Launch of Alabama Claims Transcription Project

The UVA Law Library and the John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History are pleased to announce the C.S.S. Alabama Claims Cases Transcription Project. The over 100 documents in this collection center on the life and death of the British-built commerce raider C.S.S. Alabama and her sister ships, the C.S.S. Florida and the C.S.S. Shenandoah. Constructed in Liverpool, England in 1862, the Alabama disrupted Union commerce and supply lines in both Atlantic and Pacific waters during the Civil War. Between 1862 and 1864, Captain Raphael Semmes and the Alabama’s crew conducted seven major raids in waters ranging from the Gulf of Mexico to the Java Sea. They attacked or destroyed nearly seventy Union merchant ships, capturing or burning millions of dollars’ worth of cargo before the U.S.S. Kearsarge sank the Alabama on June 19, 1864 off the coast of France.

The Alabama’s success as a commerce raider made for a point of contention between the United States and Great Britain. After the war the American government held its British counterpart liable for damages. American citizens sought compensation for property lost to these British-built Confederate vessels. In 1871, the two nations signed the Treaty of Washington, which established an international arbitration process for resolving these disputes. The treaty marked a significant development in modern international law. In the end, the British government paid the United States $15.5 million in damages.

William Wallace Crapo
William Crapo, printed in Phineas Camp Headley, Public Men of To-day, 1882.

The C.S.S. Alabama Claims Cases Transcription Project features 108 documents from the law practice of Boston attorney and future U.S. Congressman William W. Crapo. Between 1870 and 1876, Crapo (pronounced “Cray-poe”) corresponded with numerous individuals such as attorneys Henry A. Barling and A. H. Davis as he worked to secure restitution from the British government on behalf of his clients. He also worked with bankers, insurance officials, and individual claimants. The letters and telegrams record how lawyers lobbied Congress and President Ulysses S. Grant’s administration as they pursued claims against the British government. They offer a unique perspective on the Civi War’s legal and diplomatic legacy.

UVA Law librarians completed an initial transcription of the Crapo material in the early 1990s. We now seek eagle-eyed members of the community to help refine that earlier work using Fromthepage.com, a crowdsourcing transcription platform to help enable their discovery and use by researchers. As far as we are aware, historians have never cited this collection in any scholarly research.

Here is but one example:

Henry A. Barling [New York] to William W. Crapo [New Bedford, Massachusetts]
13 December 1870

Confidential

New York Decemr. 13 1870
Dear Sir,

I infer from the tenor of yours of yesterday that the “Sufferers” may fly the track on the proposition of Johnson & Higgins, for two reason’s, the first on account of
the compensation & next because of a hesitancy most people have of giving Powers of Atty. even to their intimates. Johnson & Higgins I know to be honorable people & ones that would not abuse a trust — still, you could get a power where they could not because every claimant in N.B. has confidence in you.

Now what I want to get at is, if we fail with J & H in getting what we aimed at the other day, I think I can suggest to you a plain (sic) that all the parties at interest will jump at, & in which your interests as well as our own can be as well cared for as by the arrangement now pending, but I will not suggest it now as it might be taken as a symptom of bad faith toward J. & H. — by whom I intend to stick until I see they cannot succeed & then if you will join B. & D we can, with proper energy, & I assume we both have enough of it, make a very handsome business of it.

What I have written you will of course consider as strictly
confidential.

I remain
Dr. Sir

Yours truly
Henry A. Barling

W. W. Crapo Esqr
New Bedford

 

The above letter hints at discussions with clients concerning New York Insurance firm Johnson & Higgins. Barling’s plea for secrecy suggests a strategy in flux as the lawyers navigated complex legal and political shoals. The remaining papers in the collection describe in detail how lawyers and their clients negotiated deals and lobbied powerful individuals in defense of their legal interests.

Correcting the transcriptions will provide new insight into the Civil War era and the legal world it created. To start transcribing, visit the project’s webpage and signup for a free account on FromThePage. Participants in this project will find a complete set of instructions on the project website. Once finished, the UVA Law Library will make the completed transcriptions available on its website.

Questions? Please contact archives@law.virginia.edu

Further Reading:

Charles C. Beaman, Jr. The National and Private “Alabama Claims” and Their “Final and Amicable Settlement” (Washington, D.C., 1871).

Charles S.C. Bowen. The “Alabama” Claims and Arbitration Considered from a Legal Point of View (London, 1868).

Adrian Cook. The Alabama Claims: American Politics and Anglo-American Relations, 1865-1872 (Ithaca, NY, 1975).

James McPherson. War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865. (Chapel Hill, 2012).

Frank J. Merli. Great Britain and the Confederate Navy, 1861-1865.
(Bloomington, 1970).

Featured image: Édouard Manet, The Battle of the Kearsarge and the Alabama, 1864 (John G. Johnson Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Public Domain)

Written by

Jim Ambuske

Jim Ambuske is the Horatio and Florence Farmer Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities. He received his Ph.D. from UVA in 2016 and is a historian of the American Revolution and early Republic. At the UVA Law Library, Jim works in Special Collections to develop interpretive content for the library's major initiatives, curricula for future courses in the digital humanities, and research projects rooted in the library's archives and manuscript holdings. His primary responsibilities at the Law Library include oversight of the Scottish Court of Session Papers project and promoting scholarly access to the library's significant holdings in early American, Virginian, and transatlantic legal history.

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Advancing Legal Research at UVA Law

This week concludes another semester of Advanced Legal Research at UVA Law.  A new crop of students stands ready to tackle the legal puzzles of case law, business, and legislation that they will face as practicing attorneys.  Teaching legal research methods has been one of the law library’s long-standing contributions to the law school curriculum.  Here we look back at the teaching of legal research at UVA Law over the past 100 years.

In the 1910s, first year law students took Legal Bibliography and Brief Making as a required course in their first term for “an intimate acquaintance with law books and skill in their use.” (UVA Law Catalogue, 1915-1916).  Here is the class’s exam from March 1919.  How would you fare?

1919 Examination in Legal Bibliography and Brief Making, Sutton Collection, Law Special Collections

 

Books were everything in Legal Bibliography and Brief Making in the 1920s, as the class notes of Phillip Burks (Law class of 1928) reveal.  Excerpt: “To meet the needs of lawyers, ‘selected cases’ of the various states have been published- they are known as American Decisions, 100 vols. to 1865- they contain valuable annotations.”

Notes for Legal Bibliography and Brief Making, Phillip Burks (Class of 1928), Law Special Collections

 

In 1944, Law Librarian Frances Farmer, the first woman to gain faculty status at UVA Law, taught Legal Bibliography as a required first year course. Farmer lectured on the methods and materials of legal research.  For their final assignment, students prepared briefs which they then tried in the law school’s moot court.

Law Librarian Frances Farmer, circa 1942-1944, Law Special Collections
Legal Bibliography, UVA Law Catalogue, 1943-1944

 

In the 1960s, the law school created a Legal Methods class, in addition to Farmer’s Legal Bibliography seminars. Like its predecessors, Legal Methods was a required first year course, and it introduced students to the problems of “legal analysis, research and writing, drafting and pleading, modern litigation and appellate practice” in a small group setting. Over time, Legal Methods evolved into the law school’s current Legal Writing & Research (LWR) course, which now has its own set of dedicated faculty.

