is a term which originated in 12th century Europe and is common as an English or American Colonial
Colonialism is the establishment, maintenance, acquisition and expansion of colonies in one territory by people from another territory. It is a process whereby the metropole claims sovereignty over the colony and the social structure, government, and economics of the colony are changed by...
expression in Puritan
The Puritans were a significant grouping of English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries. Puritanism in this sense was founded by some Marian exiles from the clergy shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, as an activist movement within the Church of England...
times. In the Bay Colony, a man had to be a member of the Church to be a freeman. In Colonial Plymouth, 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 by 1632 only freemen could vote in Plymouth.
Black's Law Dictionary (9th edition) defines Freeman as 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 until 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 since many of the sons and daughters of the wealthy and famous of the time found themselves forced into such temporary servitude.
An indentured servant
Indentured servitude refers to the historical practice of contracting to work for a fixed period of time, typically three to seven years, in exchange for transportation, food, clothing, lodging and other necessities during the term of indenture. Usually the father made the arrangements and signed...
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 (male or female) 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."
The entire system of "freemen" was officially eliminated by 1691, though parts of the system did still remain through the 18th century.
Once a man was made a freeman, and was no longer considered a common
"Common People" is a song by English alternative rock band Pulp. It was released as a single in 1995, reaching number two on the UK singles chart. It also appears on the band's 1995 album Different Class. The song is about those who were perceived by the songwriter as wanting to be "like common...
, he could, and usually would, become a member of the church, and he could own land. The amount of land 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. Freeman would choose deputy governors who made up the upper house
An upper house, often called a senate, is one of two chambers of a bicameral legislature, the other chamber being the lower house; a legislature composed of only one house is described as unicameral.- Possible specific characteristics :...
of the General Court
The General Court is the shorthand name for the:* General Court * New Hampshire General Court* Massachusetts General CourtThis term also formally applied to the:* Vermont General Assembly, formerly the Vermont General Court...
and assistant governors, the lower house
A lower house is one of two chambers of a bicameral legislature, the other chamber being the upper house.Despite its official position "below" the upper house, in many legislatures worldwide the lower house has come to wield more power...
, who chose the governor from among their ranks, and who 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. Women, Native Americans and other non-Puritans were not made freeman.
Progression to freeman
Initially, any male first entering into a colony, or just recently having become a member of one of the local churches, was formally not free. They were 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 Puritanical ideal, they were asked to leave the colony. If they stayed or later returned to the colony, they were put to death.
There was an unstated probationary period
Probation literally means testing of behaviour or abilities. In a legal sense, an offender on probation is ordered to follow certain conditions set forth by the court, often under the supervision of a probation officer...
that the prospective "freeman" needed to go through, and if he did pass this probationary period of time – usually one to two years – he was allowed his freedom.
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 one singular land holder, who possessed land outright that was usually given to him by the colony after he had finished his probationary period – except of course in those cases where the land owner had inherited
Inheritance is the practice of passing on property, titles, debts, rights and obligations upon the death of an individual. It has long played an important role in human societies...
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 had his land and property confiscated from him and redistributed amongst the remaining freemen even if the inheritor was a well-respected citizen.
Oath of a freeman
Initially, all persons seeking to be free needed to take the Oath of a Freeman
Oath of a Freeman was a loyalty oath drawn up by the Pilgrims during the early 17th century. A freeman was an established member of a colony who was not under legal restraint. The Oath was a vow to defend the Commonwealth and not to conspire to overthrow the government.The oath was first written in...
, 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
Stephen Daye, Sr. was the first British North American printer.-Life:Daye was born in Sutton, Surrey London, and emigrated on June 7, 1638 to Cambridge Massachusetts onboard the "John of London" with his wife Rebecca , sons Stephen, Jr...
in 1639 in the form of a broadside
A broadside is a large sheet of paper printed on one side only. Historically, broadsides were posters, announcing events or proclamations, or simply advertisements...
or single sheet of paper intended for posting in public places.
- Nathaniel Bradstreet Shurtleff, M.D., editor Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England (1853–54, 5 volumes) [especially volumes 1–3, and lists of "freemen"]
- James Truslow Adams, LLD, The Founding of New England (1927)
- James Hammond Trumbull, The True-Blue Laws of Connecticut and New Haven and the False Blue-Laws Invented by the Reverend Samuel Peters (1876)
- Theophilus Eaton, et al., New-Haven's Settling in New-England and Some Laws for Government Published for the Use of That Colony (1656) [or any reasonable facsimile edition of the "Blue Laws" of New Haven or Connecticut]
- Silas Andrus, The Code of 1650 [of Conn.] to which is added some Extracts from the Laws and Judicial Proceedings of New-Haven Colony. Commonly called Blue Laws (1822)
- John Fiske, The Beginnings of New England or the Puritan Theocracy in its Relations to Civil and Religious Liberty (1889, 1898 edition)
- Francis J. Bremer, The Puritan Experiment (1976)
- Lucias R. Paige, List of Freemen of Massachusetts 1631–1691 (1849, 1988 edition)
- Robert A Menard Bursting bubbles of Government deception (2005)