From the Vault: Acts and Laws of the English Colony of Rhode Island

Wed, 08/15/2018 - 4:34pm -- baglio

Going deep into our vaults today we have pulled a rare gem, The Acts and Laws of the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in New England in America, printed here in Newport by Samuel Hall in 1767. This book of course will cover all of the laws that were passed by the colonial Rhode Island government since it was chartered in 1663. Before the acts and laws are presented however, the book is prefaced by a copy of the Royal Charter, granted by King Charles II in 1663.

This cover page is personalized by the statement Robert Lillibridge Junior's book. Lillibridge has a slight connection to the Redwood Library; in 1765, he purchased a home from Mary Ward Flagg, who's portrait hangs in our Harrison Room. That home later became the Pitt's Head Tavern, which survives today, albiet moved to the "point section" of Newport.

This book of Acts and Laws is very detailed, covering a wide berth of topics ranging from deeds and land, to animals, to even dealing with fire. Some of the topics will be colony-wide,  whereas others will be narrowed down to a town-by-town basis. exploring the book sees many, many laws and acts discussed. A few examples can be seen below:

Seen above is an Act that describes the jurisdiction a person has if a domesticated animal enters into their property. As noted, a person can take action against the owners of an animal, or impound the said animal in a Town-Pound until reparations are made if the said animal breaks into a person's property and incurs damages. This may seem trivial by today's standards, but in 1767, this would have been an important law to deal with, especially with large tracts of land being dedicated to farm land, or husbandry throughout the colony.  The loss of a crop to wreckless animals could be destructive, and devastating, so laws like this would have ensured some action and protection if a situation like this arose.

In this law above, there is a specific law against the act of fishing in Easton's Pond by the use of a net or a seine. This law was first enacted in 1737, and decrees that if any person violated the said law, they would be fined 5 pounds, a decent sum to be deprived of. As seen towards the bottom, there are other similar laws enacted for other bodies of water, such as the Kickamuit River. which is phonetically spelled kekmuit in this instance.

This particular law laid out the rules for manumitting a slave in Rhode Island. To protect the town from paying if the person being manumitted became ill or incapacitated, a security of One hundred pounds, a very considerable amount of money, had to be made to the town. This is hammered home at the end of the act by reiterating that if the security was not paid, a slave remained in bondage to their master or mistress.

These Acts and Laws displayed are only a few of the many displayed within the pages of this book. To see more, book an appointment now and take a closer look into the laws developed in Rhode Island back in 1767.