the Southwest.
Spanish plans for acquiring more territory in North America were eventually weakened by ineffective government. The Spanish monarchy was primarily interested in Spain's holdings in the Caribbean, where plantation owners were making huge profits from rum and sugar and slave traders were doing a booming business. Therefore governors in North America had virtually no contact with Spain, and their link with the viceroy's office in Mexico City was not much better. Settlements in La Florida and the Southwest were in constant danger of being attacked by Native Americans, and they could not count on support from Mexico. In the case of Saint Augustine, soldiers and settlers were not even supplied with enough food.
The French were attracted to the New World (a European term for North and South America) by the prospect of a profitable fur trade in the Saint Lawrence River valley and the Great Lakes region, along the borders of Canada and New York (see Chapter 3). Like Spain, France also sought to spread Roman Catholicism among the Native Americans. In the early 1600s French interests in North America were chiefly in the hands of explorers like Samuel de Champlain (c. 1567–1635) and the Company of New France, which possessed a royal monopoly on the fur trade (see Chapter 3). However, in the 1660s New France became a royal colony (under direct rule of the king), with an appointed governor, an army, and an order to increase profits from the fur trade.
Leaders share power Power in New France was shared among the governor, a judge called an "intendant," and a bishop. The governor was responsible for military and Native American affairs, and the judge presided over the legal system. The bishop was the representative of the Catholic Church. The governor, intendant, bishop, and several other officials formed the Sovereign Council. The council was based in Quebec (the capital of New France) and served as the highest court in New France. The local courts handled most legal matters, while appeals (requests for new trials) were heard by royal courts at Montreal, Quebec, and Trois-Rivières. Royal court decisions could be appealed to the Sovereign Council. Some wealthy colonists appealed all the way to the Counseil de Parties, France's highest court, in Paris. Consequently, the upper classes had a significant legal advantage over less-prosperous citizens.
Courts and punishments Lawyers were not highly regarded in France, and New France outlawed them altogether. The intendant was trained in law, but notaries (officials who process legal documents) handled most routine legal matters at the local level. In court people represented themselves, and witnesses were paid for their appearances, the fee varying according to their social rank. Though their testimony could be challenged, they could not be cross-examined. French law allowed the accused to be interrogated and under some circumstances even tortured.
French law allowed an accused criminal to be interrogated and under some circumstances even tortured. In France torture usually involved pouring water into the mouth of the accused. In New France "torture boots" (wooden slats) were tied to the prisoner's legs and then wedges were driven between the wood and the flesh. Three physicians were required to be in attendance when this method was used, but the rule was not rigorously obeyed. Any confession obtained under torture became invalid if the prisoner did not confirm it after he or she had recovered. The practice could be used only under strict circumstances, and only eight men are known to have been tortured in New France.
Punishments for convicted criminals varied widely. Executions were rare but could be inflicted through hanging, beheading (for nobles), or being broken on the rack (a device that stretched the body). From 1665 until 1763 only eighty-five persons were executed in New France. Hangings were not popular among colonists, and they were not nearly the public spectacles they were in England and its colonies. Indeed, workers tried to avoid constructing the gallows (a structure used for hanging) or removing the corpse afterward. The stocks (a wooden frame with holes for the hands, feet, and head) and lashing with a whip were infrequently used. Theft or breaking and entering might be punished by banishment (forced removal) or service on a king's galley (ship). Branding with a fleur-de-lis (lily; the official symbol of France) was another punishment that was not only painful but also served to permanently identify a convicted criminal.
Illinois village governments In the late 1600s the French explored the Mississippi River valley and established villages in what came to be known as le pays des Illinois (Illinois country) and Louisiana. The villages of Kaskaskia, Cahokia, Fort de Chartres, Saint Philippe, Prairie de Rocher, and Sainte Genevieve never had large populations, and until 1718 they were controlled by the government in New France. After that they were technically under the jurisdiction of Louisiana. The government of the province of Illinois then consisted of a council made up of the commander of the fort, military officers, and officials of the Company of the Indies. (The company had been given a monopoly over land in Illinois and Louisiana.) In 1721 the territory became a military district. Villagers elected a syndic (representative) who represented the village in lawsuits and took on such responsibilities as fencing the commons (a grassy area in the middle of the village). Local decisions were discussed in a public outdoor meeting of all males over the age of fourteen. Widows also frequently attended the meetings. This group decided when to plant and harvest crops, build and mark roads, and repair fences.
Dual leadership in Louisiana Louisiana had a slower start than Illinois. In 1710 the king appointed military leader Antoine de la Mothe, sieur de Cadillac (1658–1730) as governor. A second official, called a commissaire ordonnateur, was in charge of financial and commercial affairs and the administration of justice. The king also appointed a judicial council called the Superior Council, which handled court cases. The division of responsibility between the governor and the commissaire caused problems because the two men were often jealous of each other. In 1719 the Company of the Indies embarked on a failed effort to make a profit by attracting thousands of immigrants to the Louisiana territory (see "Mississippi Bubble" box in Chapter 3). In 1731 the company turned Louisiana over to the French government.
French efforts to acquire more territory were halted by the English. Like the Spanish, the French played no active role in the development of the thirteen American colonies. Nevertheless they posed a continuing obstacle to the English's westward expansion, sparking decades of conflicts called the French and Indian War (1689–1763). At the end of this war, the Treaty of Paris (1763) gave control of New France and all territory east of the Mississippi River to the British, thus ending the French presence in North America. In the Treaty of Fontainebleau (1762), however, France had secretly given the area west of the Mississippi and the "Isle of Orleans" to Spain to prevent the British from gaining control of the entire Louisiana territory.
