“The Summarie of the Marshall Lawes.” (1612)


This excerpt from Lawes Divine, Morall and Martiall, issued in Jamestown beginning in 1610 and 1611, details the rules and regulations for officers and men in the settlement, imposing severe corporal punishment or death for infractions of discipline. Lawes Divine, Morall and Martiall is the earliest extant English-language body of laws in the Western Hemisphere.


Yee are now further to understand, that all these prohibited, and forefended trespasses & misdemenors, with the injoyned observance of all these thus repeated, Civill and Politique Lawes, provided, and declared against what Crimes soever, whether against the divine Majesty of God, or our soveraigne, and Liege Lord, King James, the detestable crime of Sodomie, Incest, Blasphemie, Treason against the person of the principall Generals, and Commaunders of this Colonie, and their designs, against detracting, murmuring, calumniating, or slaundering of the Right Honourable the Councell resident in England, and the Committies there, the general Councell, and chiefe Commaunders heere, as also against intemperate raylings, and base unmanly speeches, uttered in the disgrace one of another by the worser sort, by the most impudent, ignorant, and prophane, such as have neither touch of humanitie, nor of conscience amongst our selves, against Adultery, Fornication, Rape, Murther, Theft, false witnessing in any cause, and other the rest of the Civill, and Politique Lawes and Orders, necessarily appertaining, & properly belonging to the Government of the State and Condition of the present Colony, as it now subsisteth: I say ye are to know, that all these thus joyned, with their due punishments, and perils heere declared, and published, are no lesse subject to the Martiall law, then unto the Civill Magistrate, and where the Alarum, Tumult, and practise of arms, are not exercised, and where these now following Lawes, appertaining only to Martiall discipline, are diligently to be observed, and shall be severely executed.

1 No man shall willingly absent himselfe, when hee is summoned to take the oath of Supremacy, upon paine of death.

2 Every Souldier comming into this Colonie, shall willingly take his oath to serve the King and the Colonie, and to bee faithfull, and obedient to such Officers, and Commaunders, as shall be appointed over him, during the time of his aboad therein, according to the tenor of the oath in that case provided, upon paine of being committed to the Gallies.

3 If any Souldier, or what maner of man else soever, of what quality or condition soever he be, shal tacitely compact, with any Sea-man, Captain, Master, or Marriner, to convay himselfe a Board any shippe, with intent to depart from, and abandon the Colony, without a lawful Passe from the Generall, or chiefe commander of the Colonie, at that time, and shall happen to bee prevented, and taken therwith, before the shippe shall depart out of our Bay, that Captaine, Maister or mariner, that shall so receive him, shall lose his wages, and be condemned to the Gallies for three yeeres, and he the sworne servant of the Colony, Souldier, or what else, shall bee put to death with the Armes which he carrieth.

4 When any select, and appointed Forces, for the execution and performance of any intended service, shall bee drawne into the field, and shall dislodge from one place unto another, that Souldier that shall quit, or forsake his Colors, shall be punished with death.

5 That Souldier that shall march upon any service, shall keepe his Ranke, and marching, the Drum beating, and the Ensigne displayed, shall not dare to absent himselfe, or stray and straggle from his ranke, without leave granted from the cheefe Officer, upon paine of death.

6 All Captaines shall command all Gentlemen, and Common Souldiers in their Companies, to obey their Sergeants, and Corporals, in their offices, without resisting, or injuring the said Officers, upon paine, if the injurie be by words, he the offender shal aske his Officer pardon in the place of Arms, in the mead of the troopes. If by Act, he the offender shall passe the pikes.

7 That Souldier that in quarrel with an other shall call upon any of his companions, or Countrimen to assist, and abette him, shall bee put to death with such Armes as he carrieth.

8 Hee that shall begin a mutiny, shall bee put to death with such Armes as he carrieth.

9 Where a quarrell shall happen betweene two or more, no man shall betake him unto any other Arms then his sword, except he be a Captaine or Officer, upon paine of being put to death with such Armes as he shall so take.

10 If a Captaine or Officer of a Companie shall come where two or more are fighting with their drawne swords, so soone as hee shall cry Hold, and charge them to forbeare, those that have their swords in their hands so drawne, shall not dare to strike or thrust once after upon paine of passing the Pikes.

11 That Souldier that having a quarrell with an other shall gather other of his acquaintance, and Associates, to make parties, to bandie, brave second, and assist him therin, he and those braves, seconds, and assistants shall passe the Pikes.

