Monday, April 7, 2014

New acquisitions: Sir Matthew Hale

We've added a couple of new volumes to our collection, both with works by Matthew Hale (1609-1676). Hale was an English jurist and writer largely known today for his insights on criminal law and, perhaps most notoriously, for expounding the proposition that it was not possible for a husband to rape his wife under the system of coverture.  This position, outlined in his work Historia Placitorum Coronæ, or The History of the Pleas of the Crown, was finally rejected in England by the House of Lords in the case of R. v. R. in 1991. Hale served under Cromwell as Justice of the Common Pleas and then under Charles II as Chief Justice of the King's Bench.  

The most interesting volume here (title page on the right, above) was printed in London in 1707 and includes three of Hale's works: his Pleas of the Crown; Or, A Methodical Summary...; A Short Treatise Touching Sheriffs Accompts (London, 1683); and A Tryal of Witches at the Assizes...(London, 1682).  Pleas of the Crown was first printed in 1678, so this is a later edition of that title, but Sheriffs and Witches are first editions.  The latter work is a record of the witchcraft trials at Bury St. Edmonds in 1662, over which Hale presided. Two elderly widows were convicted by the jury on thirteen counts of witchcraft; Hale sentenced them to death, and they were hanged. These proceedings would greatly influence the Salem witchcraft prosecutions in 1692. 

A related acquisition is a 1676 printing of Hale's Comtemplations Moral and Divine, shown on the left above.  This title, though not specifically legal, caught my eye as it appeared (twice!) in a colonial American lawyer's library inventory that I recently ran across in a legal history textbook.  The inventory also included Coke's Commentaries and Dalton's Countrey Justice, among others. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Tired of people sitting in your pew?

Buy it!  This document reflects the sale of a pew in the Salem Meeting House in October 1769.  In September of that same year, Reverend Thomas Barnard and the proprietors of the church gave power to five committee members (Nathaniel Ropes, John Nutting, William Browne, Benjamin Pickman, and Deacon John Bickford) to make and sell four pews.  This was a common way for churches to raise money at the time.  For thirty-six pounds, Clark Gayton Pickman, a merchant and presumably a relative of committee member Benjamin Pickman, purchased pew number 60, the "Westermost Floor pew on the Front of the Men's long seats", with appurtenances.  I wonder if Mr. Pickman's heirs and assigns also got to enjoy the pew or if he sold it for a better view at some point.  The signatures and seals of all five committee members are included on the front of the document. 

This isn't the only pew deed in our collection either!  Our wonderful Brooker Collection contains at least two others: an 1812 deed for a pew in the New Meeting House of the First Parish of in Templeton, Massachusetts, and an 1837 deed for the sale of half a pew in the First Parish Meeting House in Natick, Massachusetts. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Classroom visit to the Rare Book Room

On Monday, my colleague Mary Ann Neary brought her Bankruptcy Research students to the Rare Book Room to look at some historical materials related to bankruptcy, insolvency, and debtor-creditor relations.  Each student had an item that we described and discussed together.  Several students had important treatises, including William Cooke, A Compendious System of the Bankrupt Laws (London, 1785); Thomas Cooper, Bankruptcy Law of America and England (Philadelphia, 1801); Pocket Companion; or, Every Man his Own Lawyer by an anonymous "distinguished gentleman of the bar" (Philadelphia, 1818); and Thomas Wooler, Every Man His Own Attorney (London, 1845).  Our Cooper is always my favorite, with its worn printer's boards and untrimmed and uncut pages.  

Additionally, many students had documents from our fabulous Brooker Collection, including a writ of execution, a "please don't sue me!" letter from a debtor, an indentured servant contract, and two letters from the Boston Overseers of the Poor seeking reimbursement for funds spend on residents of other towns.  We also looked at two recent acquisitions: 1691 writ of execution out of Suffolk Superior and a 1819 letter from Supreme Court justice Joseph Story advocating for a new federal bankruptcy legislation. 

Thanks to Professor Neary for making these arrangements and to the students for being such engaged visitors!