Dutch New Netherland
The Dutch were also attracted to North America by the fur trade. In 1624 the Dutch West India Company founded the New Netherland colony at the mouth of the Hudson River and on Manhattan Island. The privately owned company controlled New Netherland, so the government (headed by the company director) was loosely structured and plagued by weakness from the outset. Investors were mainly concerned with maintaining some order and concentrated most of their energies on profiting from the fur trade. Within five years the colony had two directors who showed little talent for governing. In 1629 the Dutch West India Company attempted to form a central government and increase settlement by opening the colony to wealthy investors, known as patroons. The patroons were granted lands, required to bring in tenants, and permitted to enter the fur trade. The only successful patroonship (estate) was Rensselaerswyck, near present-day Albany, New York. Rensselaerswyck had its own government, with commissioners, a director, and a court.
In 1640, under pressure from the Dutch government, the company allowed New Netherland villages to nominate magistrates (justices of the peace) from which the company director would choose one to appoint. English settlers from New England took advantage of this freedom and petitioned the Dutch for town sites. The Dutch, however, had to be encouraged to come together as villagers. Eventually they nominated two types of town officials, the schouts (magistrates) and a schepen (sheriff). In the meantime the Dutch West India Company still had problems finding a capable director. Finally, in 1647, they appointed Peter Stuyvesant (1610–1672) as director general (see Chapter 4). Faced with financial problems and the difficult task of controlling numerous ethnic groups, Stuyvesant gave himself and his council absolute power. Although he managed to conquer the neighboring colony of New Sweden (settled in 1638 by Swedes and Finns), his seventeen-year tenure as governor ended in disaster. In 1664 the English defeated the Netherlands in the Second Anglo-Dutch War. As part of the peace treaty, England claimed rights to the land occupied by New Netherland. New Netherland was renamed New York, and former New Sweden holdings eventually became the colonies of Delaware and New Jersey.
The Duke's Laws
The English were confronted with a delicate situation when they took over New Netherland and established the colony of New York in 1664. Specifically, they had to govern their new subjects without alienating them. The English also had to become accustomed to Dutch laws. Prior to 1664 the Dutch had developed burgomaster (mayor's) courts, which were awkward for the English because they had a country system headed by appointed officials. To ease the transition, in 1665 the new governor, Richard Nicholls, initiated the Duke's Laws (named for the English proprietor James, the Duke of York; later King James II). Under the laws Nicholls agreed to preserve the authority of the Dutch courts, and in return Dutch citizens swore allegiance to the English king. In areas settled by English Puritans, Nicholls created county courts like those in Massachusetts. Prominent Dutch and English politicians received enormous land grants on both sides of the Hudson River, and they were allowed to administer their own courts. For several decades two different legal systems operated in New York, but tensions did not ease between Dutch and English colonists. The Dutch who gained economically from the new government allied with the English, but less well-off Dutch residents felt left out.
English colonies take diverse forms of government
While Spain, France, and the Netherlands were settling in North America, England was establishing colonies along the Atlantic coast. By the early 1700s the English controlled all thirteen colonies in three main regions: New England (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire), the mid-Atlantic (New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey), and the South (Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia). Governments were based on charters (land grants and governing contracts) that England had granted to organizers of colonizing ventures. There were three types of charters: joint-stock company, proprietary, and royal.
Joint-stock company charter
Most of the early English colonies were issued joint-stock company charters by the king of England. These charters were initially given to a group of investors, usually no more than twenty, to form a joint-stock company, which enabled them to pool their money to finance their venture. In addition, the charter organized the company, gave specific economic advantages to investors, and granted land and governing powers. Typical examples of colonies founded by joint-stock companies were Virginia and Massachusetts. For seventeen years, the Virginia Company of London owned and administered the colony at Jamestown, which was founded in 1607 (see Chapter 4). After the Virginia Company declared bankruptcy, the charter was revoked in 1624 and Virginia became a royal colony. Although the Massachusetts Bay Colony (founded 1629) was owned by a joint-stock company, its charter failed to specify where the company should hold its annual meetings. The early stockholders used this loophole to hold meetings in Boston, thus distancing themselves from supervision by the English government (see Chapter 4). In 1631 Massachusetts Bay officers who lived in the colony decided to add 116 members to the company. Later expansions had the effect of turning the charter into a constitution (document that establishes an independent government). The Massachusetts Bay colonists had formed a government virtually independent from Britain, making their own decisions and even printing their own money, which violated the British policy of tight control on the colonies. Massachusetts operated under this charter until 1683. In 1691 the colony was placed under a royal charter. In the interim, the status of the charter remained in dispute as Massachusetts officials tried to regain their original company charter.
A proprietary charter was issued by the monarch to one or more individuals who received large tracts of land and the power to govern a colony in place of the king. In 1632 Maryland was founded upon a proprietary charter issued to Cecilius Calvert, Lord Baltimore, giving him and his heirs extensive powers to organize and govern the colony (see Chapter 4). During the second wave of colonization, between 1660 and 1685, the Carolinas, the Jerseys, New York, and Pennsylvania were also founded on proprietary charters (see Chapters 4 and 5). These colonies were practicing a limited form of representative government (government officials are elected by the people) by 1700.
Other early colonies had no charters. Since settlers had no clear legal authority from the king, they drew up agreements called compacts. For instance, Plymouth was governed by the Mayflower Compact from 1620 until 1691, when the colony merged with Massachusetts Bay (see Chapter 4). The colonies of Rhode Island, New Haven, and Connecticut followed with their own compacts in the 1630s. Compacts had their drawbacks, however, because the English government often did not recognize them as legally valid.
