L<span class="smallCaps">aw in the</span> J<span class="smallCaps">amestown</span> S<span class="smallCaps">ettlement</span>

William E. Nelson

in The Common Law of Colonial America

Published in print September 2008 | ISBN: 9780195327281
Published online September 2008 | e-ISBN: 9780199870677 | DOI:
Law in the Jamestown Settlement

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Initially, the Virginia Company governed its 1607 Jamestown settlement through martial law. Beginning in the late 1610s, however, change began to occur as the basis of Virginia's economy shifted to agricultural production of a staple crop—tobacco. Land was distributed as private property to individuals, and the Virginia Company promised its colony self-government under the common law, all for the purpose of encouraging Englishmen to settle in Virginia. Reform, however, did not lead immediately to a free market legal order. The Virginia Company, and later the royal government, continued to regulate the economy extensively. Harsh, coercive mechanisms for maintaining public order and obtaining labor from settlers also remained in place in an effort to produce profits for English investors. A free market legal order could not develop until the Virginia Company was replaced by royal government in 1625.

Keywords: common law; free market; Jamestown; labor; martial law; private property; royal government; self-government; tobacco; Virginia Company

Chapter.  4023 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

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