The Court

During the early years of Plymouth Colony, the leadership comprised two courts: the Court of Assistants and the General Court.

The Court of Assistants consisted of the Governor and his Assistants and acted as the judicial and executive authority between meetings of the General Court. From 1633 there were seven Assistants; in 1679 one of the Assistants formally became a Deputy Governor. In 1636 it was decided to have annual elections for a court clerk (or secretary), a coroner and a constable. An Assistant or other qualified person was chosen Treasurer. There was also an appointed position, called Marshall after 1645, for someone to serve warrants, act as jailer, executioner and keeper of the standard weights and measures. Other appointed positions included grand jurors, trial jurors, highway surveyors and military officers. The highway surveyors and military officers were eventually selected by the towns; the latter requiring the approval of the court.

The General Court orginally met quarterly; later it met three times a year.

The charter of the Massachusetts Bay Colony required a Governor, Deputy Governor and 18 Assistants, all elected annually.


Stratton, Euguene Aubrey, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People: 1620 - 1601, Ancestry Publishing Co., Salt Lake City, c. 1986.


Before a man could vote, he was required to be made a freeman by the general or quarterly court. The first General Court in Massachusetts was held on 19 Oct 1630. It was decided that the freemen should choose the Assistants and the Assistants should choose the Governor and Deputy Governor. One hundred and nine freemen were admitted at this court; many were not church members. The freemen resolved to choose the Governor and the Deputy Governor. All magistrates, officers and jurymen were required to be freemen. In 1631, it was required that all freemen by church members. In 1639, the 'freemen's oath' was the first paper printed in New England.


'Notices Concerning the Early "Freemen" in New England,' New England Historical and Genealogical Register 3, 1849, 41-45.