Legal Method, UVA Law Catalogue, 1960-1961

 

In 1993, with computerized research on the rise in legal research, librarian Kent Olson introduced a new course at the law school, Advanced Legal Research (ALR). Building off the foundation of research skills that law students gained in their first year LWR seminars, ALR offered students the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of research techniques and research tools.

Advanced Legal Research, UVA Law Catalogue, 1993-1994

 

Library faculty, led by Professor Olson, continue to teach ALR at UVA Law and offer the course in both the fall and spring semesters.  Much has changed in legal research alongside the shift from print to digital.  Still, even since the early days of Legal Bibliography, an emphasis on hands-on, practical learning has remained in these courses as the tried and true means to prepare students for the legal questions of the working world.

Kristin Glover teaching ALR at UVA Law

Written by

Randi Flaherty

Randi Flaherty is the Special Collections Librarian at the Arthur J. Morris Law Library. She is also an early American historian with a focus on foreign maritime commerce in the early American republic.

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Birlymen, the Scottish Court of Session, and Your Next Paper

boundary stone
“A Boundary Stone,” Donald Bain

This is a PSA for students interested in private ordering[1] and “how neighbors settle disputes.”[2] If extralegal systems such as cattle-trespass norms,[3] industry-based arbitration services,[4] and organized crime[5] are up your alley, then the case of Aitken, and Others v. Wilson and Bannatyne—from the Law Library’s collection of Scottish Court of Session Records—might provide some grist for your next paper. You can review the case documents here.

Aitken was about whether a voluntary association known as a “birly court” could enforce its own decisions.  What, you may ask, is a birly court? A lawyer for birly court members in Elsrickle, Scotland, described the organization as follows:[6]

“In most of the parishes and country villages in Scotland, particularly in the village of Elsrighill, and others in its neighbourhood, there hath been, for time immemorial, what is called the Birly court. All the small proprietors, portioners, and tenants, are members of this court, and they, every two years, or oftener, elect three of their own number, who are stiled Birlymen, and one called the birly officer.

The business of the Birly court has always been to redd the marches,[7] place and rectify pit stones,[8] regulate the mosses and common pasturages, and, in short, to determine every necessary article respecting the inferior police and for the preservation of good neighborhood. The birlymens office is to take care that the orders and regulations of the court be obeyed, and to estimate any damages which may arise from trespasses.”

The case documents provide fascinating insight into the practices of at least four

Pursuer's Proof
Pursuer’s Proof

different birly courts. They also offer a rich account of the events behind the case, which began in May 1777 as a boundary dispute between one John Wilson and his neighbor. During the ensuing birly court adjudication, Wilson was fined for using “abusive language,”[9] but he refused to pay. As a means of enforcing the fine, the birlymen went to Wilson’s house and confiscated two pewter plates. Wilson complained to the sheriff; the birlymen were detained; and they sued Wilson and the sheriff for wrongful imprisonment. In the birlymen’s telling, they had merely been acting according to “the immemorial practice of the place, and of the whole country.”[10] The sheriff, on the other hand, “could not regard what they termed a lawful poinding [i.e., “a seizure of property in lieu of money owed”[11]] in any other point of view, than as a lawless riot.”[12]

Aiken is a fun read and provides interesting material for scholarly analysis. The documents in our collection even include handwritten notes describing the court’s unreported decision. (According to those notes, Wilson and the sheriff won because, as one judge put it, “Birly courts [are] known in this country but [are] only arbitrators.”) If you think Aitken might fit with your research interests, be sure to check out this case.

 

 

[1] See, e.g., Barak D. Richman, Norms and Law: Putting the Horse Before the Cart, 62 Duke L.J. 739 (2012).

[2] Robert C. Ellickson, Order Without Law: How Neighbors Settle Disputes (1991).

[3] Id.

[4] See, e.g., Lisa Bernstein, Private Commercial Law in the Cotton Industry: Creating Cooperation Through Rules, Norms, and Institutions, 99 Mich. L. Rev. 1724 (2001).

[5] See, e.g., Curtis J. Milhaupt and Mark D. West, The Dark Side of Private Ordering: An Institutional and Empirical Analysis of Organized Crime, 67 U. Chi. L. Rev. 41 (2000).

[6] Andrew Crosbie, Information for Andrew Aitken Portioner of Elsrighill, David Brown and James Richardson, Tenants there, present Birlymen for the Town of Elsrighill, and William Elder, Wright there, Birly Officer, John Cuthbertson, Portioner there, John Lawson, Farmer there, and John White of Howburn, Pursuers; against John Wilson, Portioner of Elsrighill, and John Bannatyne, Sheriff-Substitute of Lanark, Defenders (Jan. 18, 1780) (Box 4, Scottish Court of Session Records, University of Virginia Law School Library).

[7] “Redd the marches” refers to fixing boundaries. See Redd, v.2, Oxford English Dictionary, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/160193  (last visited Feb. 8, 2018) (“To delineate or fix exactly (a border or boundary); to mark or set the borders of (a place). Chiefly in to redd the marches. . . .”); March, n.3, Oxford English Dictionary, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/113952 (last visited Feb. 8, 2018) (“The boundary of an estate; a boundary dividing one property from another; a tract of land between two properties.”).

[8] The phrase “pit stones” refers to boundary-stones. Pit, Dictionary of the Scots Language, http://www.dsl.ac.uk/entry/snd/pit_n_v2 (last visited Feb. 8, 2018).

[9] Crosbie, supra note 6.

[10] Id.

[11] Poind, Oxford English Dictionary, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/146603 (last visited Feb. 8, 2018).

[12] William Craig, Information for John Bannatyne, sheriff-substitute of Lanark, defender, against Andrew Aitken, portioner of Elsrighill, and others, pursuers (Nov. 15, 1779) (Box 4, Scottish Court of Session Records, University of Virginia Law School Library).

Written by

Kate Boudouris

Research, Instruction & Outreach Librarian, Arthur J. Morris Law Library

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Gregory Swanson and the Integration of UVA Law

[On February 5, 2018, the University of Virginia School of Law commemorated Gregory Hayes Swanson, who attended UVA Law in the graduate L.L.M. program and was the first black student to enroll at UVA after winning his lawsuit to desegregate the University in 1950. Read more about the Swanson commemoration here.]

Gregory Swanson Enrolls at UVA, September 5, 1950. Special Collections, University of Virginia Library.

In a 1958 interview, Gregory Swanson appealed to the readers of the Washington Post: “What Negroes want most is to feel that they belong in the mainstream of American life.”[1]  Swanson knew firsthand the challenges that African Americans faced.  Nine years prior, in the fall of 1949, Swanson initiated an application to the School of Law at the University of Virginia.  Already a practicing lawyer, Swanson wanted to earn a graduate degree in law—an L.L.M.  “My primary reason stems from the desire to teach law,” Swanson wrote to the law school’s Committee on Admissions.[2]  By the time of his application, Swanson had graduated from Howard University with an L.L.B. (now J.D.), returned to his home state of Virginia, and passed the bar. After several years of clerking and practicing law at firms in Richmond, Danville, and Martinsville, he decided teaching would be his next career move.

