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.