Monday, March 3, 2014

New acquisition: colonial writ of execution

This document comes out of a contract dispute between shipwright Henry Smeath (or Smith) and Thomas Doughty, both of Saco, Massachusetts [now Maine].  Apparently, Mr. Smeath purchased an oak plank from Doughty in 1689 and refused to pay.  In October of 1690, Doughty obtained a judgment in Suffolk County against Smeath in the amount of 14 pounds, 11 shillings, and six pence, to which is here added a 2 shilling fine for the cost of executing this court order. 

Here, we have a writ of execution, signed by Joseph Webb, clerk of the Suffolk County court from 1690-1698.  Webb ordered the Marshall General or his lawful deputy to find Smeath and obtain satisfaction of the judgment; otherwise, Smeath should be seized and committed to the safekeeping of the Boston prison keeper. I'm always curious about the people behind these documents.  Did Smeath simply refuse to pay in protest of the judgment?  Did he simply not have the money?  Did he ultimately pay up, or was he arrested?  Today, there would be an attachment of his assets; at this time in England and the colonies, there were debtors' prisons for those who couldn't or wouldn't meet their financial obligations.

Many thanks to the great folks at the Philadelphia Rare Books and Manuscripts Company for the excellent description of the item, from which this post is adapted.  The detail about the oak plank is from the Genealogical Dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Panel--Francis Bacon: How a Renaissance Man Affects the Study of Everything


Mark your calendars for Wednesday, February 26th at 4:00 p.m. in East Wing 120 for a panel discussion called "Francis Bacon: How a Renaissance Man Affects the Study of Everything."  Professor Daniel Coquillette has gathered an impressive group of scholars from across the university to discuss how Bacon still exerts influence on their various disciplines (English, Biology, Chemistry, Political Science, and History; Professor Coquillette will discuss Bacon’s impact on law).  It’s an exciting opportunity to bring different parts of the university together and to discuss the legacy of this fascinating individual.  The event is sponsored by the Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy and the Boston College Law Library; the panel is free and open to the public.  We look forward to seeing you there.  In the meantime, please be sure to take a look at the exhibit on Bacon in Rare Book Room—it will only be on display for a few more weeks!  


The portrait shown above is on loan to the Boston College Law Library from 2004 BC Law alumnus, Jeremy Evans.  Jeremy has kindly loaned us this 17th century oil painting of Bacon, artist unknown.  It has been in his family for generations, and we're honored that he has entrusted us with it for the exhibit and event.  I cannot locate this particular portrait in any databases that I have access to; I've reached out to the National Portrait Gallery in London for their insights and hope to benefit from their expertise. If anyone has ideas about the details of this portrait (date, artist, original or copy, etc.), I'd love to hear them!  

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day!

This is another favorite from Professor Michael H. Hoeflich's recent gift of his legal postcard and ephemera collection.  These were the subject of his book, The Law in Postcards and Ephemera, 1890-1962 (Clark, NJ: Lawbook Exchange, 2012). The book contains hundreds of images of ephemeral items that provide a glimpse into how the public viewed the law and lawyers.  Many of the cards portray children dressed up as lawyers and judges. 

This little valentine was produced by the George S. Carrington Greeting Card Company in Chicago.  It seems like the little girl with the doll is pleading with the judge to consider fairly her Valentine's request!  

Friday, February 7, 2014

Law student commonplace book

This is one of my favorite new acquisitions: a law student's notebook in the form of a commonplace book from around 1690.  Commonplacing was a typical method of learning the law in England and in the American colonies and early United States.  A student would follow the alphabetical arrangement of topics from an existing abridgement such as Brook's.  A usual starting point would be abatement, and the student would provide brief descriptions of important cases on the topic; he would continue through the alphabet (if industrious) and finish with something like wards, warranties, or writs.  About a third of the leaves in this commonplace are filled out, some quite copiously done; others, like the entry for "judges", are completely blank. 

The student who compiled this notebook was Thomas Hanbury, who studied law in England around 1690 during the reign of William and Mary.  As I mentioned during a recent visit to Professor Mary Bilder's American Legal History class, his beautifully done notes, bound in vellum, have survived much better than modern students' flash drives or vinyl binders likely will! 

The photo above is from Hanbury's entries under "Warranties." More photos will be up on our Facebook page.  Much of the information included here is from a thorough description written by Michael von der Linn at The Lawbook Exchange.