Swanson sent off his application materials in November 1949 expecting to hear the standard reply for an application from a black student.  Rather than attend the University of Virginia, which interpreted state segregation laws in such a way as to prevent his enrollment, he anticipated that he would be offered “grant-in-aid from the state” to attend an out-of-state institution. Writing to his former dean at Howard about his UVA application, Swanson explained that under usual circumstances this would have been acceptable.  But with the Sweatt and McLaurin cases to desegregate American universities currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, the timing seemed right to challenge the constitutionality of Virginia segregation practices in graduate education.[3] Swanson aimed to gain admission to UVA Law, and when he did, he told the Howard dean, it would be “a triumph in the struggle to break down segregation and discrimination or to bring about equalization in education facilities.”[4]

After reviewing Swanson’s application, the Law School’s Committee on Graduate Studies unanimously approved his admission as an L.L.M. student. Yet, their resounding endorsement was not enough. On January 19, 1950, the committee brought the matter of Swanson’s application before a full meeting of the law faculty. With one dissenting vote among the twelve faculty members in attendance, the law faculty also approved the Committee’s decision and sent the matter to UVA President Colgate Darden for a final determination.[6]  But it was the Board of Visitors who would have the ultimate say.  On July 14, 1950, the UVA Board of Visitors denied Swanson’s application to UVA Law.[7] 

Within days of hearing of Swanson’s denial, the firm of Hill, Martin, & Robinson and the Virginia Chapter of the NAACP organized legal staff, including Thurgood Marshall, and resources to obtain Swanson’s admission to UVA Law.[8]  Swanson filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Western District in Charlottesville to gain admission to UVA Law for the upcoming fall 1950 semester.[9]  Swanson and his team succeeded, and on September 5, 1950, the District Court ruled in favor of his admittance.  Not only was he a qualified applicant, the court explained, but UVA was the only state institution at which Swanson could pursue a graduate degree in law. The court order permitted Swanson to enroll immediately and barred UVA from denying admission to the UVA Law School to “any other Negro similarly situated.”[10]  Ten days later, Swanson registered as a student—as the first African-American student to attend the University of Virginia.

The Carver Inn, in the former Vinegar Hill neighborhood of Charlottesville, where Gregory Swanson lived during his one-year residency at UVA Law. Special Collections, University of Virginia Library.

The lawsuit would not be the last challenge Swanson navigated in Charlottesville or at UVA. “It is difficult to stop realizing that I am on the spot as well as a stranger in this town,” he wrote to a family member just a week after commencing his studies.  Whereas other law students lived close to grounds, Swanson lived more than a mile away—in the black neighborhood of Vinegar Hill.  During his walks to school, “whites also stop to stare at me, for they realize that I am going to the Univ.  I should like to read their minds.  Sometimes, I feel that I do.”[11]  At the law school, Swanson’s experience in many ways mirrored that of other students.  He studied tax law. He was nervous about being called on in class but proud of his first delivery. He ate lunch every day in the UVA Commons Cafeteria. Critically, however, Swanson endured repeated affronts to his presence, including fellow students who vocally opposed integration. 

Nevertheless, Swanson used his time at UVA to build and enable a more inclusive environment.  “I am endeavoring to participate [in] the University activities as much as possible so that the students can get used to the idea of a Negro being here,” he wrote to a family member in September 1950.[12]  Swanson attended lectures and football games, and he was a season ticket holder to the University’s Tuesday Evening Concert Group at Cabell Hall.[13] He also joined the UVA YMCA’s new “Committee for Racial Understanding.”[14]

Gregory Swanson on the UVA lawn. Gregory H. Swanson Papers at Howard University.

His graduate program required only one year in residence, so Swanson returned to Martinsville in 1951 and reopened his former practice.  There, he continued drafting his thesis, a requirement of the L.L.M. degree program, while simultaneously building his firm.  Balancing his career with his studies proved difficult, as it often did for L.L.M. students, and Swanson missed the two-year deadline to submit his completed thesis.  He would not receive his L.L.M. degree, nor did anyone else in his graduate cohort.[15] This, however, did little to impede Swanson.  Instead of teaching, Swanson dedicated his early career to fighting for civil rights for black Americans in both the courtroom and greater community.  Throughout the 1950s, he was an active member of the Virginia Chapter of the NAACP and the Virginia Voters League, as well as his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, which was dedicated to supporting black students and black civil rights. 

By the time he was interviewed by the Washington Post in 1958, Swanson’s legacy was obvious.  One year prior to the article, there were eleven Africans Americans enrolled at the University of Virginia.[16]  Moreover, Swanson’s commitment to racial understanding endured.  He encouraged communities to form groups similar to the YMCA committee that he had served on at UVA.  And he implored Americans to advocate for their fellow citizens.  For Swanson, inaction was unacceptable, a belief he embodied throughout his time at UVA. “Life is cheapened where man’s inhumanity to man prevails,” Swanson wrote just before he enrolled at the University of Virginia, “and those who remain silent in the wake of such action… become an integral part of the conspiracy of silence.”[17] 

 

FURTHER READING AND RESEARCH:

The Papers of Gregory H. Swanson
Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University

Papers of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund
Library of Congress
Plaintiff case materials and correspondence

The Papers of Judge John Paul
Special Collections, UVA Law Library
Correspondence and court filings for Swanson v. Rector & Visitors of Univ. of Va.

The Papers of Oliver Hill
Virginia State University
[This Collection is currently being processed and will be available to researchers in Fall 2018]

The Papers of Sarah Patton Boyle
Special Collections, UVA Library
Correspondence with Gregory Swanson

Margaret Edds, We Face the Dawn: Oliver Hill, Spottswood Robinson, and the Legal Team that Dismantled Jim Crow (Charlottesville: The University of Virginia Press, 2018).

 

[1] Susanna McBee, “First Negro to Attend U. of Virginia Sees Need for ‘Massive Assistance.’ The Washington Post and Times Herald, 01 September 1958, A8.

[2] Gregory Swanson to Committee on Admissions, December 1, 1949, Gregory H. Swanson Papers, Howard University [cited hereafter as GSP].

[3] The two cases were Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629 (1950) regarding the admission of a black student to the University of Texas Law School; McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, 339 U.S. 637 (1950), regarding segregated educational facilities at the University of Oklahoma. Swanson to George Marion, November 30, 1949, GSP.

[4] Swanson to F.D. Wilkinson, January 30, 1950, GSP.

[6] UVA Law School Faculty Meeting minutes, January 19, 1950.

[7] Emerson Spies to Swanson, July 29, 1950, GSP.

[8] Memorandum, Spottswood Robinson to Thurgood Marshall, August 3, 1950, Box 247, Papers of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Library of Congress.

[9] Complaint, Swanson v. Rector & Visitors of Univ. of Va., No. 30 (W.D. Va. Sept. 5, 1950), Box 42, MSS 81-7, Judicial Papers of Judge John Paul, Special Collections UVA Law Library.

[10] Judgment at 3, Swanson v. Rector & Visitors of Univ. of Va., No. 30 (W.D. Va. Sept. 5, 1950), Box 42, MSS 81-7, Judicial Papers of Judge John Paul, Special Collections UVA Law Library.

[11] Swanson to Marquerite, September 28, 1950, GSP.

[12] Swanson to Marquerite, September 28, 1950, GSP.

[13] The Tuesday Evening Concert Group, Season Ticket 1950-1951; YMCA service programs, various dates, GSP.

[14] YMCA meeting minutes, October 16, 1950, GSP.

