Sources of English Constitutional History: Chapter 118

118. RECORDS CONCERNING COLONIES (1660-81)

(A) Appointment of Committees of the Council (1660)

[4 July.] Upon a petition presented to his majesty by divers merchants and others interested in and trading to the English plantations in America, exposing the good behaviour and great merit of Colonel James Russell, late governor of the island of Nevis in the West Indies, and humbly beseeching his majesty to grant his commission for the continuance of him, the said Colonel Russell, in the government of the said island: his majesty, this day sitting in council, hath appointed the lord chamberlain, the earl of Southampton, the earl of Leicester, the lord viscount Say and Seal, the lord Roberts, Mr. Denzil Holies, Mr. Secretary Nicholas, Mr. Secretary Morice, Mr. Arthur Annesley, and Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, or any three or more of them, to meet and sit as a committee every Monday and Thursday at three of the clock in the afternoon, to receive, hear, examine, and deliberate upon any petitions, propositions, memorials, or other addresses which shall be presented or brought in by any person or persons concerning the plantations as well in the continent as islands of America, and from time to time make their report to this board of their proceedings....

[17 August.] The Turkey [Company], the Merchant Adventurers, the East India, Greenland, and Eastland Companies, and likewise the incorporated traders for Spain, France, Portugal, Italy, and the West India plantations [are] to present unto his majesty the names of four of their most knowing, active men — of whom when his majesty shall have chosen two, and unto this number of merchants added some other able and well-experienced persons, dignified also with the presence and assistance of some of his majesty's privy council — all these [are] to be by his majesty appointed, constituted, and authorized by commission under the great seal as a standing committee to inquire into and certify all things tending to the advancement of trade and commerce....

Acts of the Privy Council, Colonial Series, I, 295, 297 f.

(B) Instructions for the Council of Trade (1660)

1. You shall take into your consideration the inconveniences which the English trade hath suffered in any parts beyond the seas, and are to inquire into such articles of former treaties as have been made with any princes or states in relation to trade, and to draw out such observations ... as may be necessary for us to advise or insist upon in any foreign leagues or alliances, that such evils as have befallen these our kingdoms through want of good information ... may be provided against in time to come.

2. You are to consider how and by whom any former articles or treaties have been neglected or violated; what new capitulations are necessary either to the freedom of sale to your commodities of all sorts ... , to the best expedition of justice, to the recovery of debts ... , or to the prevention of those interruptions which the trade and navigation of our kingdoms have suffered by embargoes of foreign princes or states....

3. You are to consider well the interest of all such trades as are or shall be incorporated by our royal charters, and what jurisdictions are necessary to be obtained ... for the more regular management ... of the trade and of the members of those our corporations in foreign factories.

4. You are to consider the several manufactures of these our kingdoms, how and by what occasions they are corrupted ... and by what probable means they may be restored and maintained in their ancient goodness and reputation, and how they may be farther improved ... by a just regulation and standard of weight, length, and breadth....

5. You are also to take into your consideration all the native commodities ... of these our kingdoms, and how they may be ordered, nourished, increased, and manufactured to the employment of our people and to the best advantage of the public.

6. You are specially to consider of the whole business of the fishings of these our kingdoms or any other of our distant dominions or plantations, and to consult of some effectual means for the re-enforcing, encouraging, and increasing, and for the regulating and carrying on of the trade in all the parts thereof....

7. You are seriously to consider ... whether the importation of foreign commodities do not overbalance the exportation of such as are native, and how it may be so ordered ... that we may have more sellers than buyers in every part abroad....

11. You are to consider the general state ... of our foreign plantations and of the navigation, trade, and several commodities arising thereupon ... and you are also, in all matters wherein our foreign plantations are concerned, to take advice or information ... from the council appointed and set apart by us to the more particular inspection, regulation, and care of our foreign plantations....

Cunningham, Growth of English Industry and Commerce, II, 913 f.