12 He that shall way-lay any man by advantage taken, thereby cowardly to wound, or murther him shall passe the Pikes.

13 If any discontentment shall happen betweene Officers, or Souldiers, so as the one shall give words of offence, unto the other, to moove quarrell, the Officer or Souldier shall give notice thereof, to his Corporall, or superior officer, and the Corporall, or superior officer, shall commit the offender, and if it happen between Commanders, the officer offended shall give notice to the Generall, or Marshal, that he may be committed, who for the first offence shall suffer three daies imprisionment, and make the officer wronged, satisfaction before his squadron to repaire him, and satisfie him, without base submission, which may unworthy him to carry Armes. And the officer, or Souldier so offended, having satisfaction offered, shall with all willingness receive it, for which both producing it to his Officer, and accepting of satisfaction, hee shall bee reputed an officer, or souldier well governed in himselfe, and so much the fitter to be advanced in Commaund over others, and if any shall upbraid him, for not having sought a savage headlong revenge against his fellow, the officer or souldier so upbraiding, shall bee punished and make satisfaction as the first offender, and if any shal so offend the second time he shall suffer ten nights lying head and heeles together, with Irons upon the guard, and have his entertainment checkt for one month, and make satisfaction to the officer or souldier, as before remembered, and for the third offence, hee shall bee committed to the Gallies three yeeres. And if upon the first offence given by any officer or souldier, unto any other, in words as aforesaid, and the other returne injurious words againe, they shall both be taken as like offenders, and suffer like punishment, saving that he who gave the first offence, shall offer first repaire unto the offended, which he the offended shall accept, and then shal hee proceed to returne the like satisfaction unto the other, and if any shall bee obstinate in this point of repaire, and satisfaction, hee shall suffer sharpe and severe punishment, until hee shall consent unto it, the words or manner of satisfaction, to be given unto the Party, or parties offended, shall be appointed by the chiefe officer of the Company, under whom the officer, or souldier shall happen to bee, with the knowledge of the provost Marshall, provided, that if the Officer or souldier shall desire it, hee may appeale unto the cheife officer of the Garrison, or unto the Marshall, if hee shall be present to Judge of the equity of the satisfaction. And if any Lanceprizado, Corporall, or other officer, shall happen to bee present, or shall take knowledge of any such offence offered of one partie, or Quarrell sought and accepted of more parties, he shall presently cause the partie, or parties so offending to bee committed to prison, that due execution may follow, as is formerly provided. And if any Lanceprizado, Corporall, or superior officer shall neglect his or their duty, or duties heerein appointed, by not bringing the offender, and their offences, to the knowledge of the superior office, that satisfaction as aforesaid, upon the fault committed, may orderly follow, the officer so offending, shal for his first omission, negligence, and contempt, suffer ten daies Imprisonment, for the second twenty, and for the third losse of his place, and to bee put to the duty of a Centinell: And if any officer or Souldier shall be present when two or more shall draw weapons, with intent to fight, or shall fight, they shall presently doe their best to part them, and if he be an officer he shall commit them, or put them under safe guard to bee committed, and if hee bee a private souldier, hee shal give notice to the provost, marshall, or unto the first officer that he shal meet with, of the parties offending, who shall presently take order, that they may be apprehended, and committed to the Provost Martialcy, and if any officer or souldier, shall happen to see any officer or souldier so fighting, and shall not doe his best to part them, without favouring one part or other, hee shall bee punished at the discretion of the officer in chiefe, and the punishment shall extend to the taking away of life, if the cause shal so require, and if any officer, or souldier shall know of any purpose in any to fight, and shall not stay them, or discover them to such officers, as are competent to stay them, but that they goe to fight, and doe accordingly fight, that officer, or souldier shall bee taken, and shall bee punished cleerely and in the same sort, as the offence deserveth punishment betweene them fighting.

14 That officer, or Souldier that shall challenge another to fight, and hee that shall carry any Challenge, knowing it to be a Challenge, and hee that accepteth any such Challenge with a purpose and returne of answere, to meete the saide Challenger to fight with him, in this case they shall all three be held alike culpable, and lie subject to the Censure of a Martiall Court.

15 That officer who shal command the guard and let such Challengers and Challenged, passe the ports, upon his knowledge to fight, shall be casseird, and if the officer be under the degree of a Captaine, hee shall bee put to doe the duty of a Centinell.

16 No officer shall strike any souldier, for any thing, not concerning the order, and duty of service, and the publique worke of the Colony, and if any officer shall so doe, hee shall bee punished as a private man in that case, and bee held unworthy to command, so perverting the power of his place and authority.

