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!