Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Otis Family: Part 2

A prior post introduced our readers to a bit of information on our Otis materials, which are largely related to the legal practice of James Otis, Sr. (father of the famous patriot).

Today's item of interest is a 1733 writ of execution, issued by court clerk John Sturgis, in a matter involving a suit by James Otis, Sr. against Noah Wepquish, a member of the Mashpee tribe. According to the document, Otis had represented Noah's son, Phillip, in a criminal case. Phillip had  been charged with night burglary of a dwelling house and was facing a possible sentence of death. Otis claimed that Noah had promised a fee of three pounds if Phillip escaped with his life. Otis further claims that he will show at trial that Phillip "was not found worthy of death, that his time & well worth three pounds, yett the deft [the defendant, Noah Wepquish] refuses to pay...."

In this writ, clerk Sturgis orders the sheriff to attach Noah's goods or estate to the value of six pounds. A notation on the verso indicates that the defendant maintained that he had made no such promise to Otis. I'd love to go digging through the Barnstable, Massachusetts court records at some point to see how this played out...

Next time? A 1738 indenture binding a Mashpee woman to serve a Barnstable man.

Many thanks to Robert Rubin of Robert H. Rubin Books for his wonderful description of this item, on which this post is based. His keen eye and transcription made it much simpler for me to understand the circumstances surrounding this issuance of this writ.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

New exhibit in the Rare Book Room--"Exploring Magna Carta"

I'm happy to announce that there's a new exhibit on display in our Daniel R. Coquillette Rare Book Room. Since the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta is this June, it seemed like a good opportunity for an exhibit on that topic. Exploring Magna Carta will be on display through most of August. It features many books that Professor Coquillette discusses with his Anglo-American Legal History students during one of their visits to the Rare Book Room each fall.

Please take a look at our exhibit website, which links to the catalog and features descriptions and photos of several items on display.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day!

This Valentine’s Day postcard serves as an artistic expression of the heartwarming love that the general population often feels toward lawyers. A heavyset attorney, covered from head-to-toe in damning evidence, including no fewer than three murder weapons, sees a potentially large fee if he manages to obtain an acquittal. Through his tenacity, the lawyer will have his clients “discharged without fail.”

This postcard is part of a long, unflattering tradition of associating lawyers with greed. However, there's also the positive association of determination and cleverness: in spite of the physical evidence of his client's guilt, this lawyer will zealously argue on his behalf.

For more law-related postcards, all generally donated by law professor Michael Hoeflich, please visit our Rare Book Room exhibit, or check out the exhibit webpage.

~Written by our terrific intern, Alexa "Lexy" Bader (BC, College of Arts & Sciences, class of 2016).

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Otis Family: Part 1

For many of us, the name James Otis brings up images of a Revolutionary patriot arguing against writs of assistance and decrying taxation without representation. What I, at least, didn't know was that  this Otis (James Otis, Jr.) was just the most famous in a long line of practicing Otis attorneys in Barnstable and Plymouth Counties.

We have several books in our collection with an Otis provenance--more on that later--and recently had to good fortune to acquire some documents that were actually produced in the course of the everyday legal practice of James Otis, Sr. (father of the famous patriot).

First up is this docket of cases heard in Plymouth in December 1736. The list is in Otis Sr.'s hand, and includes some 92 different matters. A couple involve Otis himself as plaintiff in default actions. Some others presumably were cases in which he was representing one of the parties, but it's hard to know how many in which he was directly involved.

In addition to notes about the type of case (usually 'default,' though sometimes 'appeal'), some matters have an "X" notation; others have a "B" or "P". What might these notes mean?

Next time? A writ of execution against Noah Wepquish, a member of the Mashpee tribe, for unpaid legal fees that Otis Sr. earned when representing the Wepquish's son in a capital case.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Happy holidays to all!

Nothing like a few law-related puns to bring cheer to a holiday party! Our postcard collection, generously donated by Professor Michael Hoeflich, includes quite a few holiday-themed cards. Check out the webpage for our law in postcards exhibit to see some pictures and the exhibit catalog, which has a holiday section.

May your worries be as brief as a legal document this holiday season! Until next year...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

New acquisition: colonial American imprint of Henry Care's English Liberties

Spine of Henry Care's English LibertiesTitle page of Henry Care's English Liberties

Henry Care's English Liberties, or the Free-born Subject's Inheritance was originally published in England around 1680 (the title page had no year). The book is a layman's guide to English law and government, with a focus on the Magna Cagna, the Charter of the Forest, other important early English statutes, and subjects such as juries, justices of the peace, murder and manslaughter.

A note after the Contents section indicates that this edition, with additions by William Nelson, is specially adapted for American audiences. It omits content that wasn't deemed useful for the colonies, but "to compensate amply for those Omissions, and make the Work as truly valuable", there are additions for colonial readers in the way of forms for justices of the peace and "Extracts from several late celebrated Writers on the British Constitution, which serve to illustrate and enforce the very important Doctrines advanced by the ingenious Author" (viii).

This last bit is interesting, as this volume was published in Providence, Rhode Island in 1774, just months after the passage of the Intolerable Acts. The discussion of Magna Carta and fundamental rights would have been quite interesting reading for colonial patriots. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson had two copies of this work, which was a source of inspiration for William Penn's Excellent Priviledge of Liberty and Property (1687) and a source for George Mason when drafting Virginia's Declaration of Rights (1776).

Many thanks to the folks at Lawbook Exchange for the detailed description, upon which the post is based.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Colonial Massachusetts deed signed by husband and wife

This 1774 deed confirms the sale of fifty acres of land around Worcester (in the then Massachusetts Bay Colony) from Artemas How to Bezeleel Hale to  “Have, Hold, Use, Occupy Possess and Enjoy.” The deed contains a description of the land that is almost as confounding and entertaining as it is long; the tract of land goes from “a heap of stones a corner of Holman Priests land…one hundred and forty three rods to a white Oak then southeast thirty seven rods by land of Eleazer[?] Johnson to a red oak and then southeasterly…” and so on for several more lines.

The document was witnessed and signed on the verso by the Justice of the Peace, John Whitcomb, who is perhaps the most interesting character in this story. Whitcomb became a lieutenant in his early thirties but was considered too old to fight by the time the Revolutionary War rolled around, soon after the execution of this deed. He ended up entering into battle anyway, since his militia refused to fight without him. He eventually rose to the rank of Brigadier-General but refused a later request from Washington to take charge of all the troops from Massachusetts. He then spent the rest of his life serving as Justice of the Peace and mining limestone. Artemas How, as well, served in the Revolutionary War and fought in the Battle of Lexington and Concord. However, it seems he never found his footing, let alone fortune, in the limestone industry.

The other signatory of interest is Artemas How’s wife, Abigail, who signed the deed right below her husband (only Artemas is listed in the covenant within the actual text). We have several other deeds in our Brooker Collection signed by husband and wife, so this was not unheard of. However, it is fascinating, as the property of married women came under the control of their husbands under the English doctrine of coverture. Did Abigail’s signature have any legal significance, or is it perhaps an indication of Artemas How’s respect for his wife?

 ~This post was written by Lexy Bader, our reference assistant in the BC Law Library. Many thanks to Lexy and the kind folks at Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscript for their helpful description.