The Common Law of Colonial AmericaVolume I: The Chesapeake and New England 1607-1660

The Common Law of Colonial AmericaVolume I: The Chesapeake and New England 1607-1660

William E. Nelson

Print publication date: 2008

ISBN: 9780195327281

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Abstract

The four-volume series of which this book is the first volume shows how the legal systems of Britain's thirteen North American colonies, which were initially established in response to divergent political, economic, and religious initiatives, slowly converged until it became possible by the 1770s to imagine that all thirteen participated in a common American legal order, which diverged in its details but differed far more substantially from English common law. This book reveals how Virginians' zeal for profit led to the creation of a harsh legal order that efficiently squeezed payment out of debtors and labor out of servants. In comparison, Puritan law in early Massachusetts strove mainly to preserve the local autonomy and moral values of family-centered, subsistence farming communities. The law in the other New England colonies, although it was distinctive in some respects, gravitated toward the Massachusetts model, while Maryland's law, except during a brief interlude of Puritan rule, gravitated toward that of Virginia.