Monday, June 29, 2015

New Acquisition: Commonplace Book of a Massachusetts Practitioner


This new acquisition is commonplace book filled in by Julian Abbot (1806-1891), a 19th century lawyer in Lowell, Massachusetts. The book, called the Index Rerum: Or Index of Subjects..., Northampton, MA,1836 (3rd edition), is essentially blank, with the creator, Rev. John Todd of Northampton, providing an organizational structure for keeping track of valuable information. In the preface, Todd states that "the Index is ruled with blue ink, with a wide margin on the left hand of each page. The margin is to contain the word selected as a guide to the subject noted down. On the corners of the page, you will find the letters of the alphabet (capitals) and in the center, the first five vowels..." Entries were to be alphabetized based on the first letter and then the first vowel following that. Law students and lawyers like Abbot could use this structure to keep track of helpful precedents and treatise passages on important legal topics.

Julian Abbot did not fill in all of the pages, but he did write a fair number of entries, beginning with Acceptance and ending with the Writ of Withernam. There are several notes in the blanks at the end, including a list of legal maxims in Latin. Abbot's entries help us understand what an American lawyer at this time was studying and what sources he was using. He cites to a whole host of legal sources that are in our working lawyer's collection in the Rare Book Room. Case law citations abound, particularly to Massachusetts cases, but Abbot also quotes passages from U.S. and New Hampshire cases, among others. He also references a wide variety of treatises, including Blackstone's Commentaries, Kent's Commentaries, Story on Conflicts, Greenleaf on Evidence, Russell on Crime, Chitty on Contracts, and many others. There's also the occasional non-legal entry, including a passage from Goethe about Cervantes and Don Quixote.

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 & expenses...is 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.