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Judicial and Testamentary Business of the Provincial Court, 1637-1650
Volume 4, Preface 5   View pdf image (33K)
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                            PREFACE.

     

        The Provincial Court at St. Mary's was the chief judicial body in the

      Province, being not only a court of first instance for all matters civil,

      criminal, and testamentary for the city and county of St. Mary's, but

      having also appellate jurisdiction over the county courts. It was com

      posed, during the years embraced in this volume, of the Governor as

      presiding judge, and one or more of the members of the Council as

      associate judges. In the absence of the Governor, the councillor next

      in commission presided. The judges were sworn to give judgment

      according to the laws of the Province, and were disabled from sitting in

      cases in which they were personally interested.

        During these years the Province was so sparsely settled, that we are

      justified in surmising that nearly all the judicial business was brought,

      in one form or another, before the Provincial Court. Unfortunately, the

      record is not complete, the part from February, 1644/5, to May, 1647,

      being lost; for which we may probably thank Ingle and his brigands.

        While the contents of this volume cannot have the same general

      interest as the records of the Assembly and Council, there is much in

      them worthy of attention by students of Maryland's early history and

      institutions, who may here note how laws and principles of law that had

      grown up under very different conditions were adapted without violence

      to the needs of the infant colony.

        One feature that cannot be overlooked is the singular absence of

      crimes of violence. Leaving out of view the little sea-fight at Poco

      moke, the offences against the person consist of two homicides and one

      (unproved) battery. In the case of the homicides, both the victims were

      Indians; and it is interesting to see how careful the court was to allow

      no partiality to interfere with justice, a jury who doubted whether

      “pagans” had the same standing in the court as Christians being

      promptly dismissed and a new trial ordered.

        The process against Lewis and others (p. 35) shows that “offensive

      speeches and unreasonable disputations about religion” had been for

      bidden by public proclamation more than eleven years before the

      passing of the “Act concerning Religion.” We find also here (p. 189)

      the first reference to the importation of negro slaves, and (p. 304)

      perhaps the first recorded purchase of negroes. Probably the solitary

      recorded instance of a deodand occurs on p. 10. The “custom of the

      country,” as it was called, or the outfit that a master was legally bound

      to give his servant at the expiration of his term of service, is here (pp.

      361, 470) judicially defined.

        Some light is also thrown, by depositions in various trials, upon the

      procccdings of Ingle and his raiders in the plundering year,” as it was

      long called, an adjective which exactly defines their acts and their pur

      poses;as also (p. 458) a characteristic piece of strategy on the part of

      Claiborne.

     



 
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Judicial and Testamentary Business of the Provincial Court, 1637-1650
Volume 4, Preface 5   View pdf image (33K)
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