(C) Establishment of a Single Committee on Trade and Plantations (1675)

The right honourable the lord keeper of the great seal of England this day acquainted the board by his majesty's command that his majesty, having been pleased to dissolve and extinguish his late council of trade and foreign plantations ....[1] had thought fit to commit what was under their inspection and management to the committee of this board appointed for matters relating to trade and his foreign plantations, viz.: the lord treasurer, lord privy seal, duke of Lauderdale, duke of Ormond, marquis of Worcester, earl of Ossory, lord chamberlain, earl of Bridgewater, earl of Essex, earl of Carlisle, earl of Craven, Viscount Fauconberg, Viscount Halifax, Lord Berkeley, Lord Holies, Mr. Vice-Chamberlain, Mr. Secretary Coventry, Mr. Secretary Williamson, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Chancellor of the Duchy, and Mr. Speaker. And [he] did particularly order that the lord privy seal, the earl of Bridgewater, earl of Carlisle, earl of Craven, Viscount Fauconberg, Viscount Halifax, Lord Berkeley, Mr. Vice-Chamberlain, and Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer should have the immediate care and intendency of those affairs, in regard they had been formerly conversant and acquainted therewith ...; and that their lordships meet constantly at least once a week and make report to his majesty in council of their results and proceedings from time to time; and that they have power to send for all books, papers, and other writings concerning any of his majesty's said plantations....

Acts of the Privy Council, Colonial Series, I, 619 f.

(D) Charles II: Charter to Connecticut (1662)

Charles ... , etc., to all to whom these presents shall come, greeting.... Whereas we have been informed by the humble petition of our trusty and well-beloved John Winthrop [and eighteen others] ... , being persons principally interested in our colony or plantation of Connecticut in New England that the same colony, or the greatest part thereof, was purchased and obtained for great and valuable considerations ...: now know ye ... , in regard the said colony is remote from other the English plantations ... , and to the end the affairs and business which shall from time to time happen or arise concerning the same may be duly ordered and managed, we have thought fit ... , at the humble petition of the persons aforesaid ... , to create and make them a body politic and corporate with the powers and privileges hereinafter mentioned....

We ... do ordain, constitute, and declare that they, the said John Winthrop ... and all such others as now are or hereafter shall be admitted and made free of the company and society of our colony of Connecticut in America, shall ... forever hereafter be one body corporate and politic ... by the name of Governor and Company of the English Colony of Connecticut in New England in America.... And further we will and ordain ... that, for the better ordering and managing of the affairs and business of the said company and their successors, there shall be one governor, one deputy governor, and twelve assistants, to be from time to time constituted, elected, and chosen out of the freemen of the said company ... in such manner and form as hereafter in these presents is expressed.... And further we ... do ordain and grant that the governor ... or ... deputy governor ... shall and may from time to time ... give order for the assembling of the said company ... to consult and advise of the business and affairs of the said company; and that forever hereafter, twice in every year ... or oftener in case it shall be requisite, the assistants and freemen of the said company, or such of them ... who shall be from time to time thereunto elected or deputed by the major part of the freemen of the respective towns, cities, and places ... , shall have a general meeting or assembly, then and there to consult and advise in and about the affairs and business of the said company.... And we do hereby ... establish and ordain that once in the year forever hereafter ... the governor, deputy governor, and assistants of the said company, and other officers of the said company ... shall be in the said general court and assembly ... newly chosen for the year ensuing by such greater part of the said company ... then and there present....

And further ... we do ... ordain, declare, and grant ... that all and every the subjects of us, our heirs or successors, which shall go to inhabit within the said colony, and every of their children ... shall have and enjoy all liberties and immunities of free and natural subjects within any the dominions of us, our heirs, or successors.... And we do further of our especial grace ... give and grant ... that it shall and may be lawful to and for the governor or deputy governor and such of the assistants of the said company ... as shall be assembled in any of the general courts aforesaid ... to erect and make such judicatories for the hearing and determining of all actions, causes, matters, and things happening within the said colony or plantation and which shall be in dispute ... as they shall think fit and convenient; and also from time to time to make, ordain, and establish all manner of wholesome and reasonable laws, statutes, ordinances, directions, and instructions, not contrary to the laws of this realm of England....

