Newsletter of
The Maryland State Archives
Vol. 16, No. 7
April 8, 2002

Page 2
The Archivists' Bulldog
by  Karen Hare

Recently, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law who was researching lynchings on the Eastern Shore in the 1930s approached the Archives' staff with a research request. The professor wanted to find court papers on the trial of George Davis, a man convicted of attempted assault on a woman in Kent County in 1932. Because Davis had narrowly escaped lynching in Kent County, his trial was moved to Cecil County. 

Knowing that the judicial records retention schedule called for criminal case files to be destroyed after twelve years, the research staff originally thought the search for the records of the trial would be an exercise in futility. We could locate the docket entry for the case in (Criminal Docket) in series T2955, but this only outlined actions in the trial. The online guide to government records listed no criminal papers for Cecil County. After a lesson in judicial record keeping practices, we found another source to check. 

In most court clerks' offices until the mid 20th century civil and criminal case papers were folded and filed together chronologically by court term and sometimes by type of record, such as criminal, judicial, grand jury, etc. Not until flat filing was introduced did it become the norm to maintain civil and criminal papers separately and to retain together all materials pertaining to an individual case. 

When dealing with the intermingled civil and criminal files, the Archives usually assigns the generic series title of (Court Papers). For Cecil County this led to series T1836 that contains 64 cubic feet of materials dating from 1884. The preliminary inventory showed two boxes covering 1931-1932. Gently pulling apart the dried rubber bands that once held each bundle of tightly-packed papers together, my anticipation grew as I discovered that the box was divided into labeled sections and that there was indeed a portion for

criminal cases. Before long, I was holding the prized papers pertaining to the trial of George Davis. 

The Davis file contained copies of the presentment and indictment from Kent County, orders for summons, and lists of witnesses. The actual proceedings of the trial itself are not available because a transcript does not exist. Court reporters prepare transcripts from their notes only for appealed cases or other specified purposes. The Davis case was not appealed. 

Lesson learned from this research venture: Listen to the experts, follow your instincts, and keep going even when the rotten rubber bands snap in your face. 

by Pat Melville

Judicial Cases Concerning American Slavery and the Negro, Vol. IV, Hellen Tunnicliff Catterall, ed., p. 57, contains a brief reference to a murder case where the sentence was fourteen years of labor on the public roads of Baltimore County. The author's ongoing research into road records and the unusual punishment for a crime led to further investigation of the matter and, ultimately, to learning the potential fallacy of relying on assumptions. 

Catterall's extraction came from I Harris and Johnson 99 that contained the arguments and opinion concerning the sentence given Negro Ben by the General Court of the Eastern Shore in September 1801. The court had tried and convicted the defendant of murder and sentenced him to fourteen years of labor on Baltimore County roads, pursuant to the Acts of 1793, Ch. 57, sec. 13. The Attorney General questioned the legality of the sentence since murder was not one of the felonies enumerated in sec. 10 of the act. The Chief Judge concluded: "That murder was a felony within the meaning of the act of 1793, and that therefore the prisoner's case was within that act.  It was therefore adjudged, that

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The Archivists' Bulldog 
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LESSON (continued from Page 2)

he should labour on the public roads of Baltimore County for the term of fourteen years." 

As research continued, a question lurked in the background. Why was the trial involving a murder committed in Baltimore County being heard by the General Court of the Eastern Shore instead of the General Court of the Western Shore?

The next step involved a search of the docket book for an outline of the case. Nothing appeared in (Docket) in series S479 in the book covering the September 1801 court term. In fact the volume contained no separate section for criminal cases. A search of the case files in (Judgments) in series S471 netted the same result. Only an entry in (Minutes) in series S484 contained information about the trial, meager though it was. The name of the person murdered was not recorded, nor was the place. The notations did include the charge, verdict, sentence, and names of the jurors and witnesses. The sentence included an order to the sheriff of Caroline County to transport the prisoner to Baltimore County. Three of the nine witnesses - Dr. Andrew Mitchell, Thomas Wing, and John Flaherty - were listed in the Census of 1800 as residents of Caroline County.

By now it seemed fairly conclusive that the murder occurred in Caroline, not Baltimore  County. Newspaper abstracts contained no references to the trial. The newspapers themselves are unavailable at the State Archives. 

The final phase of the research led to a review of the legislation empowering the General Court to impose the road labor sentence, and led the author to conclude that this should have been the first document read. Baltimore County would have been eliminated immediately as the venue for the crime. Chapter 57 of the Acts of 1793 concerned punishments for criminal actions. Section 10 gave judges the authority to sentence free men and male servants, convicted of specified crimes, to labor on roads in the respective counties or the streets of Baltimore. Section 13 applied to slaves convicted of criminal charges where the sentence could be death. In such instances the judge could "in their discretion adjudge such slave to serve and labour for such time as they may think proper, not exceeding fourteen years ..., on the public roads of Baltimore county, or in making, repairing or cleaning the streets or bason [sic] of Baltimore-town...."

Owners of slaves sentenced under this section 13 were given compensation that was set by the judges and paid by the county government. The judges of the General Court of the Eastern Shore valued Negro Ben at £80 common currency, but the clerk did not record the name of the owner. 

by Christine Alvey 

Andersen, Patricia Abelard. Frederick County, Maryland Land Records Liber M Abstracts, 1768 - 1770
Athey, Thomas Whitfield, III. Family of Henry Athey of Maryland, South Carolina, and Alabama
Baldwin, John D., III. Hamilton Family of Prince George's County, Maryland to Monongalia and 
     Preston Counties, (West) Virginia, Fayette County, PENNA and Beyond
Barnes, John W. and Clark S. Hobbs. Baltimore Plan [video recording of the original Encyclopedia 
    Britannica 16mm film]
Black, Henry Campbell. Black's Law Dictionary
Boswell, Mary Jones Manci. Boswells of Charles County, Maryland, 1668 - 1811

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LIBRARY ACCESSIONS (continued from Page 3)

Brown, Philip L. Mount Moriah Story, 1875-1973
Bryan, Alfred Cookman. History of State Banking in Maryland
Burke, Bernard, Sir, 1814 - 1892. General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales
Cameron, Donna, ed. Arbutus: A Historical Scrapbook
Cannon, Doug. Cannon Compilation, Nanticoke James' Neighborhood: Documents Regarding His 
     Progeny, Neighbors, In-Laws, Dorchester County, Maryland and Northwest Fork Hundred, Sussex 
     County, Delaware, 1688 - 1843
Carter, Edward C., II, ed. Three Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1804 - 1806: From the 
     Collections of the American Philosophical Society, a Facsimile Edition