Notes on collections and events at the RIHS
346 years ago this November 24th, 1663 George Baxter was called before the General Court of Commissioners and asked to present the charter brought back from England. King Charles II—
—had signed it in July, and it was now being put into effect in Rhode Island. The moment is recorded as follows*:
Voted… That the box in which the King’s gratious letters weare enclosed be opened, and the letters with the broad seale therto affixed, be taken forth and read by Captayne George Baxter in the audiance and view of all the people… and the sayd letters with his Majestyes Royall Stampe, and the broad seale, with much becoming gravity held up on hyght, and presented to the perfect view of the people, and then returned into the box and locked vp by the Governor, in order to the safe keeping of it.
The box referred to above consists of a rectangular section about 3 feet long with a circular appendage for housing the seal. During the transition from the old State House to the new one in 1900 it was discovered in the attic. The original copy of the charter itself is still located at the State House, where it is on view in its own safe. But another copy (found among the effects of John Clarke—who was involved with obtaining the charter in 1663—when he died in 1678) was placed on deposit at the Historical Society**.
Beyond its antiquarian interest, though, the 1663 charter is remarkable for its ideals (the text of the charter is available through Yale’s Avalon Project, among other sources). In sanctioning the “livlie experiment” (hence the title of this blog), the charter was a dramatic statement in support of religious liberty and tolerance.
** “The Duplicate of the Charter,” and “The Charter Box.” Rhode Island History 20.4 (October, 1927): 122-4.