Wednesday, October 14, 2015

New Acquisition: 19th Century Justice of the Peace Ledger

Wilkes Wood entry on theft
This acquisition is a manuscript ledger of cases heard by Wilkes Wood, a justice of the peace for Middleborough in Plymouth County, Massachusetts. Wood graduated from Brown University in 1793 and was admitted to the bar of Plymouth in 1796 after studying law there under Judge Thomas. He served as judge of probate and president of the Bar Association of Plymouth County. A member of the Whig Party, Wood served as a state senator for Massachusetts for two years and was a member of the electoral college that cast its vote for William Harrison.

Unlike today, justices of the peace in Massachusetts at the time had a good deal of power, with jurisdiction over criminal cases and some civil cases. Justices worked out of their own homes and kept their own records and ledgers. Dissatisfied parties could appeal the justices’ rulings to the local county courts, with the records for the appeal coming from the ledger or minute books of the justice of the peace who heard the original case. Catherine S. Menand, A Research Guide to the Massachusetts Courts and Their Records 60 (1987).

Wood’s ledger covers actions from 1801-1840, with the bulk of the entries from 1801-1816. Although most of them are related to defaults on debts, there are approximately one hundred actions brought for other matters including theft, assault and battery, and vagrancy. Additionally, there are several records of marriages performed by Wood. One of the more interesting actions is displayed above. In it, plaintiff Joseph Bisbe, a blacksmith, has brought an action against the defendant for theft. After examining the “proofs” offered, Justice of the Peace Wood declares the defendant to be guilty and orders him to pay a fine of three dollars as well as the costs of prosecution, listed on the bottom left of the page.

previous post showcased a similar record book belonging to a justice of the peace in Springfield.

Many thanks to Robert H. Rubin for the description on which this post is based.

Thomas Weston, History of the Town of Middleboro Massachusetts (1906)
Catherine S. Menand, A Research Guide to the Massachusetts Courts and Their Records (1987)

This posted was drafted by BC Law Library intern, Liz Walk, Boston College Class of 2016. 

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