The United States and the Death Penalty

In colonial North America, use of the death penalty was strongly influenced by European practices. When European settlers came to the new world, they brought along their practice of capital punishment. In the territory now recognized as the United States, the first known execution was that of Captain George Kendall in the Jamestown colony of Virginia in 1608. Kendall was executed for being a spy for Spain. In 1612, Virginia governor Sir Thomas Dale enacted the Divine, Moral and Martial Laws, which provided the death penalty for even minor offenses such as stealing grapes, killing chickens, and trading with Indians.

Death penalty laws varied considerably from colony to colony. The Massachusetts Bay Colony held its first execution in 1630, although the Capital Laws of New England did not go into effect until many years later. The New York Colony instituted the Duke’s Laws of 1665. Under these laws, offenses such as striking one’s mother or father or denying the “true God,” were punishable by death.


Inside The United States and the Death Penalty