This Day in the Law
October 4

Plymouth Colony Drafts First Law in North America (1636)

On October 4, 1636, the General Court of Plymouth Colony drafted its first legal code, and the first written law in North America.

In 1620, the Pilgrims established the famous Plymouth Colony under a charter from the King of England. Plymouth Colony was made up of Puritans from England who had fled the Church of England in search of religious freedom. The Colony's charter granted the General Court the authority to create laws under authority from the King of England.

On this day, October 4, 1636, the General Court of Plymouth Colony created its first legal code – and the first legal code composed in North America. It guaranteed the citizens of the colony a trial by jury and stated that all laws should be made with the consent of the freemen of the colony.

Over time, Plymouth Colony was soon absorbed by the larger and wealthier Massachusetts Bay Colony which also had authority to create laws.

Today, the former Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies are part the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, one of the fifty United States of America.