Augusta District, Virginia, Court Records, 1789-1797 (of the District composed of the Counties of Augusta, Rockbridge, Rockingham, Pendleton and Bath)
Augusta District, Virginia, Court Records, 1789-1797 (of the District composed of the Counties of Augusta, Rockbridge, Rockingham, Pendleton and Bath).
Some examples from the author's Introduction are reproduced here:
The Court met twice a year, in April and September, in the Courthouse at Staunton, in Augusta County.
For finicky detail, this may possibly be the most challenging volume I have transcribed. One entry alone (page 34 of original manuscript) contained 41 names. I have done my best to reproduce the text as it is written, misspellings and all. For the index I adopted one standard spelling, as far as I could be reasonably sure that the entries referred to the same person. However, do check also other probable spellings. I am certain I have misread many names. Sorry. Quantum in me fuit!
Many of the cases were sent up from their respective county courts, but many were filed here as the court of origin. Unless agreed by the parties or dismissed by the plaintiffs, very few were settled at the first hearing. Most carried on from court to court, being continued even in spite of a jury verdict upon an appeal for a new trial. This makes the material in this volume quite repetitive. I have edited some entries, to remove the ‘boilerplate’ and focus on what really happened. All names have been retained, of course. Where I have omitted or abbreviated material, the summary is given in square braces. I shall give here, in the introduction, examples of the terminology which is repeated over and over.
An example from the beginning of page 12:
John McClery Plt
against In Debt
James Hawthorn & James Scott Defts
This day came as well the plt by his Attorney as William Scott Security for the Deft James Scott by his attorney, and There upon came also a Jury to wit Mathew Gamble, James Montgomery, Adam Bratton, James Hogg, John Bradshaw, James Knowls, Joseph Bell, James Guy, Joshua Parry, James Divier, George Benson and Edward Erwin who being elected tried and sworn the truth to speak upon the issue joined upon their oath do say that the said Deft hath not paid the Debt aforesaid as the plt in replying hath alledged, and they do assess the plts Damages by occasion of the detention of the said Debt to one penny besides his Costs. Therefore it is considered by the Court that the plt recover against the said Deft James Scott and William Scott his Security aforesaid Three hundred and one pounds eight Shillings, the debt in the declaration mentioned and his damages aforesaid in form aforesaid assessed, and his Costs in this behalf expended & the said Deft in Mercy &c.
But this Judgment is to be discharged by the payment of One hundred and three pounds two Shillings, with Interest on One hundred and fifty pounds fourteen Shillings to be computed after the rate of five per centum per Annum from the twenty third day of September 1784 ‘til the eighth day of August 1785 and then on one hundred and Ten pounds two shillings ‘til the 27th day of September 1785, and then on One hundred and three pounds two shillings ‘til paid and the Damages aforesaid and the Costs.
From pages 240-241:
– Aminidab Seekright plt
against In Ejectment for one tenement one Garden & one lot of land in the Town of Staunton known by the number Ten containing half an acre of arable Land on Water Street with the appurtenances lying & being in the County of Augusta of the Demise of Michael Fackler and Jacob Geiger
Ferdinando Dreadnought Deft
This day came the plaintiff by his attorney and on the motion of William Chambers by his attorney he is admitted defendant in this suit in the room of the said Dreadnought, pleads the general Issue, confesses the lease entry & ouster in the declaration supposd & enters into the common rule to insist only on the title at the trial. Wherefore the conditional Judgment obtained by the pltf in this cause is set aside & this suit is ordered to be continued until September Court next. And on the motion of the plaintiff by his attorney It is ordered that the Surveyor of Augusta County do go upon the Lands in controversy on the next Saturday after the third Tuesday in May next if fair, if not then on the next fair day, and survey and lay off the same as each party may require & return three fair platts & reports of the same to the Clerks office (page 241) sometime before September Court next, and that Alexander St Clair & Alex’r Humphreys Gentlemen Justices of the peace for the County of Augusta do then & there meet him and take the depositions of such witnesses as shall be produced on either side, which are to be returned with the said platts & reports and that the Sheriff of the said County attend the said Survey and remove force if any shall be offered.