By the mid-1700s eight of the thirteen colonies had been placed under royal charters, which mandated direct control by the king of England. (Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia were still under proprietary charters.) Since the king, not Parliament (England's lawmaking body), held supreme power over royal colonies, their foremost function was to benefit the monarchy. The royal takeover of some colonies was a gradual process that began when it became clear that the colonies could become a source of huge profits for England. This was especially true of Virginia, which had a booming tobacco trade. The first permanent English colonies, Jamestown and Plymouth, were founded during the reign of King James I (1566–1625), who considered them "dependent local jurisdictions." Although he supervised both ventures through a committee called "Our Council of Virginia," he granted some independence to the leaders of the colonies. James was followed by a succession of monarchs who tightened English control. During the 1600s numerous royal boards and commissions worked with Parliament to regulate land acquisition, government, and trade in the colonies. By the early 1700s each royal colony was ruled by a governor and a council who took up residence in America and reported directly to the king. The governor and council presided over an assembly of elected representatives from the various settlements, which proposed legislation.
Problems for royal governors The royal governor was an English aristocrat (a member of the nobility, or ruling class), usually chosen because of his social connections, who acted as the king's representative in a colony. He recommended members of the royal council, who were then chosen by the Board of Trade and approved by the king. Councillors usually had a lifetime appointment, and the average number of council members was twelve. The governor and his council controlled the finances of the colony. Historians have differing opinions about the degree of freedom given to governors and councils, but most conclude that they ruled somewhat independently. Although the governor was given a salary, councillors received no pay. Nevertheless, like the governor, they were wealthy men, and they often found lucrative positions within the government. Sometimes several members of a family served on one council. The governor and council also acted as the highest court in a colony, and any appeals of their decisions were referred to England. The governor had veto power (authority to prohibit) over the colonial assembly, and the Crown expected him to use it to advance English interests. However, a governor who ignored colonists' concerns, particularly those expressed in the assembly, placed himself at considerable political risk. For this reason, royal governors encountered numerous problems and were frequently replaced or recalled to England to answer charges brought against them.
One of the greatest challenges for a colonial governor was keeping a council quorum (a minimum number of members required to approve legislation). Although only three out of twelve councillors was considered a quorum in an emergency, governors still had difficulty calling even that small number of members together. Councillors were so often absent from the colonies that in 1720 the Crown authorized all governors to suspend a council member if he was absent for twelve months without permission. Few governors acted on this, however, even as absenteeism became more frequent in the mid-1700s. Although governments remained fairly stable during the colonial period, some colonists became uncomfortable with the fact that, aside from the governor, three men could determine the fate of legislation passed by an entire assembly of representatives from the settlement. In a few colonies voters began supporting the elected assembly over the governor and council.
Rise of the colonial assembly Royal charters were not designed with the idea that elected assemblies would become the central governing force in the American colonies. But this is precisely what happened. In 1619 the first local representative body in America was assembled in Virginia. It was called the House of Burgesses after the English system, in which a burgess represented a borough (an area under the jurisdiction of a local government) or town. Members of local assemblies, from the first in Virginia to the last in Georgia, considered their duties to be based on English common law (the body of law determined by custom and precedent). In fact, by the end of the seventeenth century many assemblies began to see themselves as similar to the English Parliament—that is, the supreme law making body. They obtained what has been called "negotiated authorities," which later strengthened their resolve to bypass Parliament and appeal directly to the king.
Royal control of the colonies increased from 1651 onward, when the English Parliament passed a series of
In 1643 the New England colonies formed the first federation in America. Called "The United Colonies of New England" (usually referred to as the New England Confederation), it was intended to give "mutual safety and welfare" for Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven. Representatives from the colonies met in Boston, Massachusetts, and drafted a constitution that provided for coordinated military defense and settlement of boundary disputes. Each colony was free to manage its own internal affairs. The confederation was based on compromise, which was its main weakness. Almost immediately the colonies began to squabble. For instance, Massachusetts Bay had a larger population, so the colony had to pay more taxes and furnish more men for the militia—but without having a greater say in decisions. In 1653 Massachusetts Bay refused to participate in a war against the Dutch. Maine and the Narragansett Bay settlements (later Rhode Island) wanted to join the group but were denied admission for political and religious reasons. (Some settlers in Maine supported royal control of Massachusetts, and Narragansett Bay settlers were critical of Puritanism.) The commission that was set up to administer the league had no real power; commissioners could only give advice on resolving conflicts. By 1665 the commission was meeting only once every three years, and the league went into decline. It was revived from 1675 to 1676 to defeat the Native Americans in King Philip's War (see Chapter 5). The Confederation of New England was dissolved when the Massachusetts Bay charter was revoked in 1684.
laws called the Acts of Trade, or Navigation Acts, to regulate American trade (see Chapter 7). These acts were based on a theory called mercantilism, which held that the colonies existed for the economic benefit of England. The Navigation Acts established a system of regulations that worked both for and against the colonies. Under these laws, any commodities (trade items) transported to and from the colonies had to be carried on British ships commanded by British captains, and three-quarters of a ship's crew had to be British. (In this case, "British" meant anyone from the British Isles—England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales—and the American colonies.) This provision greatly aided American sailors and shipbuilders. Other provisions required that certain items, called enumerated articles, be taken to England before they could be transported to other European ports, while other goods could not be sold anywhere but in England. Among them were tobacco, rice, furs, indigo (a blue dye), and naval stores (masts, hemp, pitch, tar, and turpentine). The acts also included bonuses to be paid to Americans for producing things that England needed, such as hemp for rope, iron, dyes, silk, and lumber. However, the colonies could not ship these items to other countries without paying high tariffs (trade fees).
