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Proceedings of the County Court of Charles County, 1658-1666
Volume 53, Preface 25   View pdf image (33K)
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             xxv                  Early Maryland County Courts.

       Provincial Court (pp. 18, 19). Of course it does not follow that even when
       an appeal was taken the case necessarily reached the higher court, as the appellant
       may have decided later not to prosecute an appeal, or the case may have been
       settled out of court. In at least one instance the Provincial Court sent down a
       case to a county court with instructions to summons a jury to determine the
       facts, apparently because the witnesses were nearer at hand (pp. 19, 20).
        In the suit of John Wells vs. Thomas Norris, heard at the November 1671
       Talbot County Court, the defendant craved an appeal before judgment to
       the justices of the next Provincial Court, but the county court answered that
       it had “Noe Rules for Apeales Before Judgmt for all Appeales are Aifter
       Judgmt”; the defendant then replied that the Chancellor had held at the last
       Provincial Court that all appeals ought to he before judgement, but the county
       court refused to grant an appeal (Arch. Md. liv, 51 1).
        At least three-quarters of all the cases coming before the county courts were
       to enforce the payment of private debts. It is to be noted that interest is nearly
       always referred to as “ forbearance “, although the former term is occasionally
       found. The regular procedure in these suits for debts was for the plaintiff to
       secure a “warrant “ from the county clerk which was turned over to the sheriff
       for service, and the “arrest” of the defendant. It is probable that in most
       cases such " arrest “ was technical, and that only in instances where the sheriff,
       who was liable, was suspicious of the defendant, was he actually held a prisoner
       until his case came up for trial at the next court (Arch. Md. i, 492). Where
       witnesses were required by either party, subpoenas for them were issued by the
       clerk for the sheriff to serve. It is surprising in what a large proportion of
       the cases coming to trial the defendants confessed judgement without disputing
       the claim. It would almost appear that the defendant allowed the suit to come
       to trial so that the payment of the debt might thus be made a matter of record.
       In most cases a “bill of debt “, equivalent to the modern promissory note, was
       submitted in evidence. Failure to satisfy the judgement was generally followed
       by execution upon the property of the defendant, and if this were insufficient to
       satisfy the debt, execution upon his person, and imprisonment for the amount
       of the debt. Court costs including jurors' fees if there were a jury, together
       with the sheriff's imprisonment charges, had to be satisfied before the defen
       dant could be released, unless a tender-hearted creditor relented and paid the
       costs himself. It is to be noted that the phraseology used by the clerk to set
       forth these steps in a suit for debt varied greatly in different counties and
       under different clerks. In 1676 a law was enacted providing that suits involv
       ing debts of not over 1500 pounds of tobacco might be heard and determined
       before two justices of a county court (Arch. Md., ii, 537-538). As time passed
       popular demand became more and more insistent that the powers of the county
       courts be increased, so that the public might not be subjected to the expense
       of a trip to St. Mary's, or Annapolis, for a hearing in the Provincial Court.
        Four cases before the county courts were suits to recover gambling debts.
       At the November, 1662, Charles County Court suit was entered to enforce the
       payment of a bill which had been given in payment of losses incurred at a
       game of dice called “passage “, played at Capt. William Batten's house “on a

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Proceedings of the County Court of Charles County, 1658-1666
Volume 53, Preface 25   View pdf image (33K)
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