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The County Courthouses and Records of Maryland -- Part 2: The Records
Volume 546, Page 131   View pdf image (33K)
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KENT COUNTY

Records

The court records of Kent County are among the earliest surviving records of the Prov-
ince of Maryland. The fact that the very earliest have disappeared has contributed to the
difficulty of tracing the history of the County, but the Land Records of 1648, which we have, do
indicate that the county government was functioning before that year at least. The passage
of time, three hundred years, is explanation enough for record attrition, but in Kent County
there was, in addition, noteworthy neglect on the part of the custodians. A legislative com-
mittee of 1697/98 reported, as we have seen, that the courthouse had a wooden chimney, a
standing invitation to fire, and also that the records were kept at the clerk's house except
possibly when court was in session. It may be assumed that the clerk's house presented an
even greater hazard because of the necessity for fire being kindled in a dwelling almost every
day of the year either for heating or cooking.

The burning of the courthouse by Charles Hill in the spring of 1720 must have taken its
toll of records but what and how much we cannot tell. Fortunately, a great deal survived, for
another legislative committee, reporting April 5, 1736, advised "That by the Return of the
Justices from Kent County their Records and Papers since the time Mr. James Smith hath been
Clerk which begun in the year 1707 Appear to be in good order and Repair that the Books
before that time are much worn and the Original Papers greatly Decayed."1 All of the original
papers have now long since disappeared, but many of the volumes which were much worn have
survived through transcriptions. Since these transcriptions were done economically—what
survived of several books might be copied into one—they are difficult to use. Louis Dow Scisco
has attempted to analyze them in a study in the Maryland Historical Magazine, but apparently
many of the Judgment Records were unavailable to him so that his analyses are not so complete
as they might be.2 A single volume, Liber B, was thoroughly analyzed by Bernard C. Steiner.3
This volume had somehow strayed from the courthouse before Hanson's time in the 1870's and
had been deposited, November 12, 1906, in the Maryland Historical Society where it remained
until it was reclaimed by the County, October 16, 1912. It has subsequently come to the Hall
of Records with the other colonial records of the County.

Liber A has also had a special history. Originally it contained one hundred twenty-six
folios, of which the first ninety-five are now missing. That part of the volume which has sur-
vived was published in the Maryland Archives.4 In addition to the manuscript liber, the editor
has pieced out parts of the lost record from a transcript volume of 1727 and from the printed
excerpts found in Hanson's Old Kent.5 Apparently all or much of this volume was still extant
when Hanson was writing.

While a large collection of Kent County records has survived, it is obvious that a great
deal is missing. Moreover, a good deal of what has survived has come to us in the form of
transcripts. The records are difficult to follow and the student is urged to use Steiner's ab-
stract as a guide to Liber B and the version of Liber A of the Court Proceedings in Archives
of Maryland LIV. Scisco's guide to the other Colonial volumes is indispensable.

1 Arch, of Md., XXXIX, 394-95.
2 Md. Hist. Mag., XXI, 356-61.
3 Ibid.. VIII, 1-33.

4 LIV, 1-352; also to be found here, Liber B and C.
5 Baltimore, 1876.

131



 

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The County Courthouses and Records of Maryland -- Part 2: The Records
Volume 546, Page 131   View pdf image (33K)
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