[15] Swanson to Leslie Buckler, May 16, 1951, GSP. The annual catalog for the law school in place at the time of Swanson’s admission and enrollment at UVA Law specified that L.L.M. students would progress from their period of residence to a candidate for the degree after submitting a project plan and a description of their thesis to the graduate committee and earning the committee’s approval to become a degree candidate.  The catalog specified that L.L.M. students must submit a completed thesis within two years from the date at which they became a candidate for the degree. The University of Virginia Record: Department of Law 1949-1950 (Charlottesville: The University of Virginia, 1949), 16.

[16] McBee, “First Negro to Attend U. of Virginia Sees Need for ‘Massive Assistance,’ The Washington Post and Times Herald, 01 September 1958, A8.

[17] Swanson to Sarah Boyle, August 28, 1950, GSP.

Written by

Randi Flaherty

Randi Flaherty is the Special Collections Librarian at the Arthur J. Morris Law Library. She is also an early American historian with a focus on foreign maritime commerce in the early American republic.

Mary Draper

Mary Draper earned her Ph.D. from UVA in 2016 and is a historian of colonial America and the Atlantic world. She is currently working on a book about the history of the early modern British Caribbean.

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Law Library Uncovers Hidden Legal Histories with Scottish Court of Session Digital Archive

Alleged Copyright Theft by Founders of Encyclopaedia Britannica Among Stories Revealed

Thirty years after the University of Virginia School of Law acquired a trove of legal documents from Scotland’s Court of Session, the supreme legal court there, the Law School’s Arthur J. Morris Law Library is building a digital archive and reaching out to partners “across the pond” to open these legal history materials to scholars and the public.

When complete, the archive will provide users with access to the previously hidden histories of people living through an era of profound change.

Last week, the Special Collections team traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland, to present the digital project at the annual meeting of the Scottish Records Association and to meet with colleagues at the University of Edinburgh Library, who are pursuing a similar initiative.

The Dome Room in the New Register House at the National Records of Scotland holds documents, including legal records, that date back to 1553. Photo courtesy of Special Collections.

The Court of Session, as Scotland’s highest civil court, hears cases dealing with divorce, real estate, bankruptcy, intellectual property, debt and a variety of other civil matters. In the mid-1980s, the Law Library purchased a collection of documents related to about 2,500 cases heard before the court between 1757 and 1834.

The University of Edinburgh Library, the National Library of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates Library and the Signet Library hold more than 4,000 volumes of the court’s papers combined.

Unlike the handwritten manuscripts produced by English or American courts from this period, the Court of Session did its work in print. Memorials, petitions and even evidence were given to the court in this form. Today, the clear type makes the collection more accessible to researchers and easier to digitize.

Users will be able to search through a single document or the entire collection, peruse the rich data provided for each case and download documents for free.

War, revolution and the Enlightenment transformed the lives of 18th and 19nth century peoples living around the Atlantic basin. These documents illuminate the lives of Scottish merchants trading with colonial Virginia tobacco planters; provide insight into the transatlantic slave trade; show how Scottish women defend their limited legal rights; and trace conflicts between literary figures and their publishers, among other stories.

For example, the copyright dispute at the heart of Clark v. Bell (1804) opens an entry point into the early history of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Among the sources creators Colin Macfarquhar and Andrew Bell consulted was work by James Clark, a veterinarian and King George III’s farrier in Scotland. In 1801, Clark sued Bell (Macfarquhar having since died) for copyright infringement under the Copyright Act of 1710.

Clark alleged that the two men had incorporated verbatim portions of his two treatises on equine care without his consent. After “the best and most valuable parts of them are inserted in the Encyclopaedia Britannica,” publishers refused to issue new editions of his work, Clark said. He charged that Bell and Macfarquhar had violated the Copyright Act, harming his business interests and reducing his potential income. The court agreed.

The Lords of Session (as the judges are called) sided with Clark and later affirmed judgement on appeal.

 
Joseph Marshall, head of special collections and the Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh Library, shows an example of a bound volume of documents held in the library’s collection. Photo courtesy of Special Collections.

What Clark v. Bell offers is a legal window into the creation of one of the most iconic literary productions of the past three centuries. The case documents provide details on the process Bell and Macfarquhar used to assemble the Encyclopaedia’s early editions — and suggest where to look next. (The record makes it clear that Bell and Macfarquhar faced similar accusations from other authors.)

Collaborating with the Edinburgh-based coalition will allow the Law Library’s Special Collections team to continue to bring rich legal materials like these to light as we trade knowledge and expertise with our colleagues abroad.

It will also enable the two groups to reconstruct case histories in digital space, making it easier for scholars, genealogists, bibliophiles and law students to access a complete case record.

Compiled in leather-bound volumes (like similar collections in Scotland) at one point, the Law Library’s documents were removed from their bindings sometime after 1835. They rest now in archival boxes that consume 64 feet of shelf space in the Library’s Special Collections unit — as we steadily continue to digitize their contents.

The Law Library is preparing to release its first batch of documents. Look for them online soon. For more information on the project, including how you can support it, contact archives@law.virginia.edu.

(This article was first published on the University of Virginia School of Law website on November 17, 2017.)

Written by

Jim Ambuske

Jim Ambuske is the Horatio and Florence Farmer Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities. He received his Ph.D. from UVA in 2016 and is a historian of the American Revolution and early Republic. At the UVA Law Library, Jim works in Special Collections to develop interpretive content for the library's major initiatives, curricula for future courses in the digital humanities, and research projects rooted in the library's archives and manuscript holdings. His primary responsibilities at the Law Library include oversight of the Scottish Court of Session Papers project and promoting scholarly access to the library's significant holdings in early American, Virginian, and transatlantic legal history.

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Legal Texts

What comes to mind when you think about the texts that law students read? Most of the time, it’s cases, statutes, contracts, and law review articles. Sometimes, it’s texts on legal theory. But if you asked Thomas Jefferson, in order to understand the law, students needed to read widely in everything from natural science to literature.

Jefferson and his eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century contemporaries didn’t see law as an isolated discipline. Rather, they considered it to be one branch of philosophy (or “reason”), which joined history (or “memory”) and the fine arts (or “imagination”) as the three “faculties” of learning. In “philosophy,” law stood alongside mathematics, ethics, and religion. This breakdown of “faculties” was inspired by the English philosopher, Francis Bacon, whose 1605 book, The Advancement of Learning, shaped the ideas of Jefferson and many other Enlightenment-era thinkers.

In early American legal education, practical training was just one of three components. The other two were theoretical knowledge (note only of the law but also how individuals and societies related to one another) and a general education that often included languages, philosophy, and history. The goal was to train good lawyers but more importantly, craft young men into well-rounded, virtuous citizens.[1]

William Wirt, U.S. Attorney General for James Monroe and John Quincy Adams.