In the mid-1700s the British created still more regulations. The Iron Act of 1750 outlawed the building of colonial forges for turning pig iron (crude iron that has been made in a blast furnace) into steel. However, this law also dropped duties (taxes) that had previously been applied to pig iron, so in theory the statute both helped and hindered the colonies. The Currency Act of 1751 seriously restricted the use of paper money in New England. Eventually many colonists would come to see such measures as unnecessary and unlawful interferences with their freedom.
Dominion of New England In 1686 James II dealt another blow to New England. The Catholic king was in danger of being removed from the throne by his Protestant opponents, and he wanted to elevate England to a major world power. The Navigation Acts, which created an English trade monopoly on goods from the colonies, had been part of this plan, but James realized he had to go a step further and centralize his government. In addition, he had to prevent Massachusetts, the main New England colony, from gaining too much independence (Massachusetts was virtually a self-governing colony). Therefore he forced royal rule on Massachusetts, the other New England colonies, New York, and New Jersey. He united them under the title of Dominion of New England and appointed Edmund Andros (1637–1714) as royal governor. James initiated many changes that affected the lives of the colonists. For example, the Massachusetts general court was replaced by a council. Andros and the council (which he appointed) had the power to make all laws and raise taxes, and the Privy Council (king's council) was the final court of appeal. Colonists were required to obtain deeds (legal contracts) for land they purchased from Native Americans, and quitrents (a fixed tax) were then levied on the land. Only five ports were open for customs clearance (taxing of trade items coming into and going out of the colonies). Worst of all, Andros was an Anglican in a Puritan region (populated by those who believed in strictness in matters of religion and conduct), and he had brought British troops with him to enforce the law.
In 1687 citizens in Ipswich and other Massachusetts towns protested that taxes were not only too high but also illegal. Andros arrested the demonstrators and crushed all opposition. The following year he imposed a rule that public meetings could be held only once a year, to elect public officials. Furthermore, representatives could serve only two years, thus preventing local politicians from gaining power. Events turned in the colonists' favor between 1688 and 1689, however, when James II was removed from the throne in the Glorious Revolution (the name given to the ascension of Protestant monarchs William III and Mary II). Now that Andros had no backing in England, the colonists sent him and other officials to England as prisoners. The Dominion of New England was soon disbanded, but all of the colonies remained under royal charter. In 1691 Massachusetts Bay was combined with Plymouth and Maine to form the single colony of Massachusetts.
The fall of the dominion also resulted in Leisler's Rebellion, one of the most significant political events of the colonial period. While Andros was serving as governor, there was great fear among Puritans and Dutch Reformed Church members that Catholics or Anglicans would seize control in New England. (Both the Puritan and Reformed Churches followed the teachings of Protestant reformer John Calvin [1509–1564], who advocated rejecting Roman Catholicism. The Puritans also rejected Anglicanism, the established church of England, as being equally corrupt.) After Andros and other English officials were removed from office, Dutch colonists in New York immediately chose Jacob Leisler (1640–1691), a German-born merchant and a member of the Reformed Church, to head the colony. Leisler had held political positions in the past, so he managed to establish control. Yet he was not widely supported by other colonists. For instance, prominent Dutch families resented the fact that the colony was now governed by a group of socially inferior traders. As a result, Leisler was backed mainly by poor merchants and farmers. He attempted to gain wider support in 1690, when he launched a military expedition to protect northern New York from French soldiers and Native Americans. The militia (citizens's army) arrived too late, however, and sixty colonists were killed. By now Leisler had also alienated powerful English merchant families, since his followers were mainly tradesmen and farmers, who were considered socially inferior by the wealthy elite.
When the newly appointed governor, Henry Sloughter, arrived in March 1691, Leisler refused to surrender the fort at New York. There was a brief skirmish, in which several English soldiers were killed. After Leisler surrendered the fort the next morning, he and nine others—including his English sonin-law, Jacob Milborne—were arrested for treason (betrayal of one's country). The resulting trials demonstrated the difficulties Dutch colonists had with the English legal system. The accused men did not understand the charges against them. Two were acquitted and six others were convicted, although they were later pardoned. But Leisler and Milborne were not so lucky. They had refused to answer the charges, which they claimed had no legal foundation. Leisler's domineering ways had also weakened his support over the past several months. The jury was packed with his enemies, so he and Milborne were found guilty. In spite of popular protests, they were drawn and quartered, a particularly gruesome method of execution reserved for traitors and rebels. (Being drawn and quartered meant that a person's internal organs were removed and then the body was dismembered.)
Unfortunately, the executions did not end the political turmoil in New York. The anti-Leisler faction proceeded to seize land belonging to Leisler supporters. In 1695 Parliament halted this practice and reversed the convictions of Leisler and Milborne. But the passionate hatred between the leaders of the two factions lingered and would have an impact on New York politics for the next twenty-five years.
During the colonial period there was no permanent, national army. Instead each colony followed the English practice of forming a militia in the event of a conflict or war. For instance, Leisler commanded the New York militia in the skirmish with Sloughter's English troops, who were themselves members of a militia. According to Anglo-Saxon tradition, every able-bodied adult male was obligated to render military service if called upon. An important feature of colonial militias was short-term utilization of the militia. This was based on an English law that forbade the king to maintain a professional standing army because he might use it to oppress his people.
Drawn and Quartered
The order of execution for Jacob Leisler and Jacob Milborne called for them to be drawn and quartered, an ancient punishment reserved for rebels and traitors. Accordingly, they were to be hanged by their necks and "being alive their bodys Cutt downe to the Earth and Their Bowells be taken out and they being Alive, burnt before their faces; that their heads shall be struck off and their Bodys Cutt in four parts." Both men met their fates in 1691, but their bodies did not receive proper burial until 1710.
