Building Respect for the Law



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



When America was colonized by England, the king needed to figure out how to rule the colonies without being there himself. He needed the people in America to follow English law but didn’t want to spend the money to send a full-blown set of government services from England. He needed the colonial people to do much of the work.

People in England, even though they had a king, were beginning to develop the idea of democratic government. A democracy is a society based on law and human rights. This law comes from the people who give up a certain amount of power to the government but still maintain certain rights. English Common Law was designed to protect the “rights of Englishmen” to their property and personal security. They expected the courts to support those rights. Colonial Virginians considered themselves to be English as well as American so had similar expectations of the courts.

In societies that are based on rule of law, most people most of the time have to voluntarily respect and obey the law. If government is small, as in Virginia, people must also share in the law’s enforcement. The manner in which the law was enforced by the courts in colonial Virginia was an important step in the beginning democracy in America.