In many cases concerning land title fictitious names are employed, such as Aminidab Seekright and Ferdinando Dreadnought. Others are Thomas Trytitle or Henry Goodtitle against David Notitle, or Soloman Saveall against Simpleton Spendall. As the case progressed, some individual would petition to be named the defendant in the case ‘in the room’ of the said Dreadnought or Spendall. If no one appeared to defend the case, the court would respond in this fashion.
From pages 21-22:
– Soloman Saveall plt
against In Ejectment for one plantation one messuage, one garden, & one hundred & thirty acres of land lying and being in the parish and county of Augusta of the demise of Joseph Malcom
Simpleton Spendall Deft
This day came the plt by his Attorney and it (page 22) appearing by the affidavit of Oliver McCoy that John Beveridge tennant in possession of the premises has been duly served with a Copy of the plts declaration and of the Note thereunder written, and the said John Beveridge not appearing, it is ordered that unless he having Notice of this order or those under whom he claims or some or one of them do appear here on the first day of April Court next and make himself herself or themselves Deft or Defts in this suit in the room of the said Spendall plead the General Issue, confess the lease, entry & ouster in the Declaration supposed, and enter into the common rule to insist on the title only at trial, Judgment shall be given for the plt and a writ of possession awarded him.
When a suit for possession was defended:
From page 97:
Aminidab Seekright plt
against In Ejectment for one plantation one messuage one garden and one hundred and fifteen acres of land in the County of Rockingham of the Demise of Andrew Cutler and Agness his wife & James Bowyer and Margaret his wife
Ferdinando Dreadnought Deft
Uriah Garton is on his motion admitted Deft in this suit in the room of the said Ferdinando Dreadnought and thereupon by Rich’d Stuart esq’r his Attorney comes and Defends the force and Injury, when and where the Court will consider thereof pleads the General Issue, confesses the lease entry & ouster in the Declaration Supposed and agrees to insist on the title only at the trial.
A person involved in a suit often was required to give security for his or her appearance or to guarantee financial liability. Usually this was the defendant, but not always. This was recorded in the following form:
From page 54:
William Chambers undertook that if the Deft be Cast in this suit he shall pay and satisfy the condemnation of the Court, or render his body to prison in execution for the same, or that he the said William Chambers will do it for him.
or (from page 431)
Robert Willson came personally into Court and undertook for the plaintiff that in case he be cast in this suit he will satisfy & pay the Defendant all such Costs & Damages as may be awarded against the s’d plff and that he will also discharge the officers fees due or to become due from the s’d plaintiff.
Punishments administered by the court were burning in the left hand for grand larceny (administered by the Jailer in the presence of the court, on several occasions) and hanging. Hanging was decreed for Elizabeth Hazle, in October 1791, for murder (the case originated in Rockingham County, where she was examined for suspicion of killing her base born child, see Chalkley), and for John Bullett, in October 1793, for horse stealing. The Sheriff of Augusta County was responsible for the executions. Two judges were present when hanging was ordered.
If the defendant was found not guilty of a major offense, that verdict was publicly announced.
From page 493:
against On a Commitment from the Examining Court of Rockingham County under a Charge of feloniously & forcibly making an Assault on Sally Olinger & by force & against her will having carnel knowledge of her Body
Jacob Goode Deft
This day Came the attorney prosecuting for the Commonwelth and the said Sally Olinger & Ann Good two of the witnesses for the Commonwealth not appearing tho’ solemnly called & no good cause being shewn why this Cause should be continued the said prisoner was led to the Bar in Custody of the Keeper of the public jail, and thereupon proclamation being made as the manner is & nothing appearing or being alledged against him & is ordered that he be discharged from his imprisonment.