The courses that William Wirt, attorney general under James Monroe and John Quincy Adams and a close friend of Jefferson, advised law students to take reflected this view. In 1822, Wirt wrote Hampton L. Carson about his legal education. Read William Blackstone, Wirt urged, as “the best introductory author,” who can offer “a clear and comprehensive view of [the law’s] present state.” But don’t stop there, Wirt added. In addition to statutes, rulings, and natural law, Wirt encouraged Carson to read history, literature, rhetoric, and the classics.[2]

Adopting a holistic understanding of legal education as something that cultivated virtue and moral improvement meant engaging with a diversity of texts. “[E]verything is useful which contributes to fix us in the principles and practices of virtue,” Jefferson wrote to Robert Skipwith in the summer of 1771. Fiction, in particular, proved a good way to learn about ethics, especially because “[w]e never reflect whether the story we read be truth or fiction.” Jefferson noted that Macbeth’s murder of King Duncan in Shakespeare’s famous 1606 play ignited the same “horror of villainy, as the real one of Henry IV.”[3]

Jefferson believed that fiction proved the best way to learn about ethics because it teaches us what to do and what not to do. We are “as warmly interested for a fictitious as for a real personage,” Jefferson observed in his 1771 letter. “The spacious field of imagination is thus laid open to our use and lessons may be formed to illustrate and carry home to the mind every moral rule of life.” Jefferson maintained that reading Shakespeare’s King Lear, for instance, could better teach young men and women about duties to their elders than “all the dry volumes of ethics, and divinity that ever were written.”[4]

Today, fiction isn’t usually required reading for law students, but some law professors still consider it to be valuable. For years, our faculty have integrated works of fiction into the curriculum to add texture and depth to the stories of law.[5] We surveyed UVA law professors this summer to find out of what fiction they consider required reading for understanding the law. You can join the discussion on the UVA Law Library’s Facebook page. We’d love to hear your suggestions as to what fiction you deem essential for a legal education that even Thomas Jefferson would approve of.

 

[1] See, for instance, Mark Warren Bailey, Early Legal Education in the United States: Natural Law Theory and Law as a Moral Science, 48 J. Legal Educ. 311 (1998).

[2] Id. at 321.

[3] Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Robert Skipwith, Aug. 3, 1771, in 1 The Papers of Thomas Jefferson 76, 76-77 (Julian P. Boyd ed. 1950).

[4] Id.

[5] Denise Forster, Using Literature to Make Better LawyersUVA Lawyer, Fall 2005, http://www.law.virginia.edu/html/alumni/uvalawyer/f05/literature.htm.

 

Written by

Melissa Gismondi

Melissa leads interpretation for the first phase of the 1828 Catalogue Project. She holds a PhD in early American history from the University of Virginia and is currently working on a book about the political partnership of Andrew Jackson and his wife, Rachel. Follow her on Twitter @melissajgismond.

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Meet Special Collections’ Public History Summer Interns

Late Spring brings new growth to Special Collections at the Law Library as academics everywhere turn their thoughts to Summer research and writing. We are fortunate to have two stellar individuals joining the team over the next few months in partnership with UVA’s Institute for Public History to spearhead two important legal history projects. 

Abby Holland - Special Collections
Third year Abby Holland will contribute to the Dean Lile Diaries digitization project this summer.

Abby Holland, a rising 3rd year American Studies major with a concentration in race and ethnicity, brings her experience working with Civil War diaries in Small Special Collections and the digital tool Neatline to the Dairies of William Minor Lile project. 

Born into an Alabama slaveholding family in 1859, Lile studied law at the University of Virginia in the early 1880s. He later settled in Lynchburg to practice his trade. In 1893, UVA’s Board of Visitors appointed Lile to a law professorship in the expectation that he would succeed his great uncle, John B. Minor, as head of the law department. Minor died in 1895. Nine years later, during a period of administrative reorganization, university president Edwin Alderman named Lile as the Law School’s first dean. Lile died in 1935.

Lile produced an eleven-volume journal over the course of his adult life. The entries begin in 1882 and cease in 1932. They record Lile’s experiences in post-Civil War and Reconstruction Virginia as the United States entered the Gilded Age and the new international order. Lile’s journals illuminate the intersection of local and national politics and culture. They detail his participation in numerous Virginia and regional legal cases, comment on Democratic and Republican politics at the state and federal levels, technological changes such as the introduction of automobiles in Charlottesville, prohibition activities, and economic booms and busts that gripped the nation. 

Abby will spend the summer developing her digital history skills by preparing a new transcription of one of Lile’s volumes and writing interpretive essays that introduce readers to him. Her work is part of an on-going effort to prepare a digital documentary edition of these wonderful journals. She will also pursue a project of her own design based on the diaries that will enrich our understanding of the law, Virginia, and the United States during a period of chaotic transformation. 

Melissa Gismondi comes onboard as co-director of our Digital 1828 Catalogue Collection Project, an initiative supported by the Jefferson Trust Foundation. Melissa specializes in the history of nineteenth-century North America. She recently defended her dissertation and will receive her Ph.D. in August 2017. Her work focuses on the military and political partnership of President Andrew Jackson and his wife, Rachel, which she is developing into a book. She is also the moderator of BookStory, a new book club from BackStory, a program of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. 

Melissa Gismondi - Special Collections
History Ph.D. candidate Melissa Gismondi is co-director of our Digital 1828 Catalogue Collection Project.

As we noted in our Jefferson Trust grant application:

“In 1820, Thomas Jefferson believed the new University of Virginia would empower the ‘illimitable freedom of the human mind, to explore and to expose every subject susceptible of it’s contemplation.’ Jefferson envisioned the library as the centerpiece of university life and the foundation of his grand vision for American education. In 1824, he selected 7,000 volumes, including over 700 law books, to fill the library’s shelves. Jefferson believed that enabling access to these texts at UVA would overcome economic disparities and create educational opportunities for a broad audience. ‘Great standard works of established reputation, too voluminous and too expensive for private libraries,’ he wrote to the university’s purchasing agent, ‘should have a place in every public library, for the free resort of individuals.’ In Jefferson’s mind, an easily accessible library should be one of the cornerstones of a democratic society by allowing citizens and scholars convenient access to knowledge and the tools to create new knowledge.

The Digital 1828 Catalogue Collection Project reconstructs the original corpus of 721 legal texts purchased for the first UVA library and listed in UVA’s 1828 Catalogue. The UVA Law Library has been working for forty years to collect these rare legal titles, most of which were originally selected by Thomas Jefferson. This student-centered project will build a digital version of this collection using a new tool called the Virtual Bookshelf. The Virtual Bookshelf will enable new historical scholarship on foundational texts in early American and transatlantic legal history, and provide UVA libraries with a powerful new way to manage their digital presence. Built on a rich database of bibliographic information, this immersive website preserves the traditional browsing experience while providing students with experiential learning and leadership opportunities to explore the law library’s international origins and contribute to the university’s digital evolution.”

Over the next few months Melissa will create interpretive content for the new 1828 site, explore interesting facets about particular texts, and help us lay the groundwork for new scholarship centered on these fascinating volumes. Along the way she’ll develop her own professional interest in digital history and engage the public through social media. 

Both Abby and Melissa will contribute regularly to this blog over this summer. Be sure to follow us on social media for updates about these exciting initiatives. 

 

Written by

Jim Ambuske

Jim Ambuske is the Horatio and Florence Farmer Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities. He received his Ph.D. from UVA in 2016 and is a historian of the American Revolution and early Republic. At the UVA Law Library, Jim works in Special Collections to develop interpretive content for the library's major initiatives, curricula for future courses in the digital humanities, and research projects rooted in the library's archives and manuscript holdings. His primary responsibilities at the Law Library include oversight of the Scottish Court of Session Papers project and promoting scholarly access to the library's significant holdings in early American, Virginian, and transatlantic legal history.

