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.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

New Exhibit: The Law in Postcards

I'm happy to announce that there's a new exhibit up in the Daniel R. Coquillette Rare Book Room for the fall semester. It features a collection of law-related postcards and trade cards that were given to us by Michael H. Hoeflich, John H. & John M. Kane Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Kansas School of Law. As many of you know, Professor Hoeflich has previously given us two gifts of antiquarian and modern Roman law books.

The cards in the exhibit were the basis of Professor Hoeflich's book, The Law in Postcards and Legal Ephemera 1890-1962 (The Lawbook Exchange, 2012). It's a fun and colorful exhibit, and we'd love for you to come to take a look. For a sneak preview, check out the exhibit webpage!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

New acquisition: a groundbreaking treatise on international law

This is a first edition of Emer de Vattel's groundbreaking work on international law, Le Droit de Gens (London, 1758). It was soon published in English as The Law of Nations in 1759-60, a publication that we also have in our collection. 

This particular copy grabbed my attention because it is in the original publisher's binding, which presumably was meant to be temporary. The pages are untrimmed, and you can see from the picture on the right that the label was placed upside down on the wrong end of the spine on volume 1. It looks exactly as it did when it was produced in 1758, with the exception of some wear around the edges of the boards. The internal pages are fresh, with lovely red and black title pages in both volumes. 

Vattel (1714-1767) was a disciple of the German philosopher Christian Wolff and echoed Wolff's belief in the importance of natural law in conjunction with positive law. Vattel believed that abiding by treaties was a sacred duty. His work was immensely influential in the colonies and early United States and was read by founders such as Franklin and Jefferson. An early American edition was published in Northhampton, Massachusetts in 1805.  Interestingly, this work is still cited today. A quick Westlaw case search for Vattel and the title brought up close to 250 results, with several from 2014! 

Many thanks to Joe Luttrell at Meyer Boswell for his insights on the binding. For more on Vattel and his influence, particularly in the colonies and early U.S., take a look at Jesse S. Reeves, "The Influence of the Law of Nature upon International Law in the United States," The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Jul., 1909), pp. 547-561

Monday, July 28, 2014

Best wishes to those sitting for the bar!

While browsing through our fabulous legal postcard and ephemera collection from Michael Hoeflich, I ran across several that mention being called to the bar. They inevitably involve a fun drinking pun. Folks just can't help it!

So here's to the recent Boston College Law School grads and the many others across the country who will be sitting for the bar later this week! May your recall of doctrine be mighty and your pens swift. And definitely have fun at a real bar afterwards.

Monday, July 21, 2014

New database for Appeals to the Privy Council

A wonderful new resource for legal historians has recently been released online from two familiar faces at Boston College Law School: Sharon Hamby O'Connor, Professor Emerita, and Mary Sarah Bilder, Professor and Lee Distinguished Scholar. The database is called "Appeals to the Privy Council from the American Colonies: An Annotated Digital Catalogue" and currently offers access to all known cases appealed from the thirteen colonies that would become the U.S. to the Privy Council. That court heard appeals from the British colonial courts and ruled on all sorts of matters that would come to shape the law in these colonies, including U.S. constitutional law.

For these known appeals, the database provides links to digitized images of the original documents, where available. Fifty-four of the appeals include "printed cases" or briefs that lay out the reasons for the appeal. Contents are searchable via an internal search engine or via lists arranged in a variety of different ways (by colony, year, case name, etc.--be sure to look at the "Useful Lists" link on the bottom right of the homepage). 

Law students and scholars new to this type of research should review the compilers' memorandum, "Opportunities for Further Research, Discovery, and Investigation on Appeals to the Privy Council." Also, keep an eye out--the catalogue will expand to include appeals from Canadian and Caribbean colonies. In the meantime, have fun browsing through this rich source of U.S. legal history! 

Friday, June 20, 2014

In the trenches with a Springfield justice of the peace...

This slim volume--with a pretty jazzy cover--provides a look at four years in the life of a Massachusetts justice of the peace, in the early days of the United States. Titled Justice Matters, Or a Memorandum of Civil Actions Before William Pynchon, Esq. Over 5 Pounds from 1789-1793, this book contains the records of disputes coming out of Hampshire County, Massachusetts; most of the parties were from Springfield or surrounding towns. Virtually all of the entries name the plaintiff and defendant and describe the action as a "process of confession in a plea of the case"; this leads to a discussion of some dispute over payment.  In many of the entries, Pynchon notes that the plaintiff appeared before him with an attorney but that the defendant "though solemnly called did not appear but made default," leading to the plaintiff's recovery of damages and costs.