17 No man shall be Captaine of the watch at any time, under the degree of an Ensigne.

18 He that shall take the name of God in vain or shall play at Cards or dice, upon the Court of guard, for the first time so offending, he shall bee committed to prison, there to lie in Irons for three daies, for the second time so offending, hee shall bee whipt, and for the third time so offending hee shall bee condemned to the Gallies for one yeere.

19 Hee that shall absent himselfe from the Court of Guard, uppon his watch above one houre without leave of his Corporall or superior officer, shall for his first time so offending, at the relieving of the watch bee committed to prison, and there to lye in Irons for 3. dayes, for the second time he shall be committed to prison and there lye in irons for one weeke, and have his entertainement checkt for one weeke, and for the third time, hee shall be committed to the Gallies for sixe moneths.

20 He that shall swagger, and give injurious words upon the court of guard, for the first offence, hee shall aske forgivenesse upon his knees, of the officers, and rest of the Guard, before the Captain of the watch at that time: for his second time so offending, he shall bee committed to the Gallies for one yeere.

21 He that draweth his sword upon the Court of Guard, shall suffer death by the Armes which he weareth.

22 Hee that should draw his sword in a towne of Garrison, or in a Campe shall lose his right hand.

23 That souldier that shall goe out of the Fort, Towne or Campe, other then by the ordinary guards, issues, waies, or ports, shall suffer death by the Armes which he carrieth.

24 He that shall abuse and injure the Serjant Major, the provost Marshall, either by word, or deede, if hee bee a Captaine, hee shall be casseird, if a Souldier he shall passe the pikes.

25 When the Officer or Souldier shall have committed any Crime, or have made breach of the publique Lawes, his Captaine shall commit him unto the serjeant Major, who having taken his examination, shall send him to the Provost Marshall, committed unto prison, that he may bee brought to be censured by a court Marshall.

26 No Souldier shall withstand or hinder the Provost Marshall, or his men in the execution of his office, upon paine of death.

27 All Captaines, Lieutenants, Serjeants, and Corporals, shall be diligent at convenient times, to traine and exercise their Companies, & shall have a care of their Armes, as they tender their entertainment, and upon paine of casseiring, and other corporall punishment, as shall be inflicted by vertue of a Marshall court.

28 No man shall goe twelve score from the quarter, his colours, towne or fort, without leave of his Captaine, upon paine for the first time of whipping, for the second offence to be committed to the Gallies for one yeare, and for the third offence to suffer death.

29 No man shall sell, give, imbezzell, or play away his Armes, or any part thereof, upon paine of death.

30 No common Souldier shall sell, or make away any of his apparell, which is delivered unto him by the Colonie, or out of the store, upon paine of whipping.

31 No man shall depart from his guard without leave of his officer, upon paine of punishment: and who so shall be set Centinell, shall not depart from it, untill he be relieved, nor sleepe therof upon paine of death.

32 No man shall offer any violence, or contemptuously resist or disobey his Commaunder, or doe any act, or speake any words which may tend to the breeding of any disorder or mutinie in the towne or field, or disobey any principall Officers directions upon paine of death.

33 He that shall not appeare upon the guard, or not repaire unto his colours, when the Drum upon any occasion shall beate either upon an Alarum, or to attend the businesse which shall be then commaunded, shall for his first offence lie in Irons upon the court of guard all one night, and for his second be whipt, and for the third be condemned to the Gallies for one yeare.

34 That Souldier who fighting with an enemie, shall lose his Armes, or runne away cowardly, or yeeld himselfe but upon apparant and great constraints or without having performned, first the part of a good souldier, and an honest man, shall suffer death with the armes which he carrieth.

35 That Souldier that shall let go any caution delivered upon a treatie, or any prisoner of warre by his negligence, shall be punished with death.

36 No Souldier shall let goe any prisoner of war, which he hath taken without consent of his Captaine, who shall advertise the chiefe Commaunder, upon paine of being committed to the Gallies for one yeare.

37 That Souldier which upon an assault, or taking of any towne, that shall not follow his colours, and the victory, but shall fall to pillage for his private profit, after the place taken, shall suffer death with the armes which he weareth.

38 No Souldier may speake or have any private conference with any of the salvages, without leave of his Captaine, nor his Captaine without leave of his chiefe Officer, upon paine of death.

