The Random History of Blue Laws in the United States

A painting of the Jamestown settlement. National Park Service

2. Blue laws were created to control private behavior

American blue laws, like much of American common law, came with the British settlers to the New World. Regionally they reflected the differences in religious viewpoints of the British during the age of colonization. Puritan New England’s many blue laws were directed almost solely towards behavior on the Sabbath, and were stricter, covering a wider variety of behaviors, than those of Virginia. Many were created to prevent hunting on the Sabbath. Nearly all the American colonies passed laws to prohibit commerce on Sunday. In several colonies, church attendance was mandatory, and violators were subject to fines, at a time when indebtedness could mean imprisonment.

In Virginia, the last remnants of the blue laws to remain in effect was over hunting. Hunting of certain beasts was legal on Sunday, while others were not. Even during hunting season, deer could not be taken on Sunday. Nor could several birds, such as ducks and doves, nor turkeys. Other animals could be taken on the Sabbath during the hunting season, such as bear and, being Virginia with its riding tradition, foxes. Virginia’s alcohol sales laws were eased over time, though the state still controls liquor sales through the Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) stores, which open on Sunday for limited hours.