Source: Hoffer, Peter Charles. Law and People in Colonial America. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.
Militias differed from colony to colony according to particular circumstances and defense needs. In 1622 the Virginia House of Burgesses passed an act requiring all men to "go under Arms." Likewise, in 1628 the Massachusetts Bay charter allowed for the formation of a colonial militia "to incounter, expulse, repell and resist by force of arms, as well by sea as by lands." Massachusetts drew upon its large supply of manpower and closeknit communities to maintain a strong defense of its shores and borders. In New York, on the other hand, a diverse ethnic population and lack of cohesive communities made the colony more dependent on an alliance with the Iroquois Confederacy (see Chapter 1) than on a militia. Pennsylvania, which was predominantly populated with Quakers (members of the Society of Friends), did not have a militia because the Quakers were pacifists—that is, they did not believe in bearing arms. As late as the 1730s South Carolina had such a scattered population that the militia could not provide adequate protection. Also, the increasing ratio of black slaves to white colonists in South Carolina kept the militia there on the alert against possible slave rebellions.
Eventually militias tended to attract less qualified recruits. In the early colonial days, men who were sent from England to provide military protection—such as John Smith in Jamestown and Myles Standish in Plymouth—were often veterans of English wars. By the mid-eighteenth century, however, militias were often composed of wanderers who had no permanent address or lacked social standing within a colony. Virginia and Massachusetts lawmakers called them "strollers." In 1755, when Virginia needed a stronger militia, officials called for "such able bodied men, as do not follow or exercise any lawful calling or employment, or have not some other lawful and sufficient maintenance. . . ." At the same time, qualified men—anyone "who hath any vote in the election of a Burgess or Burgesses"—were excused from service. During the Seven Years' War (1756–63) British officers expressed contempt for the strollers who made up the majority of troops in the American army, which had by then become semiprofessional. The officers' attitude would later come back to haunt them when colonists rallied this capable army against England in the Revolutionary War (1775–83; a conflict in which American colonists gained independence from British rule).
The militia was frequently called out along the frontier and in southern colonies where plantation owners and tenant farmers lived in fear of slave rebellions. Slavery was introduced in the Chesapeake colonies of Virginia and Maryland in the early 1600s and soon spread into South Carolina. Slaves were also present in smaller numbers in the northern colonies. The first Africans in Virginia were probably indentured servants (laborers who worked for a specific number of years) who worked on plantations. Gradually the accepted view became that whites should be indentured servants while blacks should be slaves (permanent servants regarded as property), a status that their children would inherit. English common law, which was the basis of laws in the colonies, did not mention slavery, though it did describe varieties of relations between masters and servants and parents and children. Therefore there were no specific English legal traditions for slavery in the colonies. After the mid-1600s colonial legislatures passed slave codes. In Virginia a 1662 statute made the child of a slave woman a slave, even if the father was free or white. A 1669 law declared that if a slave died while resisting his master, the master could not be charged with a felony (a serious crime). The assumption was that no master would deliberately choose to kill his own slave, and therefore the death must have been unintentional. A 1680 law inflicted twenty lashes with a whip on any "negro or other slave" who chose to carry a weapon or to "depart from his master's ground without a certificate from his master, mistress or overseer."
In South Carolina a comprehensive slave code was passed in 1740 after the Stono Rebellion, an uprising that resulted in the deaths of far more blacks than whites. The code stated that Negroes, mulattos (those of mixed white and black ancestry), Native Americans, and mestizos (mixed Native American and white parentage) were assumed to be slaves "unless the contrary can be made to appear." Slaves could travel only with the written permission of their masters, and rewards were paid to whites or free Native Americans for the return of a runaway slave. Attempting "to raise an insurrection [rebellion]" could bring the death penalty for slaves. They could suffer death for lesser crimes as well, such as maliciously destroying "any stack of rice, corn or other grain" or setting fire to "any tar kiln, barrels of pitch, tar, turpentine or rosin." If accused of such a crime, slaves were entitled to a trial before two justices, but they had fewer legal protections than white colonists.
"If I purchase a Man"
During the colonial period, many religious leaders voiced opposition to the holding of African slaves as property. Foremost among them was John Woolman, a Quaker preacher who initiated the Quaker abolitionist (antislavery) movement of the 1760s. As he traveled to meetings (religious services) from his home in New Jersey, he carried his message to slaveholders in the North and South. In Rhode Island he tried to persuade shipowners not to transport slaves from Africa. He refused to buy any products connected with the slave trade, and he would not accept hospitality from slave owners. In 1754 he published Some Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes, in which he argued that slaves' rights were being violated:
If I purchase a Man who hath never forfeited his Liberty, the natural Right of Freedom is in him; and shall I keep him and his Posterity [children] in Servitude and Ignorance? How should I approve of this Conduct, were I in his Circumstances, and he in mine? It may be thought, that to treat them as we would willingly be treated, our Gain by them would be inconsiderable: And it were, in divers [various] Respects, better that there were [no slaves] in our Country.
The "Negro Plot"
Slave rebellions were feared by whites in the North as well as those in the South. One example was the "Negro Plot" case, which took place in New York City in 1740 and 1741. At that time the New York colony had the highest number of African slaves north of the Chesapeake. In fact, one-sixth of New York City residents were slaves. A strict slave code had been adopted in the 1730s, but it was only partially successful in controlling slaves. By 1740 fear of Africans was intense and widespread among whites. Anxieties were heightened by rumors of a plot by African and their white co-conspirators to poison the city's water supply. Then in 1741 a rash of arsons (deliberately set fires) and thefts were committed in the city. A reward of 100 pounds (British currency) was posted for information leading to the arrest of the criminals. Mary Burton, a teenage indentured servant, claimed the reward after telling about a ring of African and white thieves that included her white master. However Burton's charges went even further: she said there was a slave plot to burn the city, kill all white males, and put her owner in charge as mayor.
