Roger Ludlow’s Code of 1650

On April 9, 1646, the Connecticut General Court requested that Roger Ludlow “take some paynes in drawing forth a body of Lawes for the gouerment of this Comon welth.”  In other words, Ludlow was asked to draft the first code of laws for Connecticut.

 

Roger Ludlow was one of the early Puritan residents of Windsor, arriving around 1635.  He was a lawyer and played a prominent role in the creation of the Fundamental Orders.  He founded Fairfield, but later permanently returned to England.

 

The task of compiling the laws proved to be a long one; Ludlow’s Code was not completed until the spring of 1650.  Although the Code was not ratified by the General Court, it was it was copied by the secretary into the book of public records and frequently referred to in subsequent statutes.

 

In addition to containing a collection of laws then in force in Connecticut, Ludlow borrowed provisions from Massachusetts. It was divided into 74 titles, arranged alphabetically, beginning with “Ability” and ending with “Wrecks of the Sea”.

 

The laws contained in the Code of 1650 are typical of what one would expect from a colonial Puritan society.  For example, a person committing burglary or theft would be branded on the forehead with the letter B upon his first offense.  The second offense was punishable by another brand and a severe whipping.  On the third offense, the individual was considered to be incorrigible and was put to death. Other capital crimes included smiting or disobeying your parents, witchcraft, blasphemy, murder, and perjury.

 

The Code also prohibited cruelty toward domestic animals, outlawed shuffle board, and for cursing or swearing imposed a fine, or up to three hours in the stocks if unwilling or unable to pay the fine.

 

Following the printing of the Code of 1650, the laws passed at each session of the General Court were  sent to several towns and read publicly to their inhabitants, but not compiled into a published format.  In May 1671, a committee was appointed to revise the laws.  The revision retained the arrangement of the Code of 1650, although about seventy new titles were added.  The revised Code, which went into effect in December 1673, was printed in Massachusetts by Samuel Green, the first printer in North America.  Copies were distributed to towns, where each family was required by law to purchase a copy.

 

A copy of the Code of 1650, republished in the 1800s, can be seen here.

 

Sources:

Colonial Records of Connecticut, vol. II, p. 138.

John Treadwell, Enoch Perkins, and Thomas Day, Of the Laws of Connecticut, 4 Am. L.J. 222 (1813).

John M. Taylor, Roger Ludlow: The Colonial Lawmaker (1900)

Arthur L. Shipman, Connecticut’s First Lawyer, 1 Conn. B.J. 110 (1927)