IN the first chapter of his admirable book The Birth of the Republic, Edmund S. Morgan, Sterling Professor of History at Yale University and an Honorary Member of this Society, sets out to describe pre-Revolutionary Americans. In the very first paragraph he has this to say about one of their most striking characteristics:

    The American colonists were reputed to be a quarrelsome, litigious, divisive lot of people and historical evidence bears out this reputation. The records of the local courts in every colony are cluttered with such a host of small lawsuits that one receives from them the impression of a people who sued each other almost as regularly as they ate or slept.1

    When some one of Professor Morgan’s stature singles out for special emphasis a particular aspect of colonial history, one can have confidence that that aspect is well worth study. The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, therefore, can present this volume—Law in Colonial Massachusetts—with the assurance that it will be focusing on one of the most important aspects of colonial life.

    Over sixty years ago Roscoe Pound, later Dean of the Harvard Law School, wrote, “For most practical purposes American judicial history begins after the Revolution.”2 To be sure Pound qualified his remark to a certain extent, but as is so often the case with broad statements of this kind, the qualifications have tended to disappear. Certainly for many years after the first appearance of this dictum it was considered virtually gospel by most legal scholars. More recently fresh investigations have challenged the Pound statement until today it no longer has currency. In a sense this volume, representing as it does the latest researches in the field of colonial law, is one continuous refutation of Dean Pound’s judgment.

    This volume is by no means the first on a legal subject that the Colonial Society has published. Volumes 29 and 30 of the Society’s publications contain the records of the Suffolk County Court during the period 1671–1680, together with a distinguished introduction by Zechariah Chafee, Jr. Volume 4 contains a section of bibliographies of Massachusetts laws. And the indexes to almost every volume bristle with references to colonial legal matters. Thus this volume is continuing a tradition of interest in colonial legal history that is almost as old as the Society itself.

    An important editorial decision had to be reached at the very start of this venture—namely, whether to use the legal form of citation or the historical one. Since most of the articles in the volume were historical in treatment, the decision was made to follow the historical rather than the legal form of citation. There is one exception to this general policy. Professor William E. Nelson’s article entitled “The American Revolution and the Emergence of Modern Doctrines of Federalism and Conflict of Laws” had so many citations to both British and American court cases that it was thought wiser to follow the legal form of citation in this one instance. One other point: limitations of space have in some instances necessitated the use of shortened captions under the actual illustrations; the full caption, in all cases, appears in the List of Illustrations starting on page xi.

    Colonial Society conference volumes are cooperative ventures involving a number of people of good will whose sole aim is the advancement of knowledge. At the head of the list of those who have contributed to this book are, of course, the individual authors, who have produced such a splendid run of papers. In addition the two assistant editors have performed yeoman’s service. Robert J. Brink and Catherine S. Menand, both experts in the study and preservation of court records, have not only contributed their expertise and insight in the field of colonial legal history, but have also gone way beyond the call of duty in addressing and solving a host of special problems incident to a book dealing with the law. Their share in this volume is a substantial one. Lois R. Krieger, who produced the magnificent index to the second volume of the Records of Trinity Church, has done an equally outstanding job with this book. Harry Milliken and his staff at The Anthoensen Press, Portland, Maine, have patiently coped with manuscripts and galleys covered with almost illegible editorial scrawls and have reduced the whole to order. All of those connected with this volume can be proud of the quality of book-making that it represents.

    The Colonial Society of Massachusetts has been extraordinarily fortunate in the editors for its conference volumes—never more so than with this one on law. Our fellow-member Daniel R. Coquillette brings to his editorial task a rare combination of talents. He is at one and the same time a practicing lawyer, a teacher of law, and a legal scholar. Thus he is not limited to the point of view of any one part of the legal profession, but can approach editorial work from a number of different perspectives. In addition to this, he has a contagious enthusiasm for the job at hand that cannot help spreading to all who work with him. Dan Coquillette was also the man primarily responsible for making the arrangements for the conference itself. In a very real sense, as the conference was his conference, so this volume is his book.

    Frederick S. Allis, Jr.

    Editor of Publications

    87 Mount Vernon Street

    Boston, Massachusetts

    April 1984