Primary Sources

Native American

Constitution of the Iroquois Nations:
This is the constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy, the first written constitution of the new world.


Charter to Sir Walter Raleigh:
This document is the charter given by Queen Elizabeth in March 25, 1584 to Sir Walter Raleigh to found a colony in America.
Return to Roanoke: John White: Return to Roanoke (1590)
John White headed the expedition which returned to Roanoke Island in 1590. This is his description of what his group found.

Virginia and Maryland

Instructions for the Virginia Colony: Instructions for the Virginia Colony (1606)
These instructions were drafted by the Virginial Company for use by the settlers of Jamestown.
John Smith: starving time in Virginia: John Smith: starving time in Virginia
These notes on the conditions and events in Jamestown from 1607 to 1614, have observations by others but overall comments by John Smith.

Maryland Toleration Act: Maryland Toleration Act

This act of 1649 was intended to provide protections for Catholics in Maryland who were becoming a minority and in great danger of being ill-treated by the Protestant majority. It set a precedent for later more liberal laws regarding religious freedom in America.

New England

Mayflower Compact: Mayflower Compact
The Mayflower Compact was written and signed in November, 1620, by the Pilgrims on board the Mayflower when it was anchored off Cape Cod, and before anyone was allowed off the ship. Since the Pilgrims had landed outside their original charter, they felt it was necessary to have this document to rule their settlements in the new world.
William Bradford: "Of Plymouth Plantation"
This is the complete text of the book-length account of the Plymouth settlement, by William Bradford, leader of the Pilgrims.
John Winthrop: A Model of Christian Charity: John Winthrop: A Model of Christian Charity
This discourse was given by John Winthrop in 1630 to his fellow Puritans on board the Arabella sailing to Massachusetts Bay.

Charter of Massachusetts Bay: Charter of Massachusetts Bay

The Massachusetts Bay Company, a joint-stock company in England, received a charter from the Crown, with an unstated premise that the management o! the company and thus the charter itself would remain in England. However, a group of Puritans within the Massachusetts Bay Company adopted a pledge known as the Cambridge Agreement in 1629, in which they stipulated that they would not only migrate to the New World but also carry the charter with them. By bringing the charter to America, the Puritans took the first step in transforming Massachusetts Bay from a trading company into a commonwealth, because the charter became the constitution of the colony.
John Winthrop: Excerpts from his Journal: John Winthrop: Excerpts from his Journal
These excerpts give a flavor of Life in the Puritan settlements in the early period.

Fundamental Orders of Connecticut: Fundamental Orders of Connecticut

The Connecticut settlements of Hartford, Wethersfield, and Windsor enacted these Fundamental orders on January 24, 1639. They provided a confederate government that allowed for popular consent but placed constraints on religious membership and limited voting to freemen. This is one of the earliest constitutions in America.
Roger Williams: "A Plea for Religious Liberty":
This section of "The Bloody Tenent of Persecution" was published in England in 1644. In it Roger Williams makes his case for religious freedom.

Selections of Documents

The American Colonists Library:
This extraordinary site has links to a large number of primary sources on the internet which were available to and read by colonists. It is a virtual library, ranging from journals and writings of colonists to philosophical and legal texts published in England. This is an extraordinary research tool to document the mind of early America.