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Other Free Encyclopedias » Law Library - American Law and Legal Information » Crime and Criminal Law Colonial Period - European Settlement Of North America, Factors Influencing Early Colonial Law, Differences From The English Criminal Justice System
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Religious beliefs played heavily in legal thinking of the early colonial period, a period dating from 1607 to the end of the American Revolution (1775–83; a war fought between Great Britain and the American colonies in which the colonies won their independence). The modern American criminal justice system has its roots in the legal concepts carried by early English settlers to the New World. Drawn from the English legal system the colonists knew back home, colonial law evolved substantially through the next three centuries from the time of the first settlements up to the Revolutionary War. Following the war, independence from England allowed a distinctly new American legal system shaped by the experiences of the early colonists.
Jamestown and Plymouth
In 1607 about one hundred settlers sent by the Virginia Company arrived at Jamestown, the first permanent British settlement. It later grew into the Virginia colony. The English merchants who organized the Jamestown colonists expected prosperity or wealth from the venture. They were particularly interested in sources of gold. Not finding great fortune and treasures, the colonists began growing tobacco by 1612 for shipment back to England. Tobacco provided a steady economic base for the young settlement. In 1619 the colonists formed their first representative legislature (body of persons authorized to make and change laws) called the House of Burgesses. Another settlement occurred in 1620 when the Puritans, English Protestants who opposed the Church of England, traveled across the Atlantic Ocean on the Mayflower. They landed in New England and established the Plymouth settlement. Also known as Pilgrims, they came to America seeking religious freedom rather than economic gain. Before leaving the ship, the Pilgrims created the Mayflower Compact, an agreement to provide "just and equal laws" in their settlement. They agreed to abide by rules for the general good of all. Half of the Pilgrims died during the harsh winter of 1620–21 but the Plymouth colony managed to survive. Settlers spread out to establish New Hampshire in 1623. In 1630 approximately one thousand Puritans set sail from England in eleven boats for the New World where they established more strict religious communities including the new settlement of Boston. Connecticut was established in 1633 and Rhode Island in 1636. By 1642 Plymouth had grown into the Massachusetts Bay Colony with twelve thousand inhabitants. In addition to family farms, small industries developed around fishing, lumber, and crafts. Only a few years after the settlement of Plymouth, more colonists, including non-English settlers, arrived a short distance down the coast. In 1624 Dutch colonists from Holland established New Amsterdam on what would become Manhattan Island. They expanded settlement up the Hudson River Valley, later part of New York State. Further...