The Early Establishment of Local Government: County, Town, Legal System, Seventeenth Century

Early Establishment of Local Government: County, Town, Legal System (17th Century)

  • Virginia – 1634
    • Dividing Virginia into 8 shires:
      • James City
      • Henrico
      • Charles City
      • Elizabeth City
      • Warwick River
      • Warrosquyoake
      • Charles River
      • Accawmack
    • Lieutenants, same as in England, but mostly to deal with Indians
    • Sheriffs, same as in England
    • Sergeants & bailiffs as needed
    • Commissioners can determine causes of £10+
    • One of the council must visit & help with each shire court
  • Virginia – 1643, Jurisdiction
    • Commissioners of each county will have the power to hear & determine debts under 1600 lbs. of tobacco (or £ equivalent). Courts will meet monthly. Some courts, if not terribly busy, will only meet 6 times a year
    • Commissioners are to prevent suits designed to ruin poor men with petty & trivial claims
      • No court will hear cases of under 20 s. (or 200 lbs. of tobacco). These will be adjoined to any further complaint against the accused. If not paid, commissioner may imprison those found guilty
    • Virginia – 1643, Trial by Jury
      • If the plaintiff or defendant wishes, they may ask for a trial by jury. Requests have to be made with the Court’s Secretary & the Clerk
    • Massachusetts – 1635-1636, Jurisdiction
      • Free men of every town will be able to buy & sell their own lands & woods along with privileges & appurtenances of the towns, to grant lots & make orders for the welfare of the town, not repugnant to the General Court
        • Punishments & penalties will be issued for breaches, not exceeding 20 s.
      • They may choose officers, constables (at least 2 in each town), highway surveyors, etc.
    • Hartwell, et al., The Present State of Virginia – 1697 (Concerning the Administration of Justice in Virginia
      • Courts of justice aren’t as distinct as in England. Most cases are decided in one type of court. There are 2 types of courts: County Court & General Court
        • County Court – in each county with 8 to 10 men given a commission by the governor, to be Justices of the Peace whose term is to be renewed every year. They will take oaths of duty & allegiance, etc. Court is held once a month (6 times a year in slow counties), deciding cases above 20 s. (or 200 lbs. of tobacco), except in cases of loss of life & limb, which go to the General Court
          • Historically, these were manned by locals with no legal training & rulings were either wrong or irregular. Judges had to be imported from England but weren’t able to be trained in Virginia
        • General Court – deals with cases concerning all of Virginia. These are held twice a year by the governor & council in Jamestown. There ought to be a check on who serves on the court. But the governor appoints those he feels are qualified, with obvious limitations due to the circumstances
          • Cases of £16 or (1600 lbs. of tobacco) – this fulfills the colonial version of the Chancery, King’s Bench, Common Pleas, Admiralty & Spirituality courts.
          • No appeals at the moment, except in cases of the King in Council & cases of over £300 of costs & damages
          • These courts aren’t up to the standard of those in England. The procedures lock the nuances & particulars
          • Juries are hard to convene because jurists are called from far away to hear cases. These can be costly to jurors & are used more rarely than in England

Author: knowit68

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