West Haven’s Earliest Days
We acknowledge the efforts of Lorraine Wood Rockefeller, who originally set these words down in about 1960.
The laws of social conduct during the 1600s were rigid. Any lack in the written and in the common law was quickly supplied by the strict religious code, the belief that the acts of every individual definitely affected and concerned the whole community. Ordinary gossip was often severely punished. The offenders were publicly rebuked, and if that was not sufficient deterrent, a fine followed.
Controversies between the people concerning personal rights and wrongs were of such a simple character in the period 1639 to 1664 that they could easily be heard and determined by magistrates chosen from year to year from the body of the people. The complicated system of tenure under which real estate was held in England never existed in Connecticut. The land, as it was purchased from the Indians, was allotted to different settlers, passed by inheritance to their children, or was conveyed by a simple form of deed and record.
Intoxication on the Sabbath was considered a more aggravated offense and a heavy fine, a public whipping, or a time in the stocks was punishment. The old Puritan magistrates did on some occasions temper justice with mercy for in one case the accused was acquitted for “being drunk with strong waters” on account of his infirmity and because the excessive intake “was occasioned by the extremity of the cold.”
On June 4, 1639, the free planters assembled and all legislative and judicial powers were vested in a court consisting of 12 Free Burgesses. None but church members were eligible. To this Court was given the power of appointing magistrates.
The Court had no mercy for gossipers and scandal-mongers, and they were whipped severely for slandering, and many times a scold or nag might be gagged with a muzzle-like affair and made to stand in public. Some were placed in the stocks or pillories.
Court business increased so rapidly that in 1643 it became necessary to make a reorganization of the Courts in New Haven and the adjacent towns that were under the same jurisdiction.
To be continued-