Occasionally, our exhibit theme is simply recent additions to the Rare Book Room collection. This exhibit features additions from the past three or so years. Some items came to us by way of generous donors; we acquired others as part of our commitment to developing a collection that sheds light on the working lawyers of the past.
The exhibit is organized by major categories of growth, including Massachusetts imprints of legal works, law library catalogs, annotated books, materials that illuminate the inner workings of courts, briefs and writs written by working lawyers, as well as their account books and docket books. A sampling of some of our favorites are shown below.
The exhibit was curated by Laurel Davis. It will remain on view into early 2019. Please come in and take a look! The Rare Book Room is open weekdays from 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. The exhibit catalog is also available to download.
Statement of Account between Jedidiah Ellis, Sturbridge Blacksmith, and John Coburn. Sturbridge, MA, 1796-1800.
A $60 debit to Ellis’s account appears for “one black man,” likely hired out to Ellis by Coburn, as this document postdates the effective legal abolition of slavery in Massachusetts. The uncertainty surrounding this language, however, highlights the particularly precarious legal status of black people at this time, even in states where slavery had been abolished. A subsequent $55 credit is noted on Ellis’s account for a sorrel horse. Coburn apparently sued to collect the remainder, as receipt of payment is signed by Abner Morgan, justice of the peace.
Gift of Elton “Toby” Hall
Statement of Account between John Wentworth and Daniel Webster. [Portsmouth, NH], 1807.
Before beginning his career in politics, future U.S. Senator Daniel Webster practiced law in Portsmouth, New Hampshire from 1807 until 1813. His charges for services rendered to John Wentworth, a Portsmouth attorney and legal writer, were partially offset by a credit for a set of Wentworth’s Complete System of Pleading, a ten-volume work on civil practice and procedure.
Purchased with funds donated by Robert E. Brooker III
A Catalogue of the Library of the Late Charles Wren. Newcastle, 1799.
We focus our collecting efforts on law books used by actual working lawyers in England and colonial and early America. Examining library catalogs from those eras (both of institutions and individuals) provides one method for determining what books actually fall into that category. Wren, who practiced in the northeastern English town of Newcastle, amassed an impressive library of case reports, treatises, form books, and more that were sold at auction following his death in 1799. Our collection includes many of the titles that Wren owned.
Report of the Trial of McLaurin F. Cooke . . . Boston, .
Most of the Massachusetts imprints recently added to the collection are books--legal treatises such as Joseph Angell’s Treatise on the Law of Fire and Life Insurance (Boston, 1855). But we also were intrigued by this pamphlet, which relays the proceedings of an 1859 Boston trial regarding the alleged assault and battery by a teacher upon a Roman Catholic pupil for his refusal to recite the Protestant version of the Ten Commandments.
Richard Burn, The Justice of the Peace and Parish Officer. London, 1755.
Aimed at justices of the peace, who adjudicated many civil matters and less serious criminal offenses, Burn’s work is organized topically in alphabetical order from Alehouses to Wrecks (shipwrecks), with commentary and case and statutory citations for each topic. An early owner of our copy added around 70 pages of annotations and had them bound in at the rear of both volumes. This image is cropped from a scan of two facing pages that contain the owner’s annotations on the topics of Blasphemy, Bridges, and Burglary.
Docket Book of the Superior Court of Hampshire County, Massachusetts. 1864-80.
When the trial-level Court of Common Pleas was abolished in 1859, the Massachusetts Superior Court of today was formed. This docket book records what happened at the grand jury phase in over 200 Hampshire County cases involving larceny, forgery, assault, arson, etc. Entries with a “true bill” or “bill found” notation show that the grand jury indicted the defendant, while “no bill” indicates a finding of insufficient evidence to indict. Docket books such as this one allow us to see exactly what types of cases were going into the court system, as well as who was involved.
Writ of Attachment for Noah Webquish in Action Brought by James Otis. Barnstable, MA, 1733.
In addition to collecting books that were commonly used by working lawyers, we also collect documents that actually were produced by or on behalf of these lawyers. Otis was a prominent Massachusetts lawyer and judge. In 1733, he represented Noah Webquish’s son Phillip on a capital charge and helped him avoid execution, but Webquish apparently failed to pay his bill. Otis brought this action to collect his fee. Our collection includes several items related to Otis and his son, James Otis Jr., also a lawyer and a famous patriot of the American Revolution (“taxation without representation is tyranny”).
Theophilus Parsons, Plaintiff’s Brief in an Ejectment Case before the Supreme Judicial Court. Middlesex County, MA, 1794.
This eight-page document represents Parsons’s detailed analysis of a complicated inheritance case involving multiple parcels of Sudbury land. He cited many sources, including English case reports like those of Cowper and Croke (Massachusetts cases wouldn’t be published in a reporter for ten more years) and treatises like Fearne on Contingent Remainders. Parsons would go on to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court from 1806 until his death in 1813.
Docket Book of Charles Greene. Athens, Maine, 1816-33.
While we do collect material that illuminates the working lives of more famous lawyers like James Otis and Theophilus Parsons, we tend to focus on lesser-known attorneys with typical practices. Docket books and account books often provide the best glimpses into their lives as lawyers.
Charles Greene had a general law practice in Maine. The 1500+ entries in his docket book, with pre-printed column headings, show that Greene handled cases involving defamation, breach of contract, collection on unpaid notes, trespass, and more.
Account Book of William Jeffrey Read. Eastport, Maine, 1826-27.
Read, like Charles Greene, was another Maine lawyer in the early days of Maine’s statehood. As our friends at Lawbook Exchange wrote in the item’s description, Read’s account book “illuminates the daily work of his fledgling practice: dispensing advice, producing writs, drawing up deeds and purchasing office supplies.” He occasionally accepted goods like firewood, paper, and quills as payment for his services. Just as his practice was gaining traction, Read died suddenly in 1829 at age 29.
Daniel R. Coquillette Rare Book Room
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