Each entry includes a seal and Pynchon's signature, suggesting that this was an official record. In instances where the parties were dissatisfied with the result, Pynchon mentions the matter being taken to the Court of Common Pleas at Northampton.  

This William Pynchon is apparently a descendant of the William Pynchon [1590-1662] who founded Springfield.  This Pynchon ancestor is the subject of a similar book about "grass roots" legal practice--Joseph H. Smith, ed., Colonial Justice in Western Massachusetts (1639-1702): the Pynchon Court Record, An Original Judges' Diary of the Administration of Justice in the Springfield Courts in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Just as a point of interest: I noticed that the plaintiff in several matters was a Jonathan Dwight of Springfield. A couple of years ago, I acquired a complaint filed by a Seth Dwight of Hatfield against Medad Negro. Curious about a possible connection, I turned to the interwebs. It turns out that Seth was Jonathan's great-uncle!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Applying for admission to the bar? Try to beat this letter of recommendation...

The deadline for applications to take the July bar exam just passed in May, and we had a flurry of 3Ls seeking letters of recommendation, signatures from the recommending attorneys, and so on. Naturally, this item caught my attention. It is a March 29, 1817 letter written and signed by Daniel Webster, who argued many important cases before the Supreme Court and served in the U.S. House, Senate, and as Secretary of State.  At the time of this letter, Webster had just finished his term as a representative from New Hampshire in the U.S. House; it was two years before he would argue passionately for the survival of Dartmouth College in Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 17 U.S. 518 (1819).

Webster's letter is addressed to Mr. Pickering, Secretary of the Suffolk Bar; in it, Webster vouches for the credentials and character of Martin Whiting, an 1814 graduate of Harvard University. Webster states that Whiting had been working since 1814 in the Middlesex County law office of Isaac Fiske; he explains that Whiting began in Webster's own law office as a "Student at Law" in that very month, March 1817.  In the last line, Webster certifies to "regular attestations to the correctness of [Whiting's] moral character.

According to the William T. Davis's Bench and Bar of Massachusetts, Whiting was admitted to the Suffolk Bar in May 1818 and died quite young in 1823.

All four images of the letter are available on our Facebook page!

Friday, May 16, 2014

New acquisition: Cash Book of William Coombs Thompson

This beautifully bound cash book provides a glimpse into the daily activities of William Coombs Thompson (1802-1877). Thompson, who read law in Boston and then spent his later years in Worcester, practiced for the bulk of his career as a lawyer in Plymouth, New Hampshire. That's where he was working during the almost five-year period covered by this book (March 1833-December 1837).  Reading the entries feels like time-traveling back to the 19th century.  There's the expected income from clients for drafting and serving writs and preparing deeds, but there are also expenses for bushels of oats, loaves of sugar, and apples (for his horse?).  His entries in the debit column for March 30, 1833 include an expense for powder & shot!

As you can see from the attached image, the book is arranged with credits on the left side and debits on the right. If I'm correctly understanding his system (by no means a given), Thompson used the terms in way we think of them now when looking at a bank statement--credits are money received (left) and debits are payments made (right).  This seems unusual to me, as I believe the terms are used in the opposite way in traditional accounting/bookkeeping speak. Traditional bookkeeping also typically puts debits on the left and credits on the right.  Corrections and clarifications from those more knowledgeable than me are always welcome!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

New Exhibit: Recent Additions to the Collection (Spring 2014)

I’m pleased to announced that there is a new exhibit on display in the Rare Book Room, featuring exciting new additions to our collection over the past few years. Some of our most intriguing additions are documents that came directly out of legal practice in the colonies and early America, illuminating the real people practicing and affected by the law. Many would be the source of interesting research projects. Some of my favorites: a 1746 Hatfield, MA complaint against a man named Medad Negro, identified as a black manservant, for burning down a barn; a recognizance for a 14 year-old boy accused of murdering an American Indian woman; a 1819 partnership agreement between two Boston attorneys; a 1819 letter from Joseph Story asserting the need for new bankruptcy legislation; new additions to our fabulous Francis Bacon collection; and much, much more. 

The exhibit will be on display through mid-August, so please wander in as the semester wraps up or during the summer. Selected images, descriptions, and a brochure can be found on the exhibit webpage!


Laurel Davis
Curator of Rare Books & Manuscripts

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.