Thorpe, Constitutions, I, 529 f.

(E) Charles II: Grant to William Penn (1681)

Charles ... , etc., to all [to] whom these presents shall come, greeting. Whereas our trusty and well-beloved subject, William Penn, esquire ... , out of a commendable desire to enlarge our English empire and promote such useful commodities as may be of benefit to us and our dominions, as also to reduce the savage natives by gentle and just manners to the love of civil society and Christian religion, hath humbly besought leave of us to transport an ample colony unto a certain country hereinafter described in the parts of America not yet cultivated and planted ...: know ye therefore that we ... do give and grant unto the said William Penn, his heirs, and assigns all that tract or part of land in America....[2] And him, the said William Penn, his heirs, and assigns, we do by this our royal charter ... make, create, and constitute the true and absolute proprietary of the country aforesaid ...; saving always to us, our heirs, and successors the faith and allegiance of the said William Penn ... and of all other proprietaries, tenants, and inhabitants that are or shall be within the territories and precincts aforesaid; and saving also unto us, our heirs, and successors the sovereignty of the aforesaid country — to have, hold, possess, and enjoy the said tract of land ... , as of our castle of Windsor in our county of Berks, in free and common socage ... , yielding and paying therefor to us, our heirs, and successors two beaver skins, to be delivered at our said castle of Windsor on the first day of January in every year, and also the fifth part of all gold and silver ore which shall ... happen to be found within the limits aforesaid.... And of our further grace ... we have thought fit to erect ... the aforesaid country ... into a province and seignory and do call it Pennsylvania, and so from henceforth we will have it called.

And ... know ye ... that we, reposing special trust and confidence ... in the said William Penn ... , do grant free, full, and absolute power ... to him and his heirs ... to ordain, make, and enact ... any laws whatsoever for the raising of money for the public use of the said province, or for any other end appertaining either unto the public state, peace, or safety of the said country, or unto the private utility of particular persons, according unto their best discretions, by and with the advice, assent, and approbation of the freemen of the said country ... or of their delegates or deputies; whom, for the enacting of the said laws ... , we will that the said William Penn and his heirs shall assemble in such sort and form as to him and them shall seem best....

And we do likewise give and grant unto the said William Penn and his heirs ... full power and authority to appoint and establish any judges and justices, magistrates and officers whatsoever, for what causes soever ... within the precincts aforesaid ...; also to remit, release, pardon, and abolish ... all crimes and offences whatsoever committed within the said country against the said laws, treason and wilful and malicious murder only excepted....

We enjoin, require, and command ... that all the liege people and subjects of us, our heirs, and successors do keep the same [laws] inviolable in those parts.... Provided, nevertheless, that the said laws be consonant to reason and be not repugnant or contrary — but, as near as conveniently may be, agreeable — to the laws and statutes and rights of this our kingdom of England; and saving and reserving to us, our heirs, and successors the receiving, hearing, and determining of the ... appeals of all ... persons of, in, or belonging to the territories aforesaid.... Our further will and pleasure is that a transcript or duplicate of all laws ... made and published within the said province shall, within five years after the making thereof, be transmitted and delivered to the privy council.... And if any of the said laws, within the space of six months after that they shall be so transmitted ... , be declared by us, our heirs, or successors, in our or their privy council inconsistent with the sovereignty or lawful prerogative of us, our heirs, or successors, or contrary to the faith and allegiance due ... from the said William Penn or his heirs or the planters and inhabitants of the said province ... , such laws ... shall become void; otherwise, the said laws so transmitted shall remain and stand in full force....

Ibid., V, 3036 f.


[1] The committees set up in 1660 (no. 118A) had been superseded by, first, two councils and, later, one council of trade and foreign plantations, which were distinct from the privy council. The direct control of the privy council was restored by this present order.

[2] As specifically bounded in the charter.


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