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Jefferson Trust Award to Facilitate Digitization of Jeffersonian Law Book Collection

Congratulations to our Digital Collections team, which was just awarded a grant from the Jefferson Trust to fund the Digital 1828 Catalog Collection Project. The project seeks to assemble and digitize all of the law books that were hand selected by Thomas Jefferson for inclusion in the 1828 Catalogue of the Library of the University of Virginia.  

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Arthur J. Morris Law Library

The Arthur J. Morris Law Library is the home of research for students and faculty at the University of Virginia School of Law.

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Citizen Historians Wanted: Help The UVA Law Library Transcribe Historical Legal Manuscripts

In the early 1820s, a young Harvard College graduate named Jared Sparks devised a plan to preserve the early history of the United States.  Like many Americans, Sparks sensed the closing of an age. Nearly fifty years had passed since the Declaration of Independence and many of the American Revolution’s central figures were dead or soon would be. George Washington took his last breath in December 1799 at Mount Vernon, six months after Patrick Henry succumbed to stomach cancer. In the 1820s, Thomas Jefferson remained busy overseeing the creation of the University of Virginia from his home at Monticello. From there he also maintained a lively correspondence with his friend and former adversary, John Adams, who spent his remaining years at home in Quincy, Massachusetts. Yet they would soon be dead, too. 

One August day in 1823, Sparks determined to preserve the nation’s past as he meditated “on the importance of having a new History of America.” He recognized this difficult task would require him to “go to the fountain and read everything on the subject.” That meant finding original documents. Like his contemporary and fellow historian Peter Force, Sparks set out to find and transcribe copies of correspondence, reports, and a host of other material in private homes, court houses, and libraries across the nation and in Europe. He became a prolific documentary editor. Over the next thirty years he published numerous volumes, including The Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution (12 vols.), Life of Gouverneur Morris (3 vols.), and The Works of Benjamin Franklin (10 vols.). His twelve volume edition of George Washington’s writings was his most significant achievement and served as a forerunner of the current Papers of George Washington Project at UVA.1 

Sparks was a citizen historian long before the development of the modern historical profession in the late nineteenth century. His efforts to collect, transcribe, and arrange manuscripts into publishable form broadened what his fellow Americans could know about their own history.  In the nineteenth century that required traveling by horse or ship to archives in a quest for manuscripts. Today, professional historians and documentary editors use slightly faster modes of transportation to reach libraries and archives, but digital technology has also allowed us to bring the archive to the scholar and public. For example, you can now read George III’s thoughts on kingship in his own hand from the comfort of your office or explore a vast array of American women’s experiences in their own voices with students in your classroom.

Technology has also made the creation of historical knowledge participatory on a grand scale. Crowdsourcing transcriptions of manuscript collections has become an important way for professional librarians and scholars at institutions and projects large and small to work with people interested in the past. Manuscripts and rare books can languish in archival boxes unseen for years, keeping the stories they tell unintentionally hidden. Digitizing the documents and asking for the public’s help to transcribe them is a means to unlock their potential for future research and a form of civic engagement with our history. 

The UVA Law Library Special Collection is delighted to announce that we have partnered with FromthePage.com to make some of our manuscripts available for public transcription. Inspired by our friends in The Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio at the University of Iowa Library and initiatives such as the Colored Conventions Project, we seek the help of citizen historians to tell the stories of the women and men who appear in our collections.

The law touches everyone in some way. That was as true in the past as it is today. The legal documents that we present on FromthePage.com capture how people in the United States, England, Scotland, and Italy lived and died. Their presence in a petition to a court, in a letter seeking favors from a government official, a catalog of their private property in a probate record, or in a lecture before eager young law students reveal much about them and the legal culture in which they lived. 

What we hope to accomplish: As Jared Sparks knew the publication of transcribed manuscripts democratized historical knowledge and made it possible for amateur and professional historians alike to write better histories. We have the same goal in mind. Producing transcriptions of the Law Library’s legal manuscripts can make the material more accessible and encourage new research. It will also enable the Special Collections librarians to create better finding aides that will make research and discovery more efficient. Using a combination of technology and interpretation, the librarians will identify subjects, key themes, and relationships that can increase a collection’s usability.  Importantly, we would like teachers to use this tool and our material in the classroom to help their students understand the complexity of the past.

How can you help: Participating is easy.  Follow these simple steps:

1. Go to FromthePage.com and create a free username and password.

2. One you are logged in, take a moment to read the “Transcription Instructions” in the Frequently asked Questions. Then go to “Collections” and look for those collections owned by “UVA School of Law Library.” Click on a collection that interests you.  (More on our available collections below).

3. In your chosen collection, review the “About” section to get a sense of the documents inside. Then investigate the “Works.” Think of “Works” like a folder of documents in a box. Select the one you want.

4. One you are inside a Work, select a document page or several to read through first before transcribing. It is important to gain a sense of an author’s handwriting and language. This will help you better understand an author’s thoughts and objectives, stylistic choices, and common trends across items. It helps, too, to read through another transcriber’s work (if available) to prepare your brain for the content you will see on the manuscript page. Previous transcriptions are important reference tools for each untranscribed page. 

Now you are ready to transcribe. Find a page to work on and click on “help transcribe this page.”

5. You will then be in transcription mode. You can adjust the position of the document to your likening. Be sure to look at the “Transcription Conventions” below the white transcription field to find information on how we would like you to transcribe the document.

6. Start to transcribe and be sure to save your work frequently. 

7. Know something about the people in one of the documents? Please feel free to put a note in the “Note” field at the bottom of the screen. The more we understand about these documents the better stories we can tell about the people in them.

We do not expect perfect transcriptions. Sometimes unclear or confusing words befuddle even the best professional documentary editor. And it is always possible that another transcriber will come after you and identify a word that you could not. You can also mark a page for formal review and leave a note for the Special Collections team should you want us to take a closer look. Documentary editing is a communal process.

What is important is the knowledge that we can begin to gleam from the transcriptions and the stories we can tell about the past. Citizens historians are crucial to making that possible. 

Manuscripts now available for transcription:

We have ranked these seven projects by degree of difficulty, which increases as one moves down the list.

1. The Papers of Roger B. Taney, 1792-1820  

Roger B. Taney practiced law in his home state of Maryland long before he became an influential member of President Andrew Jackson’s cabinet and later authored the majority opinion in the infamous Dred Scott v. Sanford case (1857) as chief justice of the United States Supreme Court. 

Taney (1777-1864) handled many of the cases in this collection just as he began his political ascent in state politics. The papers featured here are legal documents from his practice in Frederick, Maryland. Most items fall between 1805 and 1818. A few cases deal with slaves. These papers offer a unique opportunity to examine Taney’s legal career in its formative years before he rose to national prominence. 

2. Practicing Law in the Early American Republic

The papers offered here feature documents written by major figures from the American Revolution era. These include Samuel Chase, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and future Associate Justice of the Supreme Court; President James Monroe; future president John Quincy Adams; George Wythe, Thomas Jefferson’s mentor at the College of William and Mary; John Marshall, future chief justice of the Supreme Court; Charles Lee, the brother of Light Horse Harry Lee and uncle to Robert E. Lee; and Edmund Randolph, the first Attorney General of the United States. 

