This essay investigates the first century of English colonization of the North American mainland, concentrating on the charters and letters patent that proponents of western planning secured over the course of the century. The elaborated legalities of chartering should be understood as a technology of planning and design. Charters allowed projectors both to justify their pursuit of particular territorial claims and to establish, with some precision, the conceptions of the appropriate, familiar, desired order of things and people that would be imposed onto uncharted social and physical circumstance.
The structures of authoritative sociolegal order planned by projectors encountered others implicit in the migrations of actual settlers. Investigating settlers' disagreement with and departure from projectors' designs, the essay discards common explanations—that these were inevitable corrections brought about by the intrusion of local environmental realities on English projectors' fantasies, or the realization of an implicit evolutionary logic of political development, or of legal reception. It argues that disagreements were more often the result of a collision of distinct English legal cultures brought, by migration, into an unavoidable proximity.
The essay counterposes the paradigm of “colonization” to both “common law reception” and “bottom-up localism” analyses of the formation of early American legal culture. It proposes that “colonization” also resolves the discontinuity between early (colonial) and later (U.S.) American history.