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Volume 89
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First Page

Somerset County Court (Judicial Record)
November 9, 1675 - August 12, 1677

First Page

The eighty-ninth volume of the Archives of Maryland series was published in 1999, transcribed by Atwood S. Barwick from the microfilm copy. The volume covers the judicial record of the Somerset County Court from October 25, 1671 to October 20, 1675. The numbering starts with page 19 because the first 18 pages of the volume contain land records for 1706.

Volume 89 of the Somerset Judicial Records covers thirteen sessions held between November 1675 and August 1677. [See session list.] The volume comprises 115 pages, numbered 19 through 133, none of which are misnumbered; folio 114 is blank. [Note: All folio references are to the folio number of the document, not the page number of the Archives of Maryland volume. In addition, each folio reference is to the beginning of the entry in the judicial record only.]

A total of fifteen different men served the county as a justice of the peace during this period: Charles Ballard (nine sessions), Henry Boston (one session), William Brereton (seven sessions), David Browne (eleven sessions), William Coulbourne (eight sessions), James Dashiell (six sessions), William Ennis (one session), Francis Jenkins (one session), George Johnson (eight sessions), James Jones (nine sessions), William Jones (seven sessions), Nicholas Rice (two sessions), Edward Smith (two sessions), William Stevens (twelve sessions), John Winder (seven sessions), and Roger Woolford (four sessions). Thomas Walker was also named in the commission of 1676 but did not sit as a justice, having replaced William Coulbourne as sheriff during the June session of that year. Edmund Beauchamp served as clerk of the county court throughout the period.

A number of lesser public officials appear in volume 89, including constables, undersheriffs, pressmasters, road overseers, and the court crier. The justices appointed constables twice, during the November sessions of 1675 (f.19) and 1676 (f. 61). Seven constables held office every year, each serving as the sheriff's agent in one of the seven hundreds, or geographical sub-regions, of the county. Only one man, Nehemiah Covington, filled the post of constable for two consecutive years. Thus a total of thirteen men served as constables during the period covered by this volume.

Although the judicial record does not include formal appointments of undersheriffs (i.e., deputy sheriffs), the sheriff did have men who assisted him on a county-wide basis. During the August 1677 session, for example, Alexander King sued William Coulbourne for the fees King should have received while acting as Coulbourne's deputy (f. 131). An additional reference to an undersheriff appears in an earlier case, when Ambrose Dixon appeared before the court to answer charges that he "did openly & violently by force of armes & divers threatning & abusive speeches withstand and oppose" William Stevens, undersheriff to Thomas Walker, when Stevens tried to collect tobacco for Dixon's taxes (f. 109). King and Stevens are the only undersheriffs identified by name in volume 89.

As required by an act of the provincial assembly, at the August 1676 session the justices appointed two "pressmasters & providers of provisions" for each hundred (f. 44). [For the act, see volume 2, page 557.] The provincial order regarding pressmasters, recorded in the judicial record (f. 51), specifies that these men held authority to gather "all manner of armes amunition provision men & horses" if called upon to do so in order to raise troops against any "Indian enemy." It is not clear from this particular volume whether pressmasters were intended to serve indefinitely; the record includes neither dismissals nor additional appointments.(1)

At the November session in 1675 the court appointed nine men to serve as road overseers during the ensuing year (f. 19). The overseer appointments do not perfectly correspond to the hundreds, as some of the men were to oversee an entire hundred, while others were assigned to parts of two hundreds. An order issued by the court in September 1676 clarified that the overseers were to "make & amend" the county roads before November court (f. 54). A subsequent record implies that many overseers failed to carry out their duty within the stipulated time, as the justices ruled in November that the present overseers were to remain in charge of the roads until January court, when they would be replaced by a new set of men who were to "take the chardge upon them untill it be otherwise ordered" (f. 66). To assist them in their efforts to clear and maintain the county roads, overseers had authority to call upon the householders who resided within their jurisdiction. A man who failed to provide labor for the roads when required risked being fined one thousand pounds of tobacco.

This volume of the judicial record contains only one reference to the court crier. At the end of the October 1676 session the justices directed the sheriff to pay five hundred pounds of tobacco to "Richard Brittaine Cryer" (f. 61).