3. The Papers of John B. Minor, 1845-1893

John B. Minor joined the faculty of the University of Virginia in 1845 at the age of thirty-two. An 1843 graduate of the university, Minor began his teaching career following a decade in private practice. Minor, along with James P. Holcombe, directed the law program at UVA amidst national debates over slavery and the American Civil War. Following the war, Minor and his colleagues presided over a post-war enrollment boom that saw over 100 students in the law program. Meanwhile, Minor took an active role in reforming Virginia’s public education system and published major legal works that established his reputation as one of the South’s legal leading minds. 

The papers in this collection are wide and varied. They include Minor’s lecture notes, legal work, documentation on slaves, correspondence about secession in the Civil War, and post-war politics. They shed important light on Virginia in the Civil War era and illuminate the development of legal education during a period of national upheaval and reconstruction. 

4. The Papers of Solicitors J.M Shugar and A. W. Vaisey, 1850-1914

The documents in this collection contain the stories of nineteenth century English men and women. Solicitors J. M. Shugar and A. W. Vaisey worked as probate and property lawyers in the town of Tring, Hertfordshire, in south central England. They handled wills, estates, and personal property issues for their clients from about 1850 through 1914. Shugar practiced law in Tring from roughly 1850 until his death in 1876. Vaisey, a newly minted lawyer, took over Shugar’s practice and made it his own. Fortunately, their combined papers have survived the years and make it possible for us to know about the lives of their clients in some detail.

Estate papers are crucial for historians’ ability to reconstruct the social world in which people lived. Transcribing wills, estate inventories, and associated documents will help historians reconstruct this nineteenth century world and offer relatives new insights into their ancestors.

5. Letter book for the Receiver of Wrecks at Kingston upon Hull, England, 1855-1861

This handwritten letter book was kept for James Sparrow, who worked for the British Board of Trade as the Receiver of Wrecks at Kingston upon Hull, 1855-1861. The volume begins with an index of correspondents and subjects. While the book primarily records copies of all outgoing mail, there are frequent notes about disposition of matters or copies of replies in the margins.

The letter book offers fascinating insight into British commercial and maritime activities from Kingston upon Hull, a port community in eastern England along the North Sea. Transcribing this manuscript could help inform our understanding of British maritime activities in the mid-nineteenth century. The letters record not just merchant activity and doomed vessels, but government patronage and power. 

6. Scottish Court of Session Records Marginalia Project

This transcription opportunity is one of the most challenging and builds upon a larger initiative at the UVA Law Library to construct a digital archive and research platform centered on our Court of Session Collection. The Court of Session is Scotland’s supreme civil court and court of first instance. Eighteenth century Scottish court records are distinctive for the printed word. Unlike in England or in the American colonies and states, briefs, memorials, petitions, and depositions were printed and given to the court’s judges for their evaluation. Copies of these documents exist in other archives, but the Law Library’s are unique for the marginalia scribbled on them by their two owners, William Craig, Lord Craig, a judge on the court, and Andrew Skene, who briefly served as Scotland’s solicitor general. 

The marginalia illuminates how Craig and Skene interpreted and studied Scots Law as they participated in the making of it. Craig, who owned the papers first and had the worse handwriting of the two, scribbled over cases in which he was involved with as a lawyer before he sat on the court. Skene, who either bought or inherited Craig’s papers, added on to the collection, and made his own notations next to Craig’s. Scottish judges did not issue formal written opinions as the U.S. Supreme Court does. A clerk took note of what the judges said in conversation on the bench. Later, these decisions appeared in legal digests. Skene and Craig often wrote on their papers what the judges said in the court room, probably as they heard them say it. The marginalia pulls back the current on law making and takes us into the room as it happened. 

7. Giusticiati: Italian Manuscript List of Persons Condemned to Death in Venice, 726-1804

The law library knows very little about this manuscript. This project will require people with Italian language skills. Written in Italian and probably composed around 1804, this bound volume contains the names of 1,068 Venetians executed between 726 to 1804. It records names, dates of execution, crimes, and method of execution. Relatively few executions are listed until the late sixteenth century, and almost half of the total listed in this manuscript occurred in the seventeenth century. Crimes included conspiracy, rebellion, treason, theft, forgery, usury, homicide, sodomy, aggression and disturbing the peace. Death was usually by hanging or beheading, but occasionally included torture and display of the bodies.

Please contact Jim Ambuske (jpa4ad@virginia.edu) with any questions. 

1. Journal entry, 18 August 1823, quoted in Lester J. Cappon, Jared Sparks: The Preparation of an Editor, Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 90 (1978): 3. See this article for a concise overview of Sparks’s career in documentary editing. The UVA Law Library Special Collections owns a complete twelve-volume set of Sparks’s 1847 edition of The Writings of George Washington. Peter Force’s American Archives remains an important resource for students of the colonial period and American Revolution. The introduction to the digital edition of his Revolutionary era collection at Northern Illinois University Libraries contains a useful brief overview of his career. The site itself is a wonderful research tool. The UVA Law Library Special Collections holds a first edition set of the nine-volume printed work, which covers 1774 to 1776. Force published these volumes between 1837 and 1853.

Written by

Jim Ambuske

Jim Ambuske is the Horatio and Florence Farmer Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities. He received his Ph.D. from UVA in 2016 and is a historian of the American Revolution and early Republic. At the UVA Law Library, Jim works in Special Collections to develop interpretive content for the library's major initiatives, curricula for future courses in the digital humanities, and research projects rooted in the library's archives and manuscript holdings. His primary responsibilities at the Law Library include oversight of the Scottish Court of Session Papers project and promoting scholarly access to the library's significant holdings in early American, Virginian, and transatlantic legal history.

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Trouble and Fash: Ordinary People and the Scottish Courts

Litigation documents are the “meat and potatoes” of our Scottish Court of Session Records (1759-1834), but the collection is also peppered with testimony, letters, wills, contracts, and other evidence offered by lawyers to help prove their cases. These records preserve the voices of ordinary people—including women, servants, and Erse-speakers,[1] among others—and tell stories that might otherwise have been lost to history. Though it would be easy to overlook these personal histories tucked inside legal documents, they form an extremely valuable part of the collection, illuminating the socioeconomic context of legal disputes and providing information about the burdens and biases of the court system.

The depositions in Farquharson v. Anderson, for example, reveal complicated tensions between the case’s landed litigants and the witnesses, many of them working-class, who were forced to testify. Farquharson was about an alleged romantic entanglement, and the case documents include salacious, even spiteful allegations. Pursuer (plaintiff in Scots law) Jean Farquharson, having birthed a child out of wedlock, sued Alexander Anderson to have a marriage declared on the grounds of “a public courtship, followed by copula,” or consummation of the marriage. In addition to her core claim of an irregular marriage, Farquharson alleged that Anderson had engaged in a scheme to corrupt witnesses and blame Farquharson’s pregnancy on a man named Alexander “Sandy” Milne.[2]

The case proceedings required the participation of witnesses who were debtors, servants, or tenants of the litigants. These individuals found themselves caught between the compulsory power of the courts and the risk of backlash from landlords, creditors, and other influential men who might be angered by unfavorable revelations. Witness Ann Forbes touched on this dynamic, testifying that fellow witness Rachael Stewart had “expressed sorrow that she had been summoned, cursed the parties, [and] said [Rev. Farquharson, minister of] Colston [the pursuer’s brother] had put up a good house for her, and she would lose it.” Stewart’s situation exemplifies the difficulties that might arise for a less privileged witness.

