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. "The Body of Liberties, a document originally published in 1641, is the first legal code established by European colonists in New England and was composed of a list of liberties, rather than restrictions, and intended for use as guidance for the General Court of the time. This document is considered by many as the precursor to the General Laws of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Constitution. It incorporates rights that were later judged to be ahead of their time, with some of these rights eventually appearing in the Bill of Rights. Scholars do not agree as to whether these liberties were ever adopted, adopted provisionally or approved of by the General Court. On October 27, 1648, the General Court of Massachusetts would take what began as the Body of Liberties and create the first printed laws in The Book of the General Lawes and Libertyes Concerning the Inhabitants of Massachusetts which would serve as the model for statutory law in Massachusetts and other New England colonies."

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: April 11, 2022
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