Charter Box Found 1927

charter-box-clipping-1927_9e3568928aIn the year of 1927, the Wood Box that contained the Royal Charter of 1663 was found in a trunk in the Rhode Island Statehouse.

The box, 36″ x 4″ is made of wood throughout and covered with a thin layer of hand-tooled leather. There is a separate round compartment, 6″ in diameter that most likely held the rolled up Charter.

After spending 12 years in London as Agent for the Colony of Rhode Island, Dr. John Clarke drafted and secured the Charter on July 8, 1663. Dr. Clarke did not have the funds to sail back to America, so he entrusted Captain George Baxter with this world changing document to bring immediately securely in hand to the Colony of Rhode Island.

The Charter was read to “The Freemen of the Rhode Island Colony” on November 24, 1663 by Captain George Baxter.

On 24 November 1663 Rhode Island’s General Court of Commissioners convened at Newport for the last time under the parliamentary patent of 1643/4.[14] The inhabitants and legislators were gathered to receive the result of the decade-long labors of Dr. John Clarke.[14] The magnitude and solemnity of the occasion was captured in the colonial records:

At a very great meeting and assembly of the freemen of the colony of Providence Plantation, at Newport, in Rhode Island, in New England, November the 24th, 1663. The abovesayed Assembly being legally called and orderly mett for the sollome reception of his Majestyes gratious letter pattent unto them sent, and having in order thereto chosen the President, Benedict Arnold, Moderator of the Assembly,” it was “Voted: That the box in which the King’s gratious letters were enclosed be opened, and the letters with the broad seale thereto affixed be taken forth and read by Captayne George Baxter in the audience and view of all the people; which was accordingly done, and the sayd letters with his Majesty’s Royall Stampe, and the broad seal, with much becoming gravity held up on hygh, and presented to the perfect view of the people, and then returned into the box and locked up by the Governor, in order to the safe keeping of it.[14]

The following day it was voted that words of humble thanks be delivered to the King and also to the Earl of Clarendon. It was also voted that a £100 gratuity be given to Clarke, and another gratuity of £25 be rendered to Baxter.[14]


The charter afforded unique provisions which make it significantly different from the charters granted to the other English colonies. It gave the colonists freedom to elect their own governor and write their own laws, within very broad guidelines, and of leading importance to Dr. John Clarke, stipulated that no person residing in the colony could be “molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question for any differences in opinion in matters of religion.”

The Royal Charter of 1663 confirmed everything that the Patent of 1643 had given, but vested even greater powers in the people. Under it, the colony was an absolute sovereignty with the power to make its own laws, religious freedom was guaranteed, and oaths of allegiance to the English Crown were not required. The provisions were so liberal, that Rhode Island, in essence, became an independent state under its terms.

Three points in the charter distinguish it from any other royal patents that had ever been granted.

First: Acknowledgment of Indian rights to the soil. This provision was far different than the European doctrine of “possession by right of discovery” which was first exercised by the Pope and soon adopted by the maritime powers as part of the “royal prerogative.” The sovereigns of Europe asserted their claims over both Americas with little hesitation, and the rights of the aborigines presented no obstacles to these “enlightened and Christian legislators.” Historian Samuel G. Arnold wrote, “Against this abuse…Rhode Island was the first solemn protest.” The point that the exclusive right to the land belonged to the aborigines was decided by Roger Williams when he first settled in the colony, and his views were maintained by those who followed him there. These views were set forth by Clarke in his address to the King, and thus became incorporated within the royal charter.

Second: The Charter granted ample protection extended to the colonists of the rights of conscience, Freedom of Religion. “Liberty of Conscience”. This principle, so different from the prevailing spirit of the age, has become the “sole distinguishing feature of Rhode Island’s history.” The laws of England were rigid in their requirement of uniformity in religious belief. This provision of the charter, therefore, repealed the laws of England so far as the Rhode Island inhabitants were concerned.

Third: Setting this charter apart from all others coming from the throne of a monarch is its democratic liberalism. For the first time in world history democracy was synonymous with Freedom. This document conferred to the residents of the Rhode Island colony the power to elect their own officers and make their own laws, so long as they were not contrary or repugnant to the laws of England. The provisions were very flexible, allowing that the laws considered “the nature and constitution of the place and people there.”

To learn more please visit: Royal Charter of 1663

Author: 1663 Media Arts, LLC

1663 Media Arts, LLC is an Independent Film Production Company that develops historical dramas based on real life events...because #HistoryMatters.

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