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Proceedings of the County Court of Charles County, 1658-1666
Volume 53, Preface 11   View pdf image (33K)
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                   EARLY MARYLAND COUNTY COURTS


         In the present connection we shall only concern ourselves with the organiza-
       tion, functions, and scope of the local courts set up by the Proprietary in the
       various counties of Maryland down to the end of the third quarter of the
       seventeenth century. Except in the case of St. Mary's and Kent counties, where