Classroom Activities
afterVisiting the Virtual Museum



Courts in Colonial Virginia

Duties of the Local Courts

Local Court Procedures and Personnel

Colonial Punishments

Court Architecture & Democracy

Order in the Court Web Adventure

18th C. Legal Terms


Mock Trial of Abigail Briggs

Order in the Court Teacher Guide

Other Classroom Activities

1. In groups of two or three, students review the list of Hustings Court Duties and classify them into three columns: Court Duties Today, Other Agencies Today; Not Done Today. Court Duties Today Other Agencies Today Not Done Today Students put a check mark by the Hustings Court Duties about which they are not sure.

Discuss those in class and why they were important to be done by the court at the time. Explore why government has changed since colonial times.

2. Punishment for crimes was very different in colonial times than today. After studying the section of the website on Colonial Punishments, take a position on the statement below and write a three paragraph persuasive essay agreeing or disagreeing with the following statement:

Justice was not fair in colonial times because punishment used during that period was inhumane compared to today.

3. In a small town like colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, everyone knew everyone. When one was called to court, not only did the witnesses know the defendant but the magistrates and everyone in the gallery or audience probably did too. Did this make the judges in colonial Virginia more or less fair than they would be if the law was the same but accused were brought to trial before people they didn’t know?

Set up a class debate on the topic of whether justice is better served by people knowing each other or by making judgment based solely on what they learn about the person in the trial.

4. In colonial Virginia social class, race or color, and gender all affected how people were treated by the law, yet the symbol for justice is almost always portrayed as a lady with a blindfold meaning that justice is supposed to be blind. Do a quick write followed by a class discussion:

In what way is justice more fair if judges do not know a person’s race, social class or gender? Would it ever be less fair?

5. In order for people to respect and obey the law, it must be administered fairly and publicly.

In a class discussion, compare the fairness of the court and the law in Williamsburg with a court/law in today’s society from an authoritarian society like Iraq or Cuba where the leader is not held to the law.

6. Society today still needs to persuade people to respect law and government. Pretend that your architectural firm has been chosen to design a government building to be held in great esteem by the people. Using graph paper, draw the exterior of a building that would create a sense of respect for the law in your community. Explain why you used the elements that you did in a brief class presentation.

As a class, visit the courthouse closest to your school and compare it to both the student drawings and the County/Hustings Court in Colonial Williamsburg.

7. All groups need a way to bring themselves together to share and talk if they are to develop a sense of unity.

Draw a picture of a place in your school that serves the same purpose of bringing people together to talk and share ideas as the market square did in colonial times. Share your picture with others in a small group. Discuss: How would your school change if that place was taken away?

8. During colonial times, the magistrates or judges did not receive pay for their service to the court, usually did not have legal training, and were appointed to serve part of the year because they were respected by the community as leaders. Judges today must serve full time, have a high level of legal training, and receive substantial salaries.

Write a brief dialogue between a magistrate and a contemporary judge about how each might view this difference. Perform your dialogue with a fellow student before the class and respond to the class’ questions.

9. Search through the day’s newspaper to find a crime that would have been covered by colonial law. Assign members of the class to serve as magistrates, sheriffs, clerks, attorneys and witnesses to put the person on trial.

For reference about how a colonial trial worked, see Order in the Court Web Adventure

10. Perform the mock trial such as “Order in the Court: Juvenile Justice in the Eighteenth Century” as a class []

You may find out more about Colonial Williamsburg Electronic Fieldtrip at