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Massachusetts historical legal documents and laws

A compilation of historical legal information by the Trial Court Law Libraries

Table of Contents

Documents 1620-1799

Mayflower Compact: Agreement Between the Settlers at New Plymouth, 1620. An agreement drawn up by the Plymouth colonists in which the signers agreed to pledge allegiance to the King of England, govern the settlement by majority rule, allow every freeman the equal right of participation in the colony's government, and elect a governor annually.

Charter of New England, 1620.

Charter of the Colony of New Plymouth Granted to William Bradford and His Associates, 1629.

Charter of Massachusetts Bay, 1629.

Records of the Court of Assistants of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, 1630-1692.

Act of Surrender of the Great Charter of New England to His Majesty, 1635.

Surrender of the Patent of Plymouth Colony to the Freeman, 1640.

Massachusetts Body of Liberties, 1641. "Perhaps no other writing from the Puritan Era had so far-reaching an effect as this document, which laid the foundations of Massachusetts liberties, for which New Englishmen fought against the Empire in the 1680's and during the American Revolution, and which became a pattern of the United States Constitution. It is remarkable as a code of law, in that it lays out a structure of jurisprudence in terms of liberties rather than restrictions. In this it echoes the Magna Charta, and foreshadows our Bill of Rights. Drawing upon the Magna Charta and English Common Law, it was largely the work of one man, the remarkable Puritan thinker and writer, Nathaniel Ward."

The Book of the General Lawes and Libertyes Concerning the Inhabitants of the Massachusets (Selections), 1648. This is not the whole book, but does contain most topics of general interest, such as capital crimes, laws concerning strangers, Anabaptists and Jesuits and more.

Penalty for Keeping Christmas, 1659. Law that banned the celebration of Christmas.

Commission of Sir Edmund Andros for the Dominion of New England, 1688.

Charter of Massachusetts Bay, 1691. This charter expanded the original colony of Massachusetts Bay and provided for the Governor's appointment by the Crown rather than election, and at the same time broadened the Governor's powers.

Explanatory Charter of Massachusetts Bay, 1725.

Historical Codes 1836-1932



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Last updated: September 28, 2018