Despite inconsistencies in Burton's story, many New Yorkers believed her. One hundred and fifty blacks and twenty-five whites were jailed. Court trials lasted for almost a year, coming to an end only when Burton's accusations became even wilder and began to implicate prominent citizens. After verdicts were reached, eighteen slaves and four whites were hanged and thirteen slaves were burned to death. Another seventy slaves were deported (forcibly sent) to other colonies after "confessing" under threats of torture and death. Burton left New York soon afterward. In the years that followed, rumors of other plots periodically surfaced, and New Yorkers came to prefer free white laborers to slaves.
Lawyers in the colonies
For most people in the early colonial period, going to court meant representing oneself. There were few lawyers because their skills were rarely required. In colonies such as Massachusetts Bay, where the level of education was generally high, some men may have had knowledge of the law. But there were no professional, full-time lawyers, and in colonies like Virginia practically no one had any familiarity with English law. By 1700 the major towns—New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Charleston—boasted several successful lawyers, but they had very few clients. Consequently one wealthy client could retain all the local lawyers. In 1695 New York had to impose restrictions on the number of lawyers available to any one litigant. Between 1675 and 1769 only forty-nine lawyers practiced in New York City. Virginia was slower in developing qualified legal professionals. A major reason was that the plantation owners who dominated Virginia politics in the late 1600s did not want lawyers getting in their way. But after Virginia regularized its court system in 1705, lawyers were in greater demand.
John Peter Zenger trial
One of the most famous court cases of the colonial era was the trial of John Peter Zenger (1697–1746), a German-born printer and journalist who published the New-York Weekly Journal in New York City. The newspaper was a political forum for colonists who opposed the policies of New York's royal governor, William Cosby, whom they accused of misusing his power. Although Zenger did not write the articles he published, he was held responsible for their content. In 1734 Cosby had Zenger jailed for seditious libel (making a false statement that exposes another person to public contempt), then ordered copies of the newspaper to be burned. James Alexander, a lawyer and one of the backers of the New-York Weekly Journal, planned to defend Zenger along with one of his colleagues. But when the attorney general, a supporter of Cosby, had them disbarred (disqualified from practicing law), they turned to Philadelphia attorney Andrew Hamilton (c. 1676–1741). Hamilton was one of the best-known lawyers in the colonies and speaker of the house (legislative body) of Pennsylvania.
In the trial Hamilton readily admitted to the jury that Zenger had published the articles. Nevertheless he argued that Zenger had also printed the truth, and this should excuse his actions. The chief justice—also a supporter of Cosby—ruled that Hamilton could not use truth as a defense because sedition (undermining the government) was a crime, regardless of whether it was true. Hamilton then appealed directly to the jury, noting that "the facts which were offered to prove [Cosby's misuse of his office] were not committed in a corner; they are notoriously known to be true: and therefore in your justice [just verdict] lies our safety." The jurors shared Hamilton and Zenger's opinion of Cosby, so they were only too happy to find Zenger not guilty. Although the verdict in the Zenger case did not change the law, it established the first victory for freedom of the press (the right of newspapers to print truthful information) in America. Hamilton wrote and published a narrative account of the trial, and thus the story was handed down to a later generation of colonial leaders, who wrote freedom of the press into the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (1789).
Legal status of women
When a colonial woman got married she ceased to exist, legally speaking, as an individual. A single woman maintained much greater control over her property than did a married woman. Under the English common-law doctrine of coverture, upon marriage the wife became "covered" by the husband—that is, she could not act without her husband in legal matters. While the law allowed a married couple to act together, the husband controlled all legal affairs and was under no legal obligation to consult his wife. A husband could even be found liable for his wife's wrongdoing, on the assumption that it must have occurred with his encouragement or knowledge. In some instances a husband could be whipped for his wife's crimes, including adultery.
Coverture was part of colonial law, but with some modifications, as in the case of dower rights. Under English law one-third of a deceased husband's estate, called a dower, had to be preserved for the support of his widow. In Britain this law was frequently ignored, but in the colonies it was protected and strengthened. Often, especially in New England, the court would enlarge the dower to more than one-third of the estate in order to give better protection for widows. Unlike Englishwomen, Dutch women could sign joint wills with their husbands. The joint will option meant that, until 1695, Dutch women in New York often had greater say in matters of inheritance than did Englishwomen.
Freedom of the Press
The John Peter Zenger trial had a far-reaching impact on opposition to English control of the colonies. Historians note that although the case did not change the law, it influenced the writing of the United States Constitution (1787). In 1789 the framers added ten amendments, called the Bill of Rights, that guaranteed individual liberties under the federal government. Freedom of the press is one of the rights protected by the First Amendment, which states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of people peaceably to assemble; and to petition the government for redress of grievances."
Crime lower among women During the 1600s it was not uncommon for women to appear in English colonial courts in place of their husbands, and some even acted as their husband's attorney. After 1700 the economic life of the colonies became more complex, and knowledge of English common law proved useful. At the same time, however, there was more bias against women, and the acceptance of women in the courtroom lessened. On the other hand, divorce, though rare and difficult, was easier to obtain in America than it was in England. It is possible that crimes committed by women were underreported, but from available data it appears that women were less likely than men to commit crimes in any category except witchcraft in the colonies. In New England the only women accused of murder before 1660 had killed children. And women were particularly susceptible as victims of crime. Although there were strict laws against the exploitation of women, female servants were frequently subject to sexual harassment.
