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A source for early Pennsylvania laws

What does it tell us about the kinds of things our earliest ancestors in colonial Pennsylvania were concerned about when the first 10 laws enacted by the Province of Pennsylvania in 1682 were:

• Concerning liberty of conscience
• Concerning qualifications of members of assembly
• Against swearing by God, Christ or Jesus
• Against swearing by any other thing or name
• Against profane speaking
• Against cursing
• Against adultery
• Against incest
• Against sodomy and beastiality
• Against rape1

It doesn’t get any better with the next batch of early 1682 laws, by the way. They dealt with polygamy, drunkenness, excessive drinking, sale of spirits to Indians, arson, forcible entry, rioters, menacing parents, assault and battery, rude (or vain) sports, plays and games, sedition, and scolding, just to name a few.2

Rude sports, in case you were wondering, were things like “Stage-plays, Masques, Revels, Bull-baitings, Cock-fightings”3 while vain and evil sports were “Cards, Dice, Lotteries, or Such Like.”4 The scolding act made it an offense punishable by three days at hard labor for any colonist to be “Clamorous, Scolding & Railing with their tongues.”5

There was even — sigh — a 1682 statute against the spreaders of false news.6

Chapter 30 1682

The Legal Genealogist‘s personal favorite has always been that menacing parents provision. Anybody who menaced or assaulted a parent would be locked up at hard labor “during the pleasure of the said parent.”7

Kinda makes you wonder if a parent ever said, “oh, my pleasure is from ages 13-21…”

So… where do you find gems like these if your ancestors lived in early Pennsylvania?

Try a terrific little website of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Legislative Reference Bureau:

The Legislative Reference Bureau, an agency of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, has undertaken a long-term preservation and public access project to digitize the laws enacted for the Province and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and published on a periodic basis from 1682 to the most recently completed session of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, referred to for purposes of the project as “session laws.”8

As of today, there are 18 volumes of early Pennsylvania statutes, from 1682 through 1809, on the website: “These volumes contain public and private laws of the Province and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania through 1809. They hold the earliest provisions for liberty of conscience and other principles of a free society, setting forth significant archival documents and enactments, with references to original sources, prior provisions and review by British Crown and Parliament agencies.”9

You can browse through all 18 volumes, or search for a keyword or phrase, but be aware that the search system is not a full-text search and words used in the system may use archaic spelling (such as “gaol” for “jail”). So it’s not the world’s easiest website to use.

But nowhere else will you find a better window into what was important enough to your Pennsylvania ancestors at a particular time that it was addressed by law.

Like fake news…

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Keystone statutes,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 13 Sep 2019).


  1. Chapters 1-10, “Acts or Documents in Statutes at Large, Volume 1 – Regular Session of 1682,” Statutes at Large, Pennsylvania Session Laws : Statutes at Large, Legislative Reference Bureau ( : accessed 13 Sep 2019).
  2. Ibid., Chapters 11-31.
  3. Ibid., Chapter 26.
  4. Ibid., Chapter 27.
  5. Ibid., Chapter 31.
  6. Ibid., Chapter 30.
  7. Ibid., Chapter 21.
  8. Pennsylvania Session Laws, Legislative Reference Bureau ( : accessed 13 Sep 2019).
  9. Ibid., “Introduction to the Statutes at Large.”
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