During the American colonial period, a freeman was a person who was not a slave. The term originated in 12th-century Europe.
In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a man had to be a member of the Church to be a freeman; in neighboring Plymouth Colony a man did not need to be a member of the Church, but he had to be elected to this privilege by the General Court. Being a freeman carried with it the right to vote, and in Plymouth only freemen could vote by 1632.
Black's Law Dictionary (9th edition) defines Freeman as follows:
1. A person who possesses and enjoys all the civil and political rights belonging to the people under a free government.
2. A person who is not a slave.
3. Hist. A member of a municipal corporation (a city or a borough) who possesses full civic rights, esp. the right to vote.
4. Hist. A freeholder. Cf. VILLEIN. 5. Hist. An allodial landowner. Cf. VASSAL. - also written free man.
"Freedom" was earned after an allotted time, or after the person demanding "payment" was satisfied. This was known as indentured servitude, and was not originally intended as a stigma or embarrassment for the person involved; many of the sons and daughters of the wealthy and famous of the time found themselves forced into such temporary servitude, Gary Nash reporting that "many of the servants were actually nephews, nieces, cousins and children of friends of emigrating Englishmen, who paid their passage in return for their labor once in America."
An indentured servant would sign a contract agreeing to serve for a specific number of years, typically five or seven. Many immigrants to the colonies came as indentured servants, with someone else paying their passage to the Colonies in return for a promise of service. At the end of his service, according to the contract, the indentured servant usually would be granted a sum of money, a new suit of clothes, land, or perhaps passage back to England. An indentured servant was not the same as an apprentice or a child who was "placed out."
Once a man was made a freeman and was no longer considered a common, he could become a member of the church (and would usually do so) and he could own land. The amount of land that he was able to own was sometimes determined by how many members there were in his family. As a freeman, he became a member of the governing body, which met in annual or semiannual meetings (town meetings) to make and enforce laws and pass judgment in civil and criminal matters. As the colonies grew, these meetings became impractical and a representative bicameral system was developed. Freemen would choose deputy governors who made up the upper house of the General Court, and assistant governors who made up the lower house, who chose the governor from among their ranks and passed judgments in civil and criminal matters. To hold one of these offices it was required, of course, for one to be a freeman. Thus, the enfranchised voters and office holders were landholding male church members. Non-Puritans were not made freeman.
Initially, a male was not formally considered free when first entering into a colony, or just recently having become a member of one of the local churches; he was considered common. Such persons were never forced to work for another individual, per se, but their movements were carefully observed, and if they veered from the Puritan ideal, they were asked to leave the colony. There was an unstated probationary period, usually one to two years, that the prospective "freeman" needed to go through, and he was allowed his freedom if he did pass this probationary period of time. A Freeman was said to be free of all debt, owing nothing to anyone except God Himself.
A "free planter" (as opposed to a "freeman") was any land holder who possessed land outright that was usually given to him by the colony after he had finished his probationary period, except in those cases where the land owner had inherited his property. But if he was deemed legally incompetent, didn't pass his probationary period, or again lost his freedom through some irresponsibility of his own, he would have his land and property confiscated and redistributed among the remaining freemen, even if the inheritor was a well-respected citizen.
Initially, all persons seeking to be free needed to take the Oath of a Freeman , in which they vowed to defend the Commonwealth and not to conspire to overthrow the government. The first handwritten version of the "Freeman's Oath" was made in 1634; it was printed by Stephen Daye in 1639 in the form of a broadside or single sheet of paper intended for posting in public places.
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
The Thirteen Colonies, also known as the Thirteen British Colonies or the Thirteen American Colonies, were a group of colonies of Great Britain on the Atlantic coast of America founded in the 17th and 18th centuries which declared independence in 1776 and formed the United States of America. The Thirteen Colonies had very similar political, constitutional, and legal systems and were dominated by Protestant English-speakers. They were part of Britain's possessions in the New World, which also included colonies in Canada, Florida, and the Caribbean.
The United Colonies of New England, commonly known as the New England Confederation, was a short-lived military alliance of the New England colonies of Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven formed in May 1643. Its primary purpose was to unite the Puritan colonies in support of the church, and for defense against the American Indians and the Dutch colony of New Netherland. It was the first milestone on the long road to colonial unity, and was established as a direct result of a war that started between the Mohegans and Narragansetts. Its charter provided for the return of fugitive criminals and indentured servants, and served as a forum for resolving inter-colonial disputes. In practice, none of the goals were accomplished.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony was an English settlement on the east coast of America in the 17th century around the Massachusetts Bay, the northernmost of the several colonies later reorganized as the Province of Massachusetts Bay. The lands of the settlement were located in southern New England, with initial settlements situated on two natural harbors and surrounding land about 15.4 miles (24.8 km) apart—the areas around Salem and Boston.
Plymouth Colony was an English colonial venture in America from 1620 to 1691 at a location that had previously been surveyed and named by Captain John Smith. The settlement served as the capital of the colony and developed as the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts. At its height, Plymouth Colony occupied most of the southeastern portion of Massachusetts.
