Fincastle County, Virginia Court Records, Order Books 1 and 2, 5 January 1773 to 3 September 1776
Fincastle County, Virginia Court Records, Order Books 1 and 2, 5 January 1773 to 3 September 1776.
Containing a verbatim transcription of records for every court held in Fincastle. From the Introduction:
Fincastle County Virginia was in existence only between 1773 and 1776, a mere three years, yet those three years were some of the most formative of the Virginia frontier. Once the treaty of Fort Stanwix was signed in 1768, enabling settlers to return to their homesteads, the economic tableland of Virginia began tipping toward the Southwest. The first official response was the 1770 formation of Botetourt County, to separate from the unmanageably large Augusta County an administrative area that could respond to the needs of the Western Waters. Between its own oversized territory and the increasing population, and the need for protection from Indian raids, Botetourt spun off Fincastle County in 1773, to govern the area during the crucial years of Dunmore’s War and the beginnings of the Revolution. One of the earliest expressions of the growing need for American independence was the Fincastle Resolutions of 1775, addressed to the Virginia Continental Congress. All thirteen signers appear in these pages as prominent men of Fincastle County.
William Campbell; Arthur Campbell; William Christian; Walter Crockett; Charles Cummings; William Edmondson; William Ingles; Thomas Madison; James McGavock; John Montgomery; William Preston; Evan Shelby; and Stephen Trigg,
Two extremely valuable reference works which should be consulted for any study of Virginia frontiersmen in this period are among the many useful publications by Mary Kegley: New River Tithables, 1770-1773 (1972) and Soldiers of Fincastle County, 1774 (1974). Reuben Gold Thwaites and Louise Phelps Kellogg, eds. Documentary History of Dunmore's War, 1774. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society, 1905, is indispensable for the context of the abbreviated county courts in the frenzied activity of Dunmore’s War. In 1776 The Virginia Convention revisited the Fincastle County government. All county officers swore new oaths to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Yet the reach of the county court was still inadequate to the geographical range of its boundaries, and once again the county was split. This time Fincastle County disappeared from the books, replaced by Washington, Montgomery, and Kentucky Counties. Kentucky County would eventually become an entire state. Washington and Montgomery Counties survive, although as the remnants left as more new counties were created. The town of Fincastle is now the county seat of Botetourt County. The original proposed county seat for Fincastle, near the Lead Mines, is now in Wythe County. Three years of court minutes filled 300 pages in two ledgers. In book 1, the first 149 pages comprise the Fincastle minutes through November 1773, at which point the book was apparently lost for a time. It resumes on page 150 with the Montgomery County court for 25 January 1785. Fincastle minutes begin again in a second volume, covering pages 1-151, ending with 3 September 1776 and then continuing directly on to Montgomery County Court of 7 January 1777. The time court sat in session shortened and the time between courts grew with the frontier and political unrest. Several chronological discrepancies exist, with entire court sessions entered out of order. The bulk of the material is lawsuits for debt. Was the drive to have a court close at hand really for the benefit of the shop keepers, in order to more effectually collect their accounts? Civil cases predominated. A County Sheriff had more economic functions than law enforcement duties. The odd case of theft or trover, slander, rumor-mongering, several cases of trespass, assault and battery (abbreviated TAB), and one accusation of attempted murder: these are the criminal proceedings. Government was more concerned with other matters of public interest: certifying hemp crops, surveying and recording deeds, the orderly administration of estates, opening and maintaining roads, licensing ferries and ordinaries, managing tithables and taxation, and supporting the local militia. Two books have been published containing the Fincastle Court minutes. Lewis P Summers in 1929 published Annals of Southwest Virginia. This contained about 25% the court minutes, enough to give a feel for the material, but concentrating on the court orders and virtually ignoring the lawsuits, where names of so many of the less prominent residents occur. In 1987 Michael and Bettie Cook published a useful collection of records Fincastle & Kentucky County, VA - KY, Records and History, which includes legislative acts, deeds and land grants, albeit for the most part in excerpts. Unfortunately, it is now out of print. Without criticizing these efforts, I feel that a verbatim transcription of the records would be of much use in placing the settlers in a more complete context. I have exercised great care in transcribing the original (from microfilm) as exactly as I could. In several places my reading differs from Summers and Cook, but interested researchers can consult the originals and judge for themselves. The manuscript is hard enough to read to justify almost any interpretation! There are at least three hands, two are rather similar but distinguishable by their habits of spelling. One spelled Sheriff consistently with two f’s, the other didn’t. The ff man wrote ‘Mountgomery ‘ instead of Montgomery. The third hand is a quite different, less slanted, spelling ‘deputy’ as ‘debuty’ and ‘Deverax’ as ‘Deborax’ throughout, and writing lower case d’s. With the exception of capitalizing personal and place names, I made no attempt to correct spelling, capitalization, to eliminate doubled words, or to otherwise edit the material. I did insert commas between series of names and a few periods here and there, but apostrophes (or lack of them) are as they appeared. I wish space permitted me to comment on the human interest that makes this sort of work so fascinating, but I will restrain myself to one story: Drury Puckett having failed to pay his accounts, the sheriff went to confiscate his personal property to sell to cover the debt. “The Sheriff, having made return on the attachment Granted the plaintifs in this Cause Executed on a small Catt and the Defendant being again Solomenly Called & failing to appear the plaintif produced his Note of Twenty Eight pounds Seven Shillings & Six pence. Therefore It is Considered by the Court that the plaintifs recover against the said Defendant the said sum of Twenty eight pounds Seven shillings and six pence Together with their Costs by them about their Suit in this behalf Expended & the said Defendant in mercy &c. And the Catt attached as above is ordered to be released.“