The law commonly treated women differently from men. Connecticut and Massachusetts laws against homosexuality, perjury (lying), and idolatry (idol worship) applied only to men on the theory that women could not commit these crimes. Since fornication (sex outside of marriage) was most likely to be discovered by the pregnancy of the woman, women were at much greater risk of being charged. Unless she revealed the name of the father, he would probably remain undetected and not receive punishment. It became common to question mothers during childbirth to ascertain the father's name, both to ensure his punishment and to guarantee his support of the child.
An Exceptional Woman
Margaret Brent (c. 1600–c. 1671) was a unique figure in seventeenth-century colonial America. As an independent, wealthy woman, she was actively involved in the legal and political affairs of the Maryland colony at a time when women had little or no power. Brent is remembered today as a feminist because she demanded the right to vote in Maryland, even though she knew she would be denied the privilege on the basis of her gender. She is also considered the first practicing female attorney in America. Some historians point out that Brent was not actually advocating equality for women in general, and she was never licensed as a lawyer. Nonetheless, she was an exceptional woman for her day: she owned and managed a large estate, she was the executor of the estate of Leonard Calvert, the governor of Maryland, and at one point she was in sole charge of supplying and paying an army.
Crime and punishment
Surviving court records from New England offer a glimpse of the crimes that were being committed and punished during the colonial period. From 1630 to 1644 in Massachusetts, ninety-nine people were charged with drunkenness, and seventy-three of them were fined. For the fifty charged with theft, the most common punishment was whipping. About half of the twenty-two charged with fornication were whipped, while whippings were given to nineteen of the twenty-two servants charged with running away. The twenty-four people accused of cursing (to call upon God to injure someone) or swearing (to use obscene language) received a fine or whipping. There were only nine assaults, three attempted rapes, one rape, and one murder. Of the four people executed, one cause was unspecified, two were for adultery (having sex with someone other than one's spouse), and one was for murder.
Punishment most often was a public affair because it also served, at least in theory, to deter others from committing the same crimes. In New England sermons were often preached before executions, and prisoners were known to offer moral advice to the crowd before meeting their deaths. Colonial laws often appeared harsher on paper than in real life. Adultery could be punished by death, but it seldom was. A Plymouth law of 1671 created twenty-one capital offenses (crimes requiring the death penalty), including cursing one's natural parent and "profaning the Sabbath provocatively." From 1641 onward, Massachusetts allowed the death penalty not only for crimes such as murder and manslaughter but also for idolatry, blasphemy (irreverently speaking of God), and witchcraft.
Exceptions to the violence of colonial punishments were found in Pennsylvania and East and West Jersey due to Quaker influence. The Quakers had experienced much persecution—in England their ears were cropped (the upper part of the ear was cut off), and in Massachusetts in the 1650s they were executed (usually for returning repeatedly after being banished). Therefore they believed in reform rather than punishment of criminals.
Crimes like drunkenness, fornication, and theft dominated most New England courts throughout the seventeenth century. Fines were common, but for more serious or repeated offenses, bodily punishment like whipping was inflicted. It was also common to humiliate the offender. Such was the purpose of bilboes, a bar and shackles used to raise an offender's legs off the ground in a position both uncomfortable and embarrassing. Over time these methods were replaced by the less expensive wooden stocks, a device with holes in which the offender's feet or hands, and often head, could be locked. The stocks were put in a public place such as the commons or village green to increase the humiliation of the punishment. The stocks did no physical harm unless the offender was locked in for an extended period of time. Colonies limited the number of hours in the stocks—usually no more than three or four, though Rhode Island allowed six. The first man placed in the stocks in Boston was carpenter Edward Palmer. His offense was overcharging the town for building the stocks.
Local government in the New England colonies
The New England colonies were organized around towns, which were in turn based on the English manor (private estate) and parish (church community). Thus the town was the center of government and religion (in this case Puritanism for the surrounding villages and rural area.) The New England colonies, which tended to resist royal control, governed primarily through town meetings that were held at least once a year in a church or tavern. All white adult male property owners of good character were eligible to vote in yearly elections at a town meeting. Elected offices included selectmen (chief executives), constables (policemen or watchmen), a town clerk (record keeper), tax officers, highway surveyors, fence viewers (those who ensured fences were properly placed), tithingmen (officials who made sure colonists observed the Sabbath and behaved morally), and cattle catchers.
Local government in the middle colonies
Colonies in the mid-Atlantic region (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware) had a more diverse system of local government. Pennsylvania, for example, was organized into townships, cities, counties, and boroughs. All cities except Philadelphia came under county authority. Each county was sectioned off into townships. The highest official in a township was the constable, and in a county, the sheriff. Unlike New England towns, Pennsylvania townships did not hold town meetings. The constable was appointed by the Court of Quarter Sessions, while other officers were elected. Boroughs, on the other hand, held meetings conducted by burgesses and councillors. A borough was comparable to a village, but it functioned much like a city.
After the English took over New Netherland from the Dutch and established the colony as New York in 1664, the county emerged as the basic unit of government. Counties were subdivided into municipalities (which had local self-government), manors, and towns. The sheriff was the most powerful figure in a New York county. He made court decisions, supervised elections, performed police duties, and collected taxes. The county was administered by the Board of Supervisors, and judges presided over court trials. The governor appointed the sheriff and judges, whereas members of the Board of Supervisors were elected yearly by freedmen.
Local government in the southern colonies
Local government in the colonies of the upper South (Virginia and Maryland; also called the Chesapeake) operated primarily under a county system. The governor appointed six to eight magistrates in each county. The magistrates had specific duties in their respective neighborhoods, where they often held hearings in their homes. Together they made up a county court, which could appeal decisions made by individual magistrates and pass and enforce local regulations. The primary law-enforcement official was the sheriff, who served under the magistrates. Court-appointed constables also served with the sheriff. Other officers appointed by the governor were the coroner, clerk, and road supervisors.