Another witness in Farquharson, Isobel Duncan, also expressed displeasure with the litigation. Duncan, whose “husband ha[d] a farm under the defender,” was drawn into the case after she took part in a nighttime gathering at a neighbor’s farm; Farquharson alleged that during this meeting, several people under Anderson’s influence tried to convince Sandy Milne to marry Jean Farquharson. (For her part, Duncan claimed that she did “not recollect whether she urged or particularly advised Milne to marry Miss Farquharson; but she did express an opinion, that it would be an eligible match for him.”) Having been summoned to testify about the meeting, Isobel was required to travel to Edinburgh from her home in Aberdeenshire. During the deposition, she was asked whether she regretted attending the gathering. She responded:

That she may be sure of that; for that she has felt the smart of it, having had a great deal of trouble and fash[3] in coming so far as Edinburgh, on account of her having been present upon that occasion; and this is the only reason she ever had or expressed for regretting what happened . . .; and that she did regret it before receiving her citation, suspecting, as she did, that sooner or later she would be called upon to give evidence concerning it.

This testimony highlights a side of the legal system that is often overlooked by case reports: the experience of regular people, unversed in the law, who were compelled to help resolve the disputes of their wealthier landlords and neighbors. As our case documents make clear, these individuals raised important questions about the fairness, social cost, and reliability of the process in which they participated.

Testimony of Isobel Duncan in the records of the Scottish Court of Sessions Records.
Testimony of Isobel Duncan, first page.

The testimony in our collection also provides insight about 18th and 19th century cultural norms, including the interface between those norms and the procedures, deliberations, and jurisprudence of Scottish courts. A prime example comes from the case of Macgregor v. Campbell, in which a woman named Katharine Macgregor claimed to have been married to the late Lieutenant Duncan Campbell. Lieutenant Campbell’s family, in line to be his heirs, disputed her claim. Because there was no record of a regular marriage, Macgregor sought to prove the marriage “by cohabitation, habit and repute.”

Testimony centered on the couple’s reputation in the neighborhood. A number of witnesses described the different names that people called Katharine Macgregor. For example, they said that Lieutenant Campbell called her Kate, Katy, “My Dear,” and even “Kate Brodie, which means thick or fat.” Of particular interest was whether Katharine’s neighbors (not to mention her alleged husband) commonly referred to her as “Mrs. Campbell.” If they did call her Mrs. Campbell, one would tend to think that she was married. But what if they didn’t? Would a married woman in Katharine’s neighborhood normally have been called “Mrs.”? Testimony on this issue revealed complex linkages among facts, cultural norms, and legal standards.

One witness told a vivid story that seemed to support the marriage and confirm that neighbors—in at least some cases—called Katharine “Mrs. Campbell.” Betty Macilwhannel testified that she had run into Katharine and Lieutenant Campbell at the Comrie Fair, where:      

. . . the Lieutenant took Kattie Macgregor and the witness into the [public] house: That he then called the landlady, and said to her, ‘Luckie, put on the kettle, and warm a bottle ‘of beer for these women, for do you know this is my wife;’ and the witness understood that he meant Kattie Macgregor, the pursuer: That the pursuer upon hearing this smiled, but said nothing: That the landlady also smiled, and said, ‘If I did not ‘know it before, I know it now:’ That Lieutenant Campbell, the pursuer, the landlady, and the witness, drank the warm beer together, and were very happy over it: that the witness drank to the health of the pursuer as Mrs Campbell. . .

Clear as this testimony may seem, it was not conclusive. The landlady disputed some details of the account, and Lieutenant Campbell’s family claimed that he had called Katharine his wife in jest. Further, Macilwhannel subsequently testified—seemingly to the court’s surprise—that even after their day at the fair, she heard a servant refer to Katharine by her first name. To the court, this familiar form of address appears to have weighed against the idea that Macgregor and Campbell were married. The discussion about this conversation among the witness, the court, and Macgregor’s lawyer provides a fascinating exposition of class differences and cultural variation in Scotland.

The exchange began with Macilwhannel’s testimony that during a visit to Lieutenant Campbell’s house, she sent a servant (who happened to be Katharine’s sister) to announce that she was waiting. After delivering the message, according to Macilwhannel, “the servant bade the witness stay and rest her, and Kattie would rise and speak to her.” The court posed some follow-up questions, asking:

Whether the witness be positive, that when the servant returned and gave the witness the answer to the message at the house of Dundurn, she said that if the witness would stay a little and rest Kattie would rise? [Emphasis added.]

Macilwhannel responded “[t]hat the servant expressed herself exactly as it has been taken down in the former part of this deposition,” and the court pressed the issue, asking “[i]f this did not strike her as something particular after what had passed at Comrie fair?” Macilwhannel said simply that she “did not know what to think of it.”

Likely realizing that this testimony would hurt his case, Katharine Macgregor’s counsel sought to clarify the norms surrounding women’s names. He asked, “[Is it] not a common practice in that part of the country to call married women by their maiden name?”

Macilwhannel gave this nuanced explanation:

…[t]hat it is, according to their station: That the wives of the best farmers get the name of Mrs; but that the witness having long been upon an intimate footing with the pursuer, used the freedom to call her by her maiden name, and the sister (the servant) knew this well: That she knew the pursuer ought to have got the name of Mrs Campbell; but that she, the witness, being so intimate with the pursuer, gave her the name of Kattie Macgregor, both when she spoke of her and spoke to her.

Another witness, James Macisaac, also recognized the class implications of this issue, though he suggested that Lieutenant Campbell’s wife should always be called “Mrs.” Macisaac testified:

That the wives of gentlemen in that country are always called by the names of their husbands, and particularly that the wife of Mr Sinclair, a farmer in the deponent’s neighborhood, but whom the deponent does not consider as equal in rank to Lieutenant Campbell, is called by her husband’s name, though her maiden name was Thomson.

These accounts, with their rich specificity and detail, go well beyond what is relayed in the case report of Macgregor v. Campbell, which is what makes them so valuable. For lawyers (and law students!), it becomes second-nature to focus on rules, legal reasoning, and legally relevant facts, along with the final outcome of a case.[4] But our collection’s “dispatches from non-lawyers”—with their distinctive voices and wonderful descriptions of everyday life—offer a wealth of information about the lives of ordinary people and their interactions with the legal system.

[1] Referring to “[t]he Gaelic of Scotland or (occas.) of Ireland,” the term “Erse” was once “[a]pplied by Scottish Lowlanders to the Gaelic dialect of the Highlands.” Erse, Oxford English Dictionary, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/64135 (last visited Apr. 4, 2017).

[2] Farquharson’s counsel wrote that Anderson targeted Milne because Milne “was in very indigent circumstances; he was a good-looking lad; and he had been employed as a mason about [Farquharson’s] brother’s house for a considerable period.”

[3] “Trouble, vexation; bother, inconvenience; also, something that gives trouble,” in the dialects of Scotland and Northern England. Fash, Oxford English Dictionary, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/68383 (last visited Apr. 4, 2017).

[4] For the record, Katharine Macgregor lost her case, Macgregor v. Campbell, [1801] Mor. 12,697 (Scot.), and Jean Farquharson achieved mixed results in her effort to disqualify certain witnesses. Farquharson v. Anderson, [1800] Mor. 16,790 app. at 2 (Scot.).

Written by

Kate Boudouris

Research, Instruction & Outreach Librarian, Arthur J. Morris Law Library

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