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A New York State Historical Marker commemorating the 1664-1665 Duke's Laws Convention in Hempstead, New York.

The Duke of York's Laws for the Government of the Colony of New York were a set of guidelines laid out during the early years of English rule in the Colony of New York.[1]


In March 1665, Governor Richard Nicolls convened a convention at Hempstead, Long Island to draft legislation for the colony. The code of laws was introduced into Yorkshire[2] which included Long Island, Staten Island, Manhattan Island, and the east side of the Hudson River coterminous with Westchester.[3] The change was made much more slowly in the Dutch areas, where certain concessions had been agreed to under the Articles of Capitulation.


The Duke's Laws covered nearly every facet of life in the colony and were published in alphabetical order—from how arrests were to be carried out, how juries were to be picked, to the amount of the bounty paid for dead wolves. [2]

Although directed at English and Dutch colonists, the laws also covered what Indians could and could not do. For example, Indians were required to fence in their corn fields and were specifically barred from practicing their own religion. "No Indian whatsoever shall at any time be suffered to powaw or performe outward worship to the Devil in any Towne within this Government," one section of the laws said.

There are detailed instructions of how churches were to be managed. For instance, a church was to be built in each community, capable of holding 200 people; ministers would have to present their credentials to the government to prove they were not "ignorant pretenders to the Ministry." The minister would be required to preach "constantly every Sunday and shall also pray for the King, Queene, Duke of York and the Royall Family."

Under the laws, a person, "either Christian or Indean," who kills a wolf would receive a payment by bringing the head to a constable. The payment would be "to the value of an Indean coat."

The laws set out rules by which a person could be arrested. For instance, a person could not be arrested on the sabbath. Jurors were to be paid "three shillings six pence per diem."

One provision states, "If any man lyeth with mankind as he lyeth with a woman, they shall be put to Death, unless the one party were Forced or be under fourteen Years of age, in which Case he shall be punished at the Discretion of the Court of Assizes."[4]

The laws also required marks, or brands, for horses in each town. Letters were designated in geographic order from east to west: A for East Hampton, B for Southampton, C for Southold, D for Seatalcott (Setauket), E for Huntington, F for Oyster Bay, G for Hempstead, H for Jamaica, and I for Flushing.[citation needed] The letters are still in the seals of Huntington and Brookhaven, which uses Setauket's D.[5]


  1. ^ Scott, Henry Wilson. The Courts of the State of New York: their history, development and jurisdiction (1909)
  2. ^ a b "The Duke of York's Law s, 1665-75" (PDF). Retrieved 14 January 2015.
  3. ^ New York: Commissioners of Statutory Revision: Colonial Laws of New York from the year 1664 to the Revolution, including the Charters of the Duke of York, the Commissions and instructions to Colonial Governors, the Duke's Laws, the Laws of the Dongan and Leisler Assemblies, the Charters of Albany and New York, and the acts of the Colonial Legislatures from 1691 to 1775, inclusive. Report to the Assembly No. 107, 1894. Five Volumes. Albany, New York; 1894–1896. Volume 1; Page xi.
  4. ^ Lincoln, Charles Zebina; Johnson, William H.; Northrup, Ansel Judd (1894). The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution: Including the Charters to the Duke of York, the Commissions and Instructions to Colonial Governors, the Duke's Laws, the Laws of the Dongan and Leisler Assemblies, the Charters of Albany and New York and the Acts of the Colonial Legislatures from 1691 to 1775 Inclusive. 1. Albany, New York: J.B. Lyon, state printer. p. 20. Retrieved 5 March 2014.
  5. ^ Legacy: The Duke's Laws - Archived September 30, 2007, at the Wayback Machine