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Influence of the "Duke's Laws"
Roy E. Lott - 1970
Long Island Genealogy Background information:  RE The Duke's Laws
     In August, 1664, an English soldier named Richard Nicolls sailed his warship into the deep water off the western Long Island shoreline, dropped anchor, and ordered the Dutch to leave their small community on Manhattan island. It took only a few days for the Dutch to comply. 
     The English towns on Long Island, which had for more than two decades almost entirely governed themselves, were now under the umbrella of laws written in far-off New York -- they were now a part of something much larger. They had a governor to answer to, and judges, and a set of laws where none before existed. 
Hoping to sell the Duke's Laws to his new subjects, Nicolls held a political convention -- a first for Long Island. He picked the tiny hamlet of Hempstead -- the English village that had been under Dutch control -- and summoned representatives from every English town on Long Island. In March, 1665, six months after the Dutch surrender, Dutch-speaking farmers from the west end and English-speaking villagers from the East End arrived in Hempstead to discuss the new laws that would govern their lives. 
     The Duke's Laws covered nearly every facet of life on Long Island and were published in alphabetical order -- from how arrests were to be carried out, how juries were to be picked, to the amount of the bounty paid for dead wolves. 
     The Duke's Laws were based on codes that existed in New England. But there were modifications that troubled Long Islanders. The biggest gripe was that Nicolls made no provision for town meetings, an elected assembly or for public schools. Bowing to the Dutch, who had permitted religious dissidents such as Quakers, he allowed for religious tolerance, which was unheard-of in the church-dominated governments on the East End. 
    Although specifically directed at English and Dutch colonists, the laws also covered what Indians could and could not do. For example, Indians were required to fence in their corn fields and were specifically barred from practicing their own religion. "No Indian whatsoever shall at any time be suffered to powaw or performe outward worship to the Devil in any Towne within this Government," one section of the laws said. 
    There are detailed instructions of how churches were to be managed. For instance, a church was to be built in each community, capable of holding 200 people; ministers would have to present their credentials to the government to prove they were not "ignorant pretenders to the Ministery." The minister would be required to preach "constantly every Sunday and shall also pray for the King, Queene, Duke of York and the Royall Family." 
    Under the laws, a person, "either Christian or Indean," who kills a wolf would receive a payment by bringing the head to a constable. The payment would be "to the value of an Indean coat." 
    The laws set out rules by which a person could be arrested. For instance, a person could not be arrested on the sabbath. Jurors were to be paid "three shillings six pence per diem." 

