What Type Of Legal Authority Ruled Over Jamestown To Enforce The Law?

Jamestown in 1607 would seem an entirely foreign place if a person from the year 2019 were to visit the newly established colony. This is not only because the residents’ way of life were so different, but because the rule of law was much more strict. It was assumed there was no other choice for it but to be strict: the people who lived there believed that only harsh laws would help maintain the level of order they would require to survive.

Sir Thomas West was the first governor of Jamestown. Sir Thomas Gates was his lieutenant governor, and the job of writing these strict laws was his. He did this in 1610, but Sir Thomas West eventually rewrote them to better reflect his rule. They were later known as the “Laws Divine, Moral and Martial.” 

These newly codified laws were far more than speed limits or moral obligations for the residents who lived there: they also detailed exactly what their jobs were and how they would be fulfilled. For example, those who were assigned an officer were expected to attend church service at least twice a day.

Let’s see how you feel about this one: Anyone who was caught in the midst of blasphemy or heresy, or talking back to a preacher, would be subject to harsh punishment. Church was a part of your life whether you liked it or not — because the law made it so. 

One might ask what kind of laws carried the death penalty. The answer might surprise you. Simply fraternizing with Native Americans might result in hanging. Capital punishment was common, too. Perhaps this was because people were starving in the early days of the settlement, when stealing food or slaughtering a chicken was punishable by death.

The laws were transformed again by authorities from afar in 1618, when the residents of Virginia were set to follow the Great Charter. This document was established to increase investment and immigration to the New World. As a result, Governor-elect Sir George Beardsley had two councils created: a Council of State, and the General Assembly.

These new councils actually reduced the power of the governor because decisions were made only after a vote was cast. The majority ruled. 

Thankfully laws have become much more “just” over time! If you live in the Houston area, then you’ll need to search for a criminal defense law firm to handle your case.