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Anglicization in the Chesapeake and New England

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The colonization of America by Britain brought many changes to the new colonies acquired that influenced social, political and economic aspects of the people. The English Empire put an effort to regulate the colonial legal structure, but it was difficult to control the individuals governing them and their perceptions. The periodic changes in politics and shifting of allegiance influenced the courts outcomes. The case of William Penn demonstrates how townspeople on both sides of the dispute employed a variety of legal strategies, including Formalised English common laws and Puritan equity-oriented jurisprudence. This case was about inheritance of Mr Penn’s estate, where Mr Edward Hill corruptly acquired the estate thus sabotaging the Puritan jurisprudence that was in place in New England.

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The death of William Penn on December 18, 1688 remained a mystery to the people. However, some town’s people believe Hill murdered him. Penn had no family or relative in the colony. He invited his niece Deborah and her husband Edward Hill and their children. Deborah and her husband were enticed by the promise to inherit the estate. They left Birmingham and arrived in Boston in 1676, albeit penniless. Hill lived in poverty and appeared before magistrates on several cases related to debts prompting the Boston magistrate to set an inquiry to find out why Hill emigrated. It was discovered that one of the reason that made Hill migrate to Boston was to inherit Penn’s estate because Deborah was Penn’s closest relative.           

Actually, she had come as the heir to his estate. Hill was the first to welcome the establishment of Dominion of New England that consolidated all the 17th century New England colonies, East Jersey, West Jersey and New York into one centralized administrative jurisdiction with Boston as its headquarter. The new administrated task was to enforce the mercantile navigation acts and conform with laws to the English law. There was a lot of work to be done to satisfy the New England Puritans, who had departed from English common law that they regarded as unscriptural. The first governor of the Dominion was Joseph Dudley, a Massachusetts-born politician. He had left Puritan New England’s Congregationalism and joined the Church of England. He was an ambitious political figure who worked tirelessly to gain royal patronage. He advocated for the adoption of English law and any law repugnant to English law was to be declared void. Mr Dudley played an important role in the case of Penn.

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Sir Edmund Andros, the former royal governor of New York replaced Dudley in late 1686. Governor Andros was committed to strengthening the empire. He worked aggressively to bring New England into compliance with the English law. He recanted colonial inheritance practices and gave directives that Massachusetts’s county courts not to handle probate matters. Instead, all last wills and testaments were to be proved in newly erected royal probate courts. It is in Suffolk County where Andros had appointed Joseph Dudley as the judge of probate court that litigation over Penn estate occurred. Dudley and his servants Massachusetts supported the empire by enforcing primogeniture against colonial New England’s practice of “partible” inheritance. They discarded the Puritan practice of screening potential oath takers in court and abetted the English practice of routinely swearing witnesses to wills.  Edward Hill befriended Benjamin Bullivant, an expert in English law. He had arrived in Boston in 1685 and elevated to the post of attorney general before being named the justice of peace by Governor Andros.

He was really hated by Puritans.  Hill further strengthened his ties with Adros’s Dominion by actively supporting the governor when he used Samuel Willard’s Third church for services conforming to the Book of Common Prayer. Hill championed the establishment of king’s Chapel and became a clerk for the new Anglican Church. Hill now had become an agent of Anglicization in Massachusetts. By that time, William Penn elderly and was seeking the help of Andros government to reconfirm all his land titles. Governor Andros took a special interest at the New England land titles and Penn enjoyed protection under the governor’s influence and was able to continue with the land deals.

However, despite moving to Boston, Hill did not improve economically, for Penn did not allow him to access money he so desperately needed. It was at this desperation that Hill killed the old man and crafted a will with the help of Bullivant, to enable him inherit the deceased estate. The will was smartly crafted to satisfy the requisite to a will under English law. One of the requisite was under English 677 Statute of Fraud that requires three or four witnesses for proper execution of a will. After taking over Penn’s estate, Hill suffered a setback when the Glorious Revolution in Boston overthrew Andros regime returning the earlier system of Puritan jurisprudence.

In 1691, Massachusetts was made a royal colony by the new English Monarch, William and Mary. It was required that all laws in the reconstituted province to conform to English law. The new charter empowered the royal governor and his council to execute the probate wills. It was after this incident that the community in the town initiated a legal process to force Mr. Hill return Penn’s estate. Hill’s control over Penn’s estate undermined what godly society viewed as the “moral and religious implication” associated with disposition of private property. To unearth the sin, Joseph Hill and Richard Draper led the community in search for justice. They petitioned Probate judge and Lieutenant Governor William Stoughton in March 1694 for a hearing.  Petition was granted but the judge lacked jurisdiction over contested will. Later, Stoughton embraced the Puritan approach and convened 12 witnessed, listening and assessing their accusation.  Judge Stoughton, fearing political repercussions of his judgement on Joseph Dudley, ruled in favour of Hill.

The townspeople resulted to contesting the will through trespass cases, which went on to take a political dimension by challenging the authority of the governor in execution of the will.

The Suffolk County inferior Court agreed to hear the case in 1697, reasserting county court jurisdiction over probate matters. However, this circumvented Stoughton’s authority and ignored Whitehall’s directive. Anthony Chechley, the province’s attorney general services was sought to argue the case, his strategy employed both English law and Puritan legal logic. Disregarding English law, the attorney sued five individuals who had purchased land from Edward Hill leading to endless appeals that failed eventually. The parties started hiring experienced legal counsel to represent them. A certain landowner who retained Thomas Newton, an English trained lawyer, serves as a good example in this case. However, the legal system was affected by politics of the day. The return of Dudley as the governor made the case more difficult for the attorneys to sue Mr. Hill. Changes in politics took place again with the death of Queen Anne, when Dudley lost his post of governor of Massachusetts. Samuel Sewall annulled Penn’s will in 1716. To avoid complexity brought about by application of different legal strategies, the process of Anglicization process could have been avoided if there was a consensus among the colonies leaders.

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