A typical exoneration by the jury is as follows:
From page 37:
Henry Miller Plt
against In Trespass
Samuel Erwin Deft
This day came the parties by their attornies and thereupon came also a Jury towit. John Tate, Peter Hanger, James Buchanan, James Johnston, James Megongal, Jonathan Reid, Robert Douthat, Matthew Gamble, Andrew Steele, Gilbert Christian, Anthony Mustoe, & Hugh McDowell, who being elected tried and sworn the truth to speak upon the issue joined upon their oath do say that the Deft is not guilty of the Trespass in the declaration Mentioned, as in pleading he hath alledged. Therefore it is Considered by the Court that the plt take nothing by his bill but for his false clamour be in mercy &c. And that the Deft go thereof without day and recover against the said plt his costs by him about his defence in this behalf expended.
Fines for non-attendance for jury duty were imposed as follows.
From page 5:
– Alexander Gibson, John Brown, Peter Hanger & James Brown of the County of Augusta, and John Bowyer, Alexander Stuart & Andrew Moore of the County Rockbridge, who were summoned to appear here this day as Grand Jury men were severally solemnly called but came not. Therefore it is considered by the Court, that for their said contempt they severally make their fine with his Excellency Beverley Randolph esquire Governor or chief Magistrate of this Commonwealth, and his successors, for the use of the Commonwealth, by the payment of four hundred pounds of Tobacco each, unless they shall shew sufficient cause of their inabillity to attend at the next Court.
Later, the standard fine for non-appearance was eight dollars.
Monetary fines and damages were usually in pounds, shillings, and pence, but sometimes in dollars, and occasionally in tobacco. When interest was ordered it was always at five percent except for out of state obligations, where it followed the legal rate of that state.
Only a few entries take note of current events.
From pages 499:
On the motion of the Defendants by their attorney a Dedimus is awarded them to take the Depositions of Thomas Turk & Robert Craig who are afraid to attend the Trial on account of the small pox.
I rather enjoyed the tavern keeper on page 455 when he gently put his hands on the Defendant to put him out of his Tavern where he was breeding a riot & disturbing the peace of the House. Unfortunately the jurors decided against him. I am curious why Michael Garber gave testimony by affirmation (page 175), the only such instance in the record.
Those researching family history will find a few of the controversies over land to contain a surprising amount of family relationships. See entries for Mary Teas, Hugh Divier, and Robert Reed, for example. These records may also be helpful in establishing a death date. For convenience, I have added a section to the index of occasions where a cause abated (or a motion was made to have this occur) because of the death of one of the participants. Marriages are also mentioned such as Sampson Mathews & Cathrine his wife late Cathrine North, or James Beaty & Isabella his wife late Isabella Paul, Esther, Jane & Jenny Paul, Heirs of John Paul sen’r dec’d.
Some entries of particular interest follow the slave Robert Nailor, who petitioned for permission to sue his master for his freedom. An attorney was appointed for Nailor, who sued his owner, Samuel Meek, for assault and battery and false imprisonment. Meek was ordered not to sell or mistreat Nailor while his case was under adjudication, and was in fact brought up on contempt charges for doing so. The case came up on several occasions, but was not settled within the pages of this volume, being repeatedly continued as Nailor sought depositions from witnesses in other counties. Later Nailor was addressed as being in the possession of James Cochran, who was ordered to produce him in court, and to provide assistance in obtaining depositions. I wish I knew how this turned out.
That’s the way it is with many of the cases here. We see the legalities, but not the story behind them. Why did Samuel and Jane Estill sue repeatedly to eject her mother from her land? Why did George Benson and Thomas Feemster have such a confrontation about stolen butter? Why did Sally Olinger not follow through with her charge of rape? Why did the Justices of Pendleton County sue their Clerk of Court? We only wade through 526 pages of suits and countersuits because beyond the facts of the cases we glimpse the people and personalities.