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  • Writer's pictureTana

The Illegal Government in the New World.

Updated: Mar 14

Welcome back!

Hello again, Smurphies! Welcome to 1633! A time with no TV, no movies, no phones, no electric lighting, and no endless supply of water on demand. Many more things, but I'm sure you get the horror picture. What a time to be alive, no? Could you imagine? That's exactly what I have to do! With my historical fiction/fantasy piece The Wiccan set in 1633, I have to make sure every single detail is correct, at least in Jane's world. Morgana's world is a complete different story.

Let's talk William Bradford before we go onto this illegal government business. Why? Mr. Bradford was the Governor of Plymouth Colony from its start consistently until 1633, and he has a small role in my book. He was elected again in the years 1635, 1637, 1630-1643, and 1645-1657. Needless to say, he was a cherished man among the colony. His duties to the colony were small in amount, but big for more serious, high-crime charges. Much like today's Presidency, the Governor did not hold all the power and make all the decisions. Everyone (by that I mean the men) got to be involved politically somehow, it was mandatory. There were several different government courts that did certain things.

The Freemen were stockholders in the company that financed the colony. So they had ownership of the colony's assets and liabilities. They held the right to vote for Governor, the Assistants, and to hold office. It is important to note that all stockholders were Freemen, but not all Freemen were stockholders. Also note women, Quakers, and servants could not be Freemen. Town meetings were mandatory and you were issued fines if you missed even one. To become a Freeman was simple because was like a "connections" thing. You could submit your name as long as you had other Freemen backing you up, basically.

The General Court held the functions of both judicial and legislative power. The legislative function was carried out only by the General Court, presided by the Governor and his Assistants. Freemen voted and approved legislation and government officials couldn't pass them alone. The General Court also had the power to take away power from the Governor and his Court of Assistants. Judicially, it's unknown exactly what their role was, but it's suspected that the Government and his Assistants sat as judicial officers while cases were decided by the jury of Freemen. They met regularly in March, June, October, and December every year. All annual elections were held on March sessions and eventually in June sessions after 1642.

The Court of Assistants were always seven men elected in the General Court March sessions, as well as the Governor. They were also known as the Council to the Governor and provided advice in public court and private council to the Governor for the good of the colony. Assistants had many roles in the colony, including Colony Treasurer and the power to examine, arrest, and imprison citizens of wrong-doing while the Governor was away and presented them before the Governor and Court of Assistants thereafter. These two roles are important to me because one of my secondary characters is Treasurer and my antagonist is the officer that lays down the law. They liked to meet on the first Tuesday of every month, but changed it if a General Court session was held on that day. Two Assistants and the Governor would handle civil disputes and only one Assistant and the Governor would handle petty crime.

The Grand Enquest was a special jury of Freemen who would hear charges of suspected criminal conducts by persons in the colony. If the Grand Enquest found the charges credible, then the accused would be tried in the appropriate court (General Court for capital crimes, The Assistants for lesser ones) with the chance to defense themselves. They also issued presentments to any freemen, officers, or deputies whom failed any of their duties, including attending sessions. They also spied on their jurors when they were assigned to the Grand Enquest panel for illicit behavior and were to report it to a constable who would then arrest them to present to the Governor and Assistants in the next session of the Court of Assistants.

Plymouth's government was technically ran illegally, and here's why. You must have a charter and a patent to settle on land in a new place. When the "Pilgrim" settler landed on Cape Cod, it was a mistake because they were supposed to land on the North-side of Virginia, which they had a patent and a charter for. This was the reason for the Mayflower Compact, which would give them local law and abide by it until they received a new patent.

Just so we know the difference, a charter is a document by the British government giving permission to establish local law and settle an area. A patent granted only granted to settle the land, not establish law.

Plymouth Colony never received a charter and based it's existence on the Mayflower Compact and two land patents in 1621 and 1630. As we already know, it was a success anyway because it remained to operate as if they had one. So badass in my opinion.

Thank you for reading and learning with me, Smurphies! I got all this information from The History of Massachusetts Blog and The Plymouth Colony Archives Project! These pictures provided are also NOT mine.





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