Colonial House Picture of the colony
Meet the Colonists Behind the Scenes Interactive History Media Gallery
Behind the Scenes
Introduction Interview with the Executive Producer Colonial Life, Then and Now

The Native American Story
A Historian Awakens 1628
Religion on the Colony
The Longest Day
Building the Colony
Candid Camera
The Training
By Emerson "Tad" Baker
Photo of Tad Baker

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As our colony began to take shape, I was given responsibility for shaping the colony's governing structure and legal system. I worked with Mica and the production team to craft the legal documents for the colony -- a charter, instructions for the governor, indentures for servants, a legal code, and a book that gave suggestions for proper 17th century behavior. We developed these materials from a variety of colonial documents. For example, our laws drew their inspiration from such diverse sources as the Martial Laws of Virginia (1611), the Abstract of the Laws of New England (1641) as well as laws and punishments from Plymouth Colony, the Province of Maine, Essex County, Massachusetts, and even some English court records.

Based in 17th-century law, our system of government also had to take into account the realities of the 21st century. All 17th-century legal codes included the death penalty for witchcraft, but did we need to include such a law in our code? We frequently debated the pros and cons of such issues. Obviously our colonists would not believe in harmful witchcraft, nor would they be carrying out any public executions. Yet, we hoped that such laws might help our settlers understand the mindset of English settlers in 1628. It is one thing to have people physically live in a manner of an earlier time, but quite another to get them to appreciate the mental worldview of that time.

This "mindset" was a major concern in crafting the laws and regulating our society. For example, public humiliation was a serious punishment in small, close-knit colonies. Would this mean anything at all to 21st-century people from a much more open society? Particularly when these colonists might be humiliated for wanton dalliance, idleness, unseemly carriages, or wicked tongues -- crimes that many modern Americans find quaint and harmless.

Perhaps the most fun, but also most challenging, part of my job was to create the "back stories" for each colonist. Although our colonists were not in acting roles, the production team thought it was important to give them some background and motivation for their position in the colony. So, working with the status they had been given by the producers, I had to create personal histories for our colonists -- explaining where they came from in England, what their occupations were, and how they came to join the colony. Again, I drew upon historical examples, blending this with the actual biographies of our colonists.

Although I have worked on a variety of public history projects, Colonial House was a very different challenge. My consulting was in addition to my full-time job as a college professor, and my directing archaeological excavations, so I was constantly juggling responsibilities. Most academic work has distant deadlines that you can plan for. An editor will give you four months to produce a book review for his journal. Television works at a much more hectic pace. Sometimes production would need an answer to a complex question by the next day -- if not sooner. Needless to say, the most urgent questions usually come up at the busiest time. My wife, Peggy, and my daughters, Megan and Sarah, get my deepest thanks for putting up with me as I sometimes tried to do three things at once.

Finally, after working on the project for almost a year, I got the opportunity to visit the settlement, as a member of the team sent by Company officials to evaluate the colony. Historians often dream of seeing history come alive, so to walk over a hill and to see a functioning 17th-century settlement was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I had to keep on reminding myself that it wasn't really 1628. Even so, I believe that visiting the settlement gave me some valuable historical insight into how an actual plantation might have operated. It also generated some great ideas that I plan to incorporate into my teaching. Seeing this colony is something I will truly remember for the rest of my life. Now I look forward to the next big thrill -- watching COLONIAL HOUSE when it premieres on PBS.

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