The Province of Massachusetts Bay, far before it was ever a commonwealth in the United States of America, had the ability to form a legislative body or “General Court” in order to pass laws as part of their original charter. At the State Library, we have several volumes of laws from both the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Plymouth Colony, though these volumes stop at 1685. The laws then resume in 1692, and each of these acts and resolves are available online. But what happened between 1686 and 1692?
In 1684, King Charles II of England revoked the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s 1629 charter. The Puritans had been ignoring English civil law in favor of their own biblical teachings and voting requirements, specifically those regarding trade with other nations (known as the Navigation Acts) and the Crown had insisted that they revise their charter so that English civil law would be back on top. When the colony refused, Charles II revoked their charter. He died soon after, and his successor James II took action a step further: in an effort to organize and centralize government administration in the colonies, he combined the northern colonies including Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, and Connecticut, as well as the Provinces of New Hampshire and later New York, East Jersey, and West Jersey in 1688. Together, they were the new Dominion of New England.
|Seal of the Dominion of New England|
The new government under the Dominion of New England consisted of an appointed gubernatorial council and no representative legislature, and in protest many of the individuals who were appointed to the council (and those elected to be military officers) refused to serve. The colonists in Massachusetts Bay also resisted paying taxes and establishing an Anglican congregation. When Edmund Andros, previously Royal Governor of New York and new Governor of the Dominion of New England, arrived in Boston at the end of 1686, he decided to pursue a hardline position with the rebellious colonists, arresting those rallying the people to protest and resist taxes, limiting town meetings to once a year, and challenging land titles. He also established the first Anglican congregation (today’s King’s Chapel) by claiming land by eminent domain. This choice was extremely unpopular due to the land being next to the oldest Puritan cemetery in Boston (now known as the King’s Chapel Burying Ground).
|King's Chapel, Boston, Mass. circa 1930-1945|
Needless to say, Andros’ reign was not popular and religious leaders like Cotton and Increase Mather petitioned the Crown to hear their case against Andros. At the same time, England’s Glorious Revolution began, and James II was replaced by sovereigns William and Mary. Increase Mather, who had gone to England to press charges against Andros, was there just in time to meet with the new monarchs regarding a new charter. At the same time, the news of the Glorious Revolution caused a political revolt in Boston in 1689, during which the insurgents arrested Andros and set up a new temporary government known as the Council for Safety.
The new Massachusetts Bay charter created the Province of Massachusetts Bay and absorbed Plymouth colony and Maine, but many of the original aspects of the 1629 charter were forever lost. While the province once again had a representative legislature, they had lost many of its other self-governing rights, including electing their governor, who would now be appointed by the Crown. English civil law was also elevated above the Puritans’ congregation-based laws to uphold as the Navigation Acts and remove religious restrictions on voting.
During this short period of time, the colony of Massachusetts Bay did not exist politically, which may account for the gap in laws at the State Library of Massachusetts. But where would the laws, passed by Governor Andros and his council, actually be located? In our collections, we have a 1928 reprinting of the Laws of the Dominion of New England
from 1686, but no other years. The cover page states: “From the only known copy of the original issue, now in the archives of the State of New Hampshire.” A handwritten note adds, “These orders and others… may be found in Laws of New Hampshire (ed. By Batchellor) vol. 1, p. 102-138.”
The 1902 edition of the Laws of New Hampshire, compiled by Albert Stillman Batchellor, appears to be the only time that the laws of the Dominion of New England have ever been published. It is possible that Batchellor traveled to England for certified copies of these laws so that his compilation would be as complete as possible. Thankfully, it is available online on HathiTrust.org
courtesy of Harvard University and Google Books. Manuscript copies of the laws and council minutes are also available in the Massachusetts State Archives
. These original engrossed acts have never been digitized, but thankfully researches can still locate laws from this time period via Batchellor’s edition.
Special thanks to Brian Buford of the New Hampshire State Archives and John Hannigan of the Massachusetts State Archives for their assistance in tracking down these laws.