Research

New York Colony Secretary Laws Promulgated at Hempstead

Held by the New York State Archives


Overview of the Records

Repository:

New York State Archives

New York State Education Department

Cultural Education Center

Albany, NY 12230

Summary:
The "Duke's Laws" are the first set of laws enacted in the colony of New York under English rule. This series consists of a manuscript copy of the "Duke's Laws" created by the office of the secretary of the Colony of New York for use as an official copy. The laws pertain to a wide variety of subjects such as criminal offenses, civil actions, probate, religion, servitude, law enforcement, and military service.
Creator:
Title:
Quantity:
0.3 cubic feet (1 volume)
Inclusive Dates:
1684
Series Number:
A3077

Administrative History

Immediately after the English conquered New Netherland in 1664, Governor Richard Nicolls proceeded to confirm the boundaries of the English colony of New York. At his request, a royal commission was appointed to consider conflicting claims to Long Island put forth by the colonies of Connecticut and New York. With the consent of the governor and representatives of Connecticut, the commission ruled that the entirety of Long Island was within the bounds of the colony of New York.

Jurisdictional boundaries being settled for the time being, Nicolls turned his attention to the urgent need for laws and ordinances in the new colony. In a circular letter to Westchester and the towns on Long Island, Nicolls acknowledged that residents had suffered many grievous "inconveniences and discouragements" occasioned by their subjection to a foreign power. Nicolls lamented that during Dutch rule, proper laws had not been put into effect, land title disputes had went unsettled, civil liberties had been infringed upon, and a host of private conflicts had been allowed to fester to the detriment of "Neighborly Love, and Christian Charity."

Nicolls instructed the inhabitants of Westchester and the towns on Long Island to elect two deputies each to serve as representatives at a general meeting to be held at Hempstead in late February of 1665. Representatives of seventeen towns met for ten days, after which they proclaimed and published what became known as "The Duke's Laws." The core of the "Duke's Laws" was actually a body of code, prepared by Governor Nicolls and his secretary Matthias Nicolls, which was based largely on laws already in place in the New England colonies. Several amendments were approved at Hempstead and further amendments and additions were made by the New York colonial Court of Assizes over the next several years.

Manuscript copies of the "Duke's Laws" were created at the Hempstead meeting and additional copies were created in ensuing years for distribution to individual towns, neighboring colonies, and authorities in England. Varying portions of many of these copies are still extant, but none is considered to be a complete record. The copy held by the State Archives was created in 1684 by the office of the secretary of the Colony of New York and was used as an official administrative copy.

See the following work for more information about the legal background to the "Duke's Laws": Morten Pennypacker,The Duke's Laws: Their Antecedents, Implications and Importance (Anglo-American Legal History Series, ser. 1, no. 9) (New York: New York University School of Law, 1944).

Scope and Content Note

This series consists of a manuscript copy of the "Duke's Laws" created by the office of the secretary of the Colony of New York for use as an official copy. The copy includes forty-three leaves, measuring 7 ½ x 11 ½ inches. The laws address such varied issues as establishment of town boundaries; assessments for raising public funds; legal appeals; jurors and juries; prohibitions against holding Christians in bond slavery; capital crimes; other criminal offenses and associated penalties; civil law; marriage; estates; maintenance of common fields and fences; freedom of religion within the bounds of Christianity; powers and duties of sheriffs, overseers, and constables; land conveyances and titles; fees payable to public officers; licenses and other regulations of inn and tavern keepers; interactions with Native Americans; raising, training, and support of militias; and the creation and filing of official records.

A section entitled "Masters Servants and Labourers" guarantees servants legal protection from harsh masters and empowers constables and overseers to "protect and sustain" servants in their own houses until the Court of Sessions could address the servants’ complaints. This section was featured (No. 21) in the Freedom Train exhibit that traveled the state of New York from January 1949 to February 1950.

Use of Records

Access Restrictions

There are no restrictions regarding access to or use of the material.

Alternate Formats Available

Digital version is available on the web site of the Historical Society of the Courts of the State of New York.

Related Information

Related Materials

Series 76-4-3, Duke's Laws, 1664, is a microfilm copy of the manuscript version held at the Hempstead Town Clerk's Office

Series 76-14-2, Gov. Thomas Dongan's Book of Laws, 1665, 1666, 1672, and 1674, is a microfilm copy of the manuscript version held at the East Hampton Town Clerk's Office

Related Publications

Morten Pennypacker, The Duke's Laws: Their Antecedents, Implications and Importance (Anglo-American Legal History Series, ser. 1, no. 9) (New York: New York University School of Law, 1944).

Custodial History

This item was part (No. 21) of the Freedom Train exhibit that traveled the state from January 1949 to February 1950 (L. 1948, Ch. 659).

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