Slavery in the colonial history of the United States, from 1600 to 1776, developed from complex factors, and researchers have proposed several theories to explain the development of the institution of slavery and of the slave trade. Slavery strongly correlated with Europe's American colonies' need for labor, especially for the labor-intensive plantation economies of the sugar colonies in the Caribbean, operated by Great Britain, France, Spain, and the Dutch Republic.
Theophilus Eaton was a merchant, farmer, and Puritan colonial leader who was the co-founder and first governor of New Haven Colony, Connecticut.
The New Haven Colony was a small English colony in North America from 1637 to 1664 in what is now the state of Connecticut.
The Connecticut Colony or Colony of Connecticut, originally known as the Connecticut River Colony or simply the River Colony, was an English colony in New England which became the state of Connecticut. It was organized on March 3, 1636 as a settlement for a Puritan congregation, and the English permanently gained control of the region in 1637 after struggles with the Dutch. The colony was later the scene of a bloody war between the colonists and Pequot Indians known as the Pequot War. Connecticut Colony played a significant role in the establishment of self-government in the New World with its refusal to surrender local authority to the Dominion of New England, an event known as the Charter Oak incident which occurred at Jeremy Adams' inn and tavern.
The Province of Maryland was an English and later British colony in North America that existed from 1632 until 1776, when it joined the other twelve of the Thirteen Colonies in rebellion against Great Britain and became the U.S. state of Maryland. Its first settlement and capital was St. Mary's City, in the southern end of St. Mary's County, which is a peninsula in the Chesapeake Bay and is also bordered by four tidal rivers.
John Leverett was an English colonial magistrate, merchant, soldier and the penultimate governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Born in England, he migrated to Massachusetts as a teenager. He was a leading merchant in the colony, and served in its military. In the 1640s he went back to England to fight in the English Civil War.
The Dominion of New England in America (1686–89) was an administrative union of English colonies covering New England and the Mid-Atlantic Colonies. Its political structure represented centralized control similar to the model used by the Spanish monarchy through the Viceroyalty of New Spain. The dominion was unacceptable to most colonists because they deeply resented being stripped of their rights and having their colonial charters revoked. Governor Sir Edmund Andros tried to make legal and structural changes, but most of these were undone and the Dominion was overthrown as soon as word was received that King James II had left the throne in England. One notable change was the introduction of the Church of England into Massachusetts, whose Puritan leaders had previously refused to allow it any sort of foothold.
William Coddington was an early magistrate of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and later of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. He served as the judge of Portsmouth and Newport, governor of Portsmouth and Newport, deputy governor of the four-town colony, and then governor of the entire colony. Coddington was born and raised in Lincolnshire, England. He accompanied the Winthrop Fleet on its voyage to New England in 1630, becoming an early leader in Boston. There he built the first brick house and became heavily involved in the local government as an assistant magistrate, treasurer, and deputy.
Virginia Cavaliers were royalist supporters in the Royal Colony of Virginia at various times during the era of the English Civil War and Restoration.
Thomas Morton was an early colonist in North America from Devon, England. A lawyer, writer and social reformer, he was famed for founding the British colony of Merrymount, located in what is now Quincy, Massachusetts, and for his work in studying Native American culture.
Thomas Prence was an English born colonist who arrived in the colony of Plymouth in November 1621 on the ship Fortune. In 1644 he moved to Eastham, which he helped found, returning later to Plymouth. For many years he was prominent in Plymouth colony affairs and was colony governor for about twenty years covering three terms.
Colonial House is an American reality series produced by Thirteen/WNET New York and Wall to Wall Television in the United Kingdom, following the success of The 1900 House, an exercise in vicarious "experiential history" that is characteristic of an attempt to provide an educational version of popular reality television. It aired on PBS in the United States and on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom in 2004.
The New England Colonies of British America included Connecticut Colony, the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Massachusetts Bay Colony, and the Province of New Hampshire, as well as a few smaller short-lived colonies. The New England colonies were part of the Thirteen Colonies and eventually became five of the six states in New England. Captain John Smith's 1616 work A Description of New England first applied the term "New England" to the coastal lands from Long Island Sound to Newfoundland.
Between 1639 and 1651 English overseas possessions were involved in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, a series of civil wars and wars that were fought in and between England, Scotland and in Ireland.
Elizabeth Key Grinstead (Greenstead) was one of the first Negro persons in the North American colonies to sue for freedom from slavery and prevail. Elizabeth Key won her freedom and that of her infant son John Grinstead on July 21, 1656 in the colony of Virginia. Key based her suit on the fact that her father was an Englishman, and that she was a baptized Christian. Based on these two factors, her English attorney and common-law husband William Grinstead argued successfully that she should be freed. The lawsuit was one of the earliest "freedom suits" by a person of Negro ancestry in the English colonies.
William Butten was a young indentured servant of Samuel Fuller, a long-time leader of the Leiden Church. Butten died during the voyage of the Mayflower while traveling with Fuller, who had been appointed doctor for the group. At that time, children and young men were routinely rounded up from the streets of London or taken from poor families receiving church relief to be used as laborers in the colonies. Butten was sick the entire voyage and died at sea when near the coast of New England.