GenMassachusetts-L ArchivesArchiver > GenMassachusetts > 1999-02 > 0919882302
Subject: Very best explanation of "freeman" on the internet ! (source below)
Date: Wed, 24 Feb 1999 13:51:42 EST
A term which designated citizenship of the Colony, which was restricted
to adult males. A freeman possessed the right to vote for the Governor
and Assistants and the right to hold office. The laws did not provide
any statutory requirement for freemanship, although the oath of
allegiance to the Colony required indicated what was expected of those
admitted (PCR 11: 156). To be admitted as a freeman appeared only to
require approval by the freemen of the town where the person lived
before their name could be presented to the General Court of Freemen for
approval (PCR 11: 65; 236). Initially all stockholders in the
joint-stock company that financed the Colony were freemen, but not all
freemen were stockholders. (Fennell 1998: 7). Land ownership did not
appear to be a requirement, although freemen may have been granted more
land than non-freemen (Langdon 1966: 39n). Legislation could only be
approved by the freemen who constituted the General Court, and
consequently there were heavy fines imposed on freemen who did not
attend the General Court sessions on a regular basis, and towns also
imposed fines on freemen who did not attend town meetings. By 1638 the
freemen, through the General Court, had passed legislation which allowed
them to elect "deputies", representatives who could attend the sessions
of the General Court for each town. Only freemen could hold the office
of deputies, but the 1638 legislation allowed non-freemen who paid taxes
to vote for candidates for deputy. Despite this, all freemen had to
attend the election court held in June unless prevented by reason of age
or any urgent business when they could vote by proxy; in any other case
of default a fine of 10s was imposed (PCR 11: 157).
If accused of a crime, a freeman not only had the right to be tried by a
jury of twelve men, but could also challenge who served on it if he
thought his best interests would not be served, without having to give a
reason for this "peremptory" challenge (Fennell 1998: 10).
Women and servants were not eligible for freeman status, nor were
Quakers. From 1658 a freeman who became a Quaker would lose his status
as a freeman, as would any freeman who aided Quakers, as would those
convicted of lying, drunkenness or swearing (PCR 11: 177). Only freemen
could serve as jurors, and for a capital case to proceed against a
freeman, there had to be at least two witnesses against the defendant.
It is probable that unmarried men over twenty-one who continued to live
in their parental home were not eligible to become freemen. (Based on
the Laws as set out in PCR 11, Langdon 1966 and Fennell 1998.)
Comprised of freemen, it exercised both legislative and judicial
functions. It was presided over by the Governor, who was elected by the
General Court. All legislation required the vote and approval of the
freemen, and acts of legislation could not be passed by the government
officers alone. The power of the General Court increased, as can be seen
in 1639 when they removed from the Governor and Assistants the power
they had exercised in allocating and granting land to settlers, andthe
Governor, who was elected by the General Court. All legislation required
the vote and approval of the freemen, and acts of legislation could not
be passed by the government officers alone. The power of the General
Court increased, as can be seen in 1639 when they removed fro
The Governor and seven Assistants were elected by the General Court for
an annual term in March each year. The Governor's position was
influential, despite the power of the General Court. He had the
authority to summon the General Court into special sessions, presided
over the Court when it was in session, and he cast the deciding vote in
the event of a tie. He also possessed the authority of a judicial
officer, and the powers to arrest and commit persons to jail. (Fennell
John Carver died April 1621.
William Bradford 1621-1632 (11 years)
Edward Winslow 1633
Thomas Prence 1634
Edward Winslow 1635-1636
William Bradford 1637
Thomas Prence 1638
William Bradford 1639-1643 (4 years)
Edward Winslow 1644
William Bradford 1645-1657 (12 years) Died in office.
Thomas Prence 1657-1673 (16 years) Died in office.
Josiah Winslow 1673-1680 (9 years) Died in office, 23 December 1680.
Thomas Hinckley 1681-1691
Grand Enquest (Great Quest, Inquest or Grand Inquest) see Grand Jury
Composed of freemen in good standing from the different townships,
members of the Grand Jury were "pannelled", or selected and appointed,
by the Governor and Assistants for an annual term of office, to hear
charges made on oath of suspected criminal conduct by persons living in
the Colony, but there had to be two witnesses or "concuring"
circumstances before anyone could be convicted (PCR 11: 11, 90, 167-68).
The Grand Jury would issue a "presentment" to the General Court (a
statement on oath by a jury of fact within their knowledge) if it
believed it had evidence that someone could be tried for a crime. If the
crime was capital, the accused had to be sentenced by the General Court;
lesser offences could be decided by the Court of Assistants. Jurors were
paid 2s 6d a day while in Court, if the case continued beyond one day,
6d a day, and the foreman 12d. Jurors were not paid for their attendance
at the annual election Courts.
The office was an important one. Refusal to serve on the Grant Jury
meant a fine of 10s for each Court missed during the year of office, or
40s if a juror refused to attend any meetings at all during the year,
unless there was convincing reason for his absence (PCR 11: 169).