Date of Award

Spring 1982

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


This dissertation assesses order and disorder in New Haven, Connecticut from its founding in 1639 to the introduction of Justices of the Peace in 1701. It juxtaposes concepts of the well-ordered society as expressed in puritan rhetoric with the reality of behavior as reflected in legal documents to illustrate the pre-eminent role assumed by law in ordering society. What emerges is a picture of society not rigidly caught up in the policies of perfection, but one characterized by responsive lawmaking, equally flexible enforcement, and reliance upon formal legal institutions to resolve private controversies.

The study begins with a portrait of the well-ordered society. It was a God-ordained social order dictated by the religiosity of New Haven's founders and based on voluntary covenants which defined basic social institutions. Yet this picture soon faded as settlers encountered the conditions of life in New England. Voluntarism gave way to a new order as defined through law--local bylaws and colony statutes--that departed significantly from the Biblically based notion of law that helped delineate order in 1639.

Challenges to order mirrored the growth of law which was traditional and secular. An examination of 900 violations of local bylaws illustrates that most disorders related to the physical adjustment of life in America. Furthermore, the petty offenders who violated these ordinances were well-established members of the community who were prosecuted with a mixture of charity and pragmatism. So were individuals who violated colony statutes, thereby threatening moral order. Analysis of 550 colony violations indicates that New Haven had its share of social deviants who were excluded for their misconduct. But most moral offenders, specifically alcohol abusers, thieves, and fornicators, were punished with increased leniency by magistrates who assumed a realistic perspective on morality.

Finally, an assessment of 350 civil suits which challenged social harmony reveals that authorities utilized established law to resolve disputes equitably. Formal litigation promoted social order and was a chosen method of conflict resolution by litigants who rejected the "peaceful and loving" procedure of arbitration, so symbolic of the well-ordered society.