39 When the Marshall or Governour of a towne, shall demaund a Souldier that hath made breach of these lawes, that Captaine or any other that shall conceale him, or assist him to flie away, shall bee punished with the punishment which the fact of the said fugitive deserved.

40 That Captaine that shall ipso facto, find any Souldier breaking these fore declared lawes and ordinances, of whatsoever company he shall be, he shall commit him to the Provost Marshall to be punished according as the offence committed commeth under the construction of the Martiall law in that case provided.

41 No Souldier shall unprofitably waste his pouder, shot, or match, by shooting it idly away, or at birds, beasts, or fowle, but shall give an account unto his Corporall of the same, who shall certifie his Captain upon peril for his first fault so committed, to be committed to prison, there to lie in Irons head & heeles togither eight & forty hours, for the second to the condemned sixe moneths to the Gallies, and for the third offence to be condemned two yeares to the Gallies.

42 All Captaines, Officers, and common Souldiers, or others of what condition soever, members of the Colonie, shall doe their endeavours to detect, apprehend, and bring to punishment all offenders, and shall assist the officer of that place for that purpose, as they will answere the contrary at our Marshall court.

43 All other faults, disorders, and offences that are not mentioned in these Lawes, Articles, and Orders shall be & are supplied in the instructions which I have set downe, and now shall be delivered unto every Captain, and other Officer, so farre forth as the infancie, and as yet weake condition of this our present Colony will suffer, and which shall be punished according to the generall custome, and therfore I commaund all men to looke to their charges, and him that hath no charge to looke to his owne carriage, and to keepe himselfe within the bounds of dutie, for the discipline shall be strictly kept, and the offenders against the lawes thereof severely punished.

44 Whosoever shall give offence to the Indians in that nature, which truly examined, shall found to have beene cause of breach of their league, and friendship, which with so great travaile, desire, and circumspection, we have or shall at any time obtaine from them without commission so to doe, from him that hath authoritie for the same, shall be punished with death.

45 Whosoever shall wilfully, or negligently set fire on any Indian dwelling house, or Quioquisock house or temple, or upon any storehouse, or garner of graine, or provision of what quality soever, or disvaledge, ransacke, or ill intreat the people of the countrey, where any warre, or where through any march shall be made except it be proclaimed, or without commandement of the chiefe officers shall be punished with death.

46 Whosoever shall not do his endeavour and best to regaine & recover his colours, if by hap it fall into the Indians hands shall lie subject to the censure of a Marshall court.

47 Whosoever shall faine himself sick, upon the point of fight, or when any worke is to be done or slip away from the service of either, shall be punished by death.

48 Whosoever shall raise any question, brabble or braule in the watch, or Amboscado, or in Scout, or Sentinel in any other effect, or make any noise or rumor where silence, secrecie, and covert is to be required, shall be punished with death.

49 Whosoever shall not retreat when the drum or trumpet soundeth the same, whether it be upon any sallies, made out of any town or fortres, or in skirmish, or in any incounter, shall be punished with death.

50 It now resteth, that all Captaines and supreme officers, whether governor in towne, fort or fortes, or Captaine of companies shall be advised to do their indevors joyntly, and to agree in one accord, that the true and never failing Justice, may be executed with all integrity of all these foredeclared lawes, according to the dignitie, power, and censure of the Martiall court, that by the exemplar lives, and honourable practises of all that is good & vertuous, all things may be governed in good order, as no doubt, our Right Honorable Lord Generall doth assure himselfe, that all good and upright men that have the feare of God, and his service, and their owne honour in regard, will demean themselves no lesse, then according to the dignity of their place, and charge of their command, the united powers of his Lordships knowledge, being so full of approved noblenesse, and the well knowne, and long time exercised grounds of Piety, as without question he cannot but desire rather a little number of good men, obedient & tractable, submitting to good order & discipline, then a great armie, composed of vitious prophane, quarrellous, disobedient, and ignoble persons, wherefore in his Lordships behalfe, I must intreat all Governors, Captains, Officers, and Soldiers, and neverthelesse do injoyne, ordaine and command them to carry themselves in their severall duties and charges, according to the intention of his Lordship, declared by these present Ordinances.

51 Every Captaine shall cause to be read all these lawes which concerne martiall discipline, every weeke upon his guard day, unto his company upon paine of censure of a Martiall court.

APA Citation:
Strachey, William. “The Summarie of the Marshall Lawes.” (1612). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
Strachey, William. "“The Summarie of the Marshall Lawes.” (1612)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 19 May. 2024
Last updated: 2020, December 07
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