Augusta County, Virginia, Court Records, District Court Records, 1789-1791


 (of the District composed of the Counties of Augusta, Rockbridge, Rockingham & Pendleton)

The author's Introduction is reproduced here:
It started with a dead body found in a cave. Rumors of grave-robbing came to the coroner's jury. Unacceptable comments on race were made and published. Mutual suits for slander were filed. Typical days for the Augusta County District Court?

It nearly was. While the above suit and countersuit between Alexander Humphreys and Michael Garber (beginning on page 164) is the most spectacular account in this volume, it is far from being the only scandal. In 1786 the papers in the office of Richard Madison, late Clerk of Court, were found to be in such disarray that his estate was sued for the cost of refiling them. In 1791 Sheriff Thomas Hughart was prosecuted for perjury for understating the amount of taxable property on the county rolls. Papers filed in that case (beginning on page 159) include both Hughart's list of taxables and the auditors version of the same.

There are suits about violent assaults ("after much disputing Mr Yeager flew to his Gun and snapt it at sd Evans that he the sd Evans seized the Gun and Bringing the Gun down struck Yeager on the forehead so as the Skin hung down over his eye" page 298) and vicious slander (page 182 "these false scandalous & defamatory words following that is to say she the said Mary meaning may perhaps not be with child at this time but the reason of it is that she ye said Mary meaning has made away with it meaning that she ye said Mary had been pregnant with a bastard child & had destroyed or murdered it ye said child") and extravagant language in general ("the sd Deft knowing the premises and greatly envying the happy state and condition of the said Alexander and contriving and maliciously intending the sd Alexander in his good name fame condition and reputation to hurt, injure, degrade and him in his Business aforesd to prejudice and damnify and to cause the sd Alexander to be esteemed and reputed a person guilty of Murder" page 273). Drama, faded to a rusty brown ink, still adheres to these pages.

The bulk of cases coming before the District Court were for debt. Many cases summarized in my earlier volume of Augusta District Virginia Court Records 1789-1797, New Papyrus Publishing, Athens GA, 2019, (hereafter Augusta District) appear in this one in greater detail. This present volume covers 1789-1793 and is a companion volume to the previous record. There is much overlap: this volume covers fewer cases but in greater detail and includes supporting documentation.

Some of the entries have quite interesting economic data. Several cases reference the severe inflation that took place as a result of the Revolutionary War. The Scale of Depreciation is mentioned, in October of 1780 it is specified as being Seventy three for one. An amount stated in the currency of another state is annotated with its value in Virginia currency. Many promissory notes require payment in gold or silver. The customary units are pounds, shillings, and pence, but dollars and other coinage are also mentioned. It is noted that the penal sum built into contracts is double the contracted amount (page 87), and that the penal for retarding execution of damages (by filing an appeal) is ten percent (page 122 and 253).

A lawsuit over the construction of a mill includes a very detailed list of parts and labor (page 104). A Richmond merchant supplying a Staunton merchant gives us an equally detailed view of items stocked in the Staunton store, and local produce shipped to Richmond (page 124). A suit in 1791 mentions the timber value of various trees illegally cut on the plaintiff's land (page 281). Notes of obligation were frequently reassigned as a form of currency, usually for 'value received' but at least once as the result of a bet on a horse race (page 270).

Slaves and slavery appear in many cases. They figure in failure to complete contract suits and more acrimoniously in suits arising from slaves given in wills or marriage portions. A will quoted on page 186 says "And first I leave and bequeath unto my beloved Wife Agness I leave and bequeath my Dwelling house and my Molatta Wench and ... two Mares one known by the name of Phenix and the other Munsey." Note the wife and the mares are identified by name. Slaves also had a tendency to become 'lost' and come into the possession of someone else 'by finding', generally on the same day, and lawsuits attempted to sort out the ownership. The soundness of a convict servant man (page 200) is argued in the same way as slaves are required to be sound.

Still, it is the cases with sexual implications that catch the attention. A jury in a breach of promise suit gave judgement for the woman. The man appealed the two hundred pounds damages to the higher court in Richmond (page 66). On page 152 a man sued for being accused of buggery, on page 91 a woman was tried and acquitted of infanticide. A man was slandered by an accusation of rape, alleging he came in through the bedroom window while the husband of the house was out fishing (page 202).

Women did demonstrate some independence in certain cases. Mary Devericks maintained her right to select her own 'next friend' to defend her from slander as she was unable due to her age to represent herself (page 273). Mary Teas undertook as Special Bail for John Reid that if he were cast (lost) in the case he would "Satisfy the Condemnation of the Court or Render his Body to prison in execution for the same" or else Mary Teas would do it for him (page 228).

The Revolution made little explicit impact in these pages. I found the use of 'Washington's birth night' as a calendar reference in 1789 interesting (page 98). In 1775 a Richmond merchant wrote " I wonder what their mad associations will come I am giddy when I think about the dispute it is too ardous a matter almost to think of. I wish they had taken more compleat methods" (page 139). Virginia was still called a 'Collony' in 1786 (page 55).

As a person with some experience trying to decipher old records, I sympathize with Andrew Reid copying records from 1746: "The above is a true copy so far as the original Deed can be Read it being shattered and worn so that the Clerks Name is entirely afaced" (page 84). It is not the fault of the clerks that I could not decipher Germanic names, but I included the images in hopes someone else can read them. The orthography of this volume was overall of high quality. The dramatic content was higher still.


 Karen Wagner Treacy

2022, paper, index, 339 pp.