    The Town of Huntington has a very interesting and exciting history. Long Island's first native - born historian, Silas Wood, in his original 1824 work states that eleven families first settled Huntington in 1640. Just where those people came from or what names they bore has yet to be determined. We do know however, that by 1653 the town records contain some of the same names that had previously appeared in the towns of Hempstead and Southold. Possibly those eleven families had migrated from those towns to a more central part of Long Island or they may have come across the Sound.
    From the records of East Hampton, we find this entry in Vol. 1, page 16: "Sept. 24, 1651. Having received a letter from the neighboring towns, desiring that we send men to meet at Huntington the 28th. of September and, at a meeting being warned about the business, the assembly appointed Josiah Hubert (Hobart) and Thomas Baker to go to Huntington as agents for East Hampton to join with the other towns' agents at Huntington to confer about such matters, to present to the Court of Assizes as they shall judge to the good and benefit of all."
    From that entry, it becomes apparent that Huntington was a center of importance at that early date or, perhaps, its location was a factor in convening there.
    We do not have a record of that gathering but no doubt a meeting of minds resulted and some thought given to the ac¡quisition of land from the natives. On April 2, 1653 Huntington received a deed of "The First Purchase"  from Chief Raseokan and his twenty-three Braves for which they were paid with 76 different European articles. Huntington then became a recognized entity.
    Being so far removed from the seat of Royal Government, local meetings were held when required and regulations of demeaner were adopted by voice vote. Huntington's first meeting was held Jan. 4, 1657 when a school teacher was appointed. On Feb. 4, 1660 a meeting was called and the school teacher was given the added responsibility of acting as town clerk. At the same meeting Mr. Strickland, Jonas Wood, and Thomas Benedict were chosen Magistrates.
    That 1660 meeting would indicate that Jurisprudence was required to insure proper conduct. It was none too soon, for on April 5 of that same year we find that "Old man Laton told Magistrate Wood" - It would be well if he did not sit in the stocks first." No indication is given as to Mr. Laton's misdemeanor but at the next meeting, "It was voted that Old Laton take his belongings out of this town." So we find that local law was strong enough to prevail.
    On April 13, 1660 a Court was held and Mary Sutton was charged with pilfering. She had taken articles of wool to make a garment for herself, without permission from the owner. A verdict was ren¡dered which stated, "The Court finds, through witnesses, that she was guilty and ordered that Mary Sutton make full satisfaction, and her father is to give public satisfaction or pay 20 shillings." Here we see the parent held liable for the act of his child.
    Other duties of the Magis¡trates were to preside over the recording of Wills and the names of all land owners with a description of their holdings. Two large volumes contain the laboriously hand-written descriptions of those early grants which are the basis of today's title to Huntington property. Those early Magistrates also had the added duty of impounding stray cattle which were sold at auction and the proceeds of the sale added to the town general funds. Many other duties were self-imposed on those Magis¡trates at town meetings of the young, struggling settlement and most voters in the town adhered to their edicts.
    On Feb. 28, 1665 an historic change in local law occurred. It was on that date the Duke's laws were imposed. The Duke had appointed Richard Nichols as his deputy Governor and Long Island was placed under English Rule. The Governor then called a meeting of Deputies from the s eve r a 1 towns, at which time he sub¡mitted copies of the now-famous Duke's Laws to the delegates in attendance. Huntington's delegates were Jonas Wood and John Ketcham who returned from the meeting with that famous document. It is locked in a safe, which is housed in a vault, and is well protected under the care of the town historian.
    It might be of interest to quote a few passages from those Laws and observe that some local rule was incorporated. One edict pertains to the Justice Court (which Huntington abolished on Dec. 30, 1965 after having enjoyed that local jurisprudence for three hundred years.) Another reads: "All persons who have any Grants or Patents of Townships, Lands or Houses, shall bring those Patents or Grants to the Governor and shall have them renewed, and shall pay two pounds for every 200 acres." That was the first town-wide tax. Magistrates had been "chosen" in Huntington previously and were now recognized by the Duke.
    Another of the Duke's Laws reads: "A piece of ground shall be layed out whereupon shall be built a Town House and Prison." Also: "That Pounds and Stocks shall be provided." Huntington built its first Meeting House that year and Stocks were built when Mr. Laton threatened to put the Magistrate in them. One paragraph suggests that "All persons are considered of fit age to marry when the man has reached the age of 21 and the woman 18." Also: "The goods of quakers are to be re¡turned to the owners." Then: "Reserved to be paid for whales cast upon the shore, every 15th. gallon of oil."  And: "All those who shall have their cattle marked with the town mark, shall pay 2 pounds per head."
    One Law reads: "That the laws be duly observed as to Parochiall Churches and that although divers persons may be of different judgement, yet all shall contribute to the Mnister established, which in no way shall be an infringment of the liberty of conscience."
    As already stated, Huntington had erected a meeting house to be used as a church and place to conduct public affairs. To maintain that edi¡fice and pay the Minister's rate a small tax was imposed. As the faith of the town was predominantly Congregational, one citizen, Thomas Powell, a Quaker, refused to pay the "rate."  He was, therefore, banished from the town in 1695 for non-payment of taxes. He moved across the County Line to Oysterbay where he acquired a large tract of land from the local Indians. A part of that tract is now the site of Old Bethpage Village, simulating the early 19th. century.
    Another section regulated the value of foreign coins in circulation. Also, "If any man shall rob an orchard or garden or shall steal linen, woolen or other goods, he shall be whipped or pay double. . . If any man be found guilty of hog-stealing, he shall have one of his ears cut off . . . If any person shall express any but the true God, he shall be put to death."  Death penalties were imposed for any of the following acts: For murder; Any child over 16 who shall strike a parent; For 2nd. offence of stealing, and many other crimes.
    In spite of such stringent regulations, the town managed to grow and prosper for 111 years. Then, in July 1776. N. Y. State representatives convened and prepared a State Constitution which was adopted in April 1777. On April 15, 1786, 121 years after the Duke's Laws were imposed, the State Legislature passed an ACT which required the publishing of the "Laws of N. Y. comprising the Constitution and the ACTS of the Legislature since the Revolution."
    In the two volumes that contain the result of that work we find this: "In the name of the people of this State, the Convention declares that such parts of the common law of England and the ACTS of this State Legislature, did form the law of the Colony on April 19, 1775 shall be and continue to be the Law of this State, subject to alterations by the Legislature."
    Since that time in 1640 when, according to Silas Wood, 11 families settled near the Sound shore, Huntington has grown into a town that shelters 190,000 people, very few of whom know of the Duke's Laws and how they affected such enormous growth.

NOTE:  2002 update on Huntington -  Number of households  62,850    Median Family Income
For more Information see the Huntington Chamber of Commerce Web Site.

First appearing in the LI Forum 1970 No Copyright Information Data Found