In the lower South (the Carolinas and Georgia), the dominant form of local government was a county subdivided into parishes. Although the governor appointed magistrates, the most powerful officers were parish vestrymen (a member elected to make decisions regarding the church). Each parish appointed seven men to a one-year position, which involved supervising parish schools, caring for the poor, and enforcing moral codes. Vestrymen acted as judges, enforced laws, and collected taxes. The parish in Carolina was similar to the New England town, in that it was the center of the established church, in this case the Church of England (Anglicanism). Unlike the Puritans, however, Anglicans often worked harmoniously with dissenters. Dissenters were therefore a more integral part of the community and were able to receive public services.
Low Tax Burden
The American Revolution resulted, in part, from the Sugar Act (1764), the Stamp Act (1765), the Townshend Acts (1767), and other repressive taxes levied on colonists by the English government. This fact has led to the modern misconception that American colonists always bore a heavy tax burden. Actually, the average colonist paid at most a moderate amount in taxes because governments had small budgets. For instance, Massachusetts employed only six full-time government officials, and the largest expenditure in any colony was the governor's salary—around $100,000 in today's dollars. The absence of a standing army also meant minimal defense costs except in time of war. Taxation therefore did not cause widespread discontent until the end of the eighteenth century.
Colonial governments levied taxes for a variety of purposes. For instance, taxes paid for officials' salaries, schools, churches, charities, road construction and maintenance, and the militia. Unlike today, there were no income or sales taxes. Revenue was acquired mainly through trade duties and excise (internal) taxes, thus allowing for lower taxation on individuals.
On both the local and provincial (colony) levels, land was the primary source of tax revenue. The only way colonists could avoid paying taxes was to demonstrate that their property was dormant (not producing crops). Most owned a considerable amount of property that produced income, which was therefore taxable. Proprietary and royal colonies also used quitrents to generate revenue. Colonial authorities regarded this as a convenient way to fund government operations and to gain personal profit. The system was introduced in Virginia and later adopted in the Carolinas and Pennsylvania. Although some northern colonies collected quitrents, the method never attained widespread use as it did in the South.
The poll tax was a flat labor tax imposed on anyone, most commonly white adult males, who earned an income. If a son worked for his father on the family farm, the father was taxed as long as he drew a profit from his son's labor. In England the poll tax was first used during the fourteenth century and applied to laborers over the age of fourteen. Near the end of the seventeenth century the poll tax was abolished in England because it was considered unfair. Around that time, in 1693, Pennsylvania enacted a poll tax on sixteen-year-old white males who had been free from indentured servitude for at least six months and whose net worth did not exceed a certain amount. For many colonies the poll tax covered at least half of the expenditures involved in supporting the colonial-level government.
The excise tax was another considerable source of income for colonial governments. Slaves and liquor in particular produced substantial revenues from excise taxes. Since slaves existed for their owners' profit, they were a form of production and subject to taxation. The most common excise tax in all the colonies was paid by tavern owners on liquor, a cost that was passed on to the consumer. Provincial leaders were following the lead of the English Parliament, which had established an excise tax on intoxicating drinks in 1643. In a period of growing Puritan influence, both in England and in the colonies, the tax reflected Puritan disapproval of alcoholic beverages.
Voting procedures in most American colonies were based on English practices. Among them was the "forty-shilling [an early American coin] freehold," which stated that only a landowner had the right to vote. The reasoning was that a landowner would have a stake in the outcome of an election and would benefit from the political well-being of the colony. Officials assumed that people who did not own land had no interest in the outcome of elections. Although each colony had different voting requirements, the general criteria were citizenship, residence, and age. Yet other limitations deprived many colonists of the right to vote—the most common being gender. Regardless of whether women had a high social status or owned property, they were not allowed to vote.
Women Denied Vote
Regardless of whether women had a high social status or owned property, they were not allowed to vote. Future U.S. President John Adams (1735–1826) expressed the thinking of the time: "[Women's] delicacy renders them unfit for practice and experience in the great businesses of life, and . . . the arduous cares of state. Besides, . . . nature has made them fittest for domestic cares."
Religious affiliation also played a significant role in voting eligibility. Until the late seventeenth century, a voter was required to belong to the established church in the colony where he lived. Protestant dissenters such as Quakers, Presbyterians, and Baptists were usually barred from casting ballots (Rhode Island was an exception). After the Glorious Revolution of 1688 to 1689, when the Protestant monarchs William III and Mary II took the English throne, many dissenters were permitted to vote. But even as restrictions on Protestants were being lifted, Roman Catholics were prevented from going to the polls. In Maryland, which had the largest Catholic population in the colonies, Protestant officials announced that Catholics "would tend to the Discouragement and Disturbance of his Lordship's Protestant government" and therefore should not be allowed to vote. Virginia, New York, Rhode Island, and South Carolina enacted similar policies toward Catholics. Many Jews also lost voting rights in at least seven colonies during this time. Rhode Island, the colony best known for permitting religious freedom, had the harshest restrictions against Jews.
Africans were not allowed to vote while they were enslaved, but they were given the privilege once they were free. Although there is no record of free blacks voting in northern colonies, there were no official statutes prohibiting them. In the southern colonies, however, free blacks did vote. In early eighteenth-century South Carolina, for instance, Berkeley County records stated that "free Negroes were received and taken as good Electors as the best Freeholders in the Province." Similar participation was recorded in Virginia and North Carolina, and free blacks could vote in Georgia prior to 1761.