* * * * * * * *

Throughout the colonial period county justices oversaw the care of orphan children. The court assumed responsibility for all children who had lost their father, but if their mother lived the justices did not generally remove children or their estates from the mother's care. Volume 89 provides a handful of examples of this role of the court. The justices bound out two children, William Evett and Richard Boston, to service (ff. 60, 133), and appointed guardians for three children: Christopher Manlove, Isaac Boston, and Esau Boston (ff. 63, 98).(2)

* * * * * * * *

The Somerset County court functioned in part as the executive branch of county government and as such could issue orders that addressed a wide variety of issues. Orders ranged from straightforward appointments of county officials (discussed above) to more complicated decisions regarding such items as decedent estates and taxation. In January of 1676/7, for example, the court ordered Henry Boston to provide a security for his administration of his father's estate and in June of the same year directed Boston to deliver part of the estate to his sisters (ff. 75, 98). Similarly, the justices issued an order during the January 1676/7 session instructing Thomas Manlove to pay that year's taxes for his half-brother, Christopher, but stipulated that Mark Manlove (Thomas's brother, and Christopher's newly-appointed guardian) should compensate Thomas for Christopher's accommodation during the time Christopher lived with Thomas (f. 77).

Volume 89 includes one particularly noteworthy judicial order. At the September court of 1676 the justices summoned a number of county residents in order to collect a quantity of matchcoats and then ordered that the matchcoats be delivered to Annacockeson, emperor of the Nanticoke Indians (f. 54).(3) This order provides evidence of a period of negotiation between Annacockeson and county residents, as the record states that Annacockeson had agreed to accept a smaller number of matchcoats "then hath been promised & usually is given" by people settling "where ye Emperour claimes some prerogative," if the court would "advance itt for him." The court accordingly summoned "above thirty" residents who were to "advance every one a little." This action generated merely four matchcoats, whereupon the court requested volunteers "to answer [Annacockeson's] expectation who then was come in a very friendly manner to ye Cort: and ye first time hee ever was att ye County Cort:." The justices' appeal garnered twenty-two more matchcoats (fifteen from several of the justices themselves), which evidently provided enough to satisfy Annacockeson.

The county court issued a number of orders in response to petitions from county residents. The petitions recorded in volume 89 involve orphans, servants, estates, and poor relief. During the November session of 1675, for example, William Brereton petitioned the court to confirm a written agreement whereby Ursula Brian bound her daughter to Brereton's service for seventeen years (f. 19). In November 1676 the justices granted James Johnson's petition for relief from taxes, as he "hath not any thing to helpe [himself] withall & being of Seaventy yeares of age not able to doe any thing to gett [his] Living being Soe poore not able to pay [his] Taxes" (f. 66).

* * * * * * * * *

Volume 89 of the Somerset judicial record provides ample evidence of the manner in which records kept by the county clerk served as a source of communal memory. This volume contains numerous items that involve neither criminal nor civil prosecutions but rather stand as a matter of record. Such items include deeds of gift or sale (e.g., ff. 52, 58, 78, 95), powers of attorney (ff. 38, 68), a handful of wills and other records involving estates (ff. 43, 67, 81, 110, 112, 119), and notations regarding the collection and distribution of county revenues (f. 129). Useful demographic evidence can be found in the two most numerous types of information recorded by the clerk: age judgments for newly-arrived servants (ff. 21, 28-29, 41, 45, 74-75, 80-81, 87, 99-100, 118-119, 122) and banns (ff. 27, 39, 42-43, 45, 54, 59-60, 70, 85, 100-101, 121). The judicial record also includes arrangements regarding servitude, including extra service for runaway time, that are not cast as civil prosecutions (ff. 27, 94, 112, 117).

Two entries in particular highlight both the usefulness of the clerk's record to serve as public notice and the maritime focus of early Somerset's economy. In the first, recorded after the adjournment of the September session of 1676, Katherine Draper entered a caveat to prevent creditors from any effort to administer the estate of her husband, Alexander (f. 59). The record clarifies that Alexander "went out of this county in a ketch called ye Phoenix bound for Barbadoes" but was rumored "by reason of so long [a] voyadge . . . to be lost at sea." In the second, included at the beginning of the January session of 1676/7, county resident William Chambers "made knowne his intention for goeing into England this yeare" (f. 70).

* * * * * * * * *

The various proceedings surrounding debt prosecutions unmistakably dominate not only the court's civil caseload but also the judicial record itself. Most of the assorted warrants, writs, judgments, and attachments transcribed in volume 89 leave no clues as to the underlying debts that prompted civil suits involving county residents. Those cases that do include accounts generally stem from purchases of basic commodities, especially sugar, rum, cloth, clothing, and clothing accessories (e.g., ff. 21, 33, 64, 92, and 123).

Despite the general reticence of the judicial record regarding debt prosecutions, several cases provide useful evidence of the myriad of economic activities in which Somerset residents engaged. As one might expect, indications of tobacco production prevail, from the occasional mention of a hilling hoe or tobacco casks in an account to the consistent use of tobacco as currency. In addition, the records suggest such activities as farm-building, raising livestock, coastwise trading, and lumber extraction. During the March 1675/6 session (adjourned into April 1676), for example, the justices heard William Walston's charge that Thomas Jones had failed to pay him for his work not only "to weatherboard & cover a dwelling house" but also "to provide & gett . . . two thousand boards rived & drawne" (f. 40). In August of 1676 the court ordered William Coulbourne to pay Walter Lane for "a voyadge . . . to Great Manny to fetch tobacco" and "a voyadge . . . to Boquetenorton in [Coulbourne's] shallop & to write for [Coulbourne] & keepe his bookes having goods to sell on board" (f. 50). John Tyler sued Alexander Draper during the February session of the following year for failure to use his shallop "to fetch thirty cutts of board timber from Pocomoke" (f. 83).

Although debt prosecutions dominated the civil docket, the judicial record identifies a handful of cases stemming from other causes. Three county residents sought damages from their neighbors for defamation (ff. 22, 23, 72) while four initiated civil prosecutions for assault and battery (ff. 74, 91, 106, 107). In November of 1675 Alexander Younger found it necessary to declare an action of detinue against Edward Smith in order to recover "one trunke with severall goods in it & bills" (f. 24). John Aleward initiated a case against his servant Mary Dixon in January of 1676/7 alleging a breach of promise, as she refused to marry him after he purchased and freed her for that purpose (f. 72). Finally, the justices heard a number of cases in which masters and servants negotiated terms of service (e.g., ff. 20, 62, 66, 90).

* * * * * * * * *

During the thirteen sessions covered by this volume, the justices presided over a variety of criminal prosecutions. The court reviewed four allegations of murder or manslaughter; one was dismissed by the grand jury (f. 123), one was dismissed by the justices (f. 45), and two were sent to the Provincial Court, which held jurisdiction for capital crimes (f. 80). Occasional crimes brought before the court that involved violent actions and/or threats include charges against Thomas Jones and William Layton. During the August session in 1677 Richard Higgenbothem swore the peace against Thomas Jones and the grand jury presented Thomas Jones and William Layton for abusing David Browne (a justice) and his family (f. 124). Subsequent testimony clarifies that while at Browne's house Jones "violently [fell] upon . . . Higgenbothem . . . to thrust him out of doores & did beate him severall blowes" after threatening "severall civill neighbours draweing his rapier . . . untill some left their hatts in theire flight to escape him." After Browne broke up the fight (in which William Layton was also involved) Jones allegedly "laid hold upon [Browne] rending [his] shirt in pieces & often calling [him] Scotts rogue," an ethnic insult that appears with some regularity in the Somerset records and is indicative of recurring tension between Scots Presbyterians and English Anglicans. The judicial record includes several pages of depositions about the events at Browne's house, but a resolution of the case is absent from Volume 89 and records for the next few court sessions are not extant.

Interestingly, a man who gave a deposition in the Jones case, Edward Frye, is the defendant in the most unusual criminal case heard by the court during the period covered by volume 89. Frye appeared before the justices during the same August 1677 session to answer a complaint that he "ought to be returned into [Virginia] . . . being a person [that] had been in armes agt. his majestie in ye late insurrection," -- doubtless a reference to Bacon's Rebellion (f. 121). Frye requested "time to clear himselfe," whereupon the court ordered a special hearing "to examine ye business;" regrettably, the records of that hearing do not survive.

The court records included in volume 89 document relatively few prosecutions of sexual crimes.(4) The grand jury presented six women for bearing children out of wedlock. Of these six women, three subsequently appeared before the justices and acknowledged their crime. Abigail Harringdon apparently was accompanied by John Chancellour, the father of her child; both were punished with twenty lashes (f. 37).(5) Neither Rachel Grundy nor Florence Tucker named a father, but both were spared corporal punishment, as each instead gave security that an able-bodied man would provide a specified number of days constructing a bridge over Dividing Creek.(6) The remaining three women named in grand jury presentations did not appear before the court during a session included in this volume.

The Somerset County justices presided over an additional handful of miscellaneous criminal cases. The grand jury that convened in November 1676 presented William Furniss "for comeing upon the land of Mr. [Randall] Revell & marking & carryeing away shoats & piggs," but this volume does not record any subsequent action of the court (f. 61). During the same session a trial jury acquitted John Kimball of charges that he brought mares, geldings, and colts into the county "to ye great damadge & vexacon" of the people (f. 65). The court summoned Samuel Jones in January of 1676/7 after he allegedly said "there was a list with severall mens hands to itt [that] they would pay noe taxes" (f. 77). The justices dismissed the case because they could find "noe witness to prove ye chardge." Similarly, John Simons appeared before the court in June of 1677 "for saying hee did lye with John Colehounes wife" but was discharged, "there being noe proofe" (f. 110). At the same session Ambrose Dixon craved "pardon & forgiveness . . . promising amendment for ye future" in response to charges that he "did . . . alter & dispose of five [hogsheads] of tobacco" that had been designated as payment for taxes (f. 109).(7)

Four remaining criminal cases indicate a somewhat uneasy coexistence with Native Americans. At the January session of 1675/6, the court considered charges that George Johnson and Edward Smith (both justices) had sold ammunition to the Indians. Four men appeared to give testimony against Johnson, but the court found "nothing of proofe from the evidences" and discharged Johnson by proclamation. The charge against Edward Smith alleged that he sold "powder & shott" but as "no evidences [appeared] to make good the charge" he was also discharged by proclamation. Just over a year later, at a session held in February of 1676/7, Peter Whaples and Thomas Willis appeared in court "to [answer] unto ye Parrahawkin Indians for taking away beanes & pease from them." The two defendants acknowledged their crime and agreed to "pay & carry to ye said Indians double ye quantity of beanes & pease they tooke from them." Interestingly, the record specifies that the Indians desired the double compensation rather than corporal punishment.(8)

* * * * * * * * *

Volume 89 of the Somerset County judicial record thus documents two years of court sessions. During this period the court handled routine administrative matters and issued a variety of ad hoc orders as circumstances warranted. In addition, the justices presided over the civil and criminal prosecutions that formed the bulk of the court's responsibilities.


1. During the mid-eighteenth century, only two pressmasters served at a time and were jointly responsible for the entire county. These men held annual appointments.

2. Issac and Esau Boston were half-brothers of Richard Boston, as all three were sons of Henry Boston (d.1676). Richard, however, was illegitimate (born to Judith Best, who subsequently married Thomas Davis), which likely accounts for his different treatment by the court.

3. Matchcoats were a kind of mantle formerly worn by American Indians, originally made of fur skins, and afterwards of match-cloth -- a coarse woollen cloth [OED].

4. During the period 1723 to 1762, sexual misconduct accounted for nearly half of criminal presentations. The comparable figure for this volume of court records is roughly a third.

5. Abigail and John later married (f. 60).

6. It is quite likely that both Rachel and Florence bore children fathered by their masters (Francis Roberts and Edward Stevens, respectively). Their masters' involvement may account for the relative leniency of the court.

7. Dixon's actions (including abuse and assault of an undersheriff) constituted such a severe contempt of authority that in addition to seeking pardon from the county court Dixon was commanded to attend the provincial court to "suffer such condigne punishment for ye same as [the court] shall shall think fitt to inflict upon him."

8. During the mid-eighteenth century, the court generally punished theft both with corporal punishment and with four-fold compensation.

The first digital edition of the Archives of Maryland series is being published by the Maryland State Archives through a grant from the Information Technology Fund of the State of Maryland. As part of an ongoing effort to provide greater access to Maryland Legal History, the Archives will be bringing the printed Archives of Maryland series online and expanding the contents with links to scans of historical documents.

Volume 89
Source Documents

  1675-1677, MSA CM 962-4
First Page

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