Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Pay up or off to prison!

Promissory note and writ
This pair of documents recounts a trying period in the life of one Robert Taylor. The first, smaller piece of paper is a promissory note, signed on 18 February 1780, in Milton, Massachusetts. Taylor promises to deliver Isaac Davenport 300 “weight” of good merchantable flax by April 1 of the same year in exchange for £20.

The next document makes it clear that he did not deliver Davenport the flax. A forerunner of today’s fill-in- the-blanks legal forms, this is a writ, addressed to the sheriff of Worcester County, for the arrest of Taylor.

If the law caught up with Taylor, he would have been placed in debtors’ prison. Next week’s blog and selection from the Rare Book Room will examine the conditions Taylor would have faced in the prison, as well as a look at the history of debtors’ prisons in Massachusetts and the United States at large.

This post was written by BC Law Library intern, Allison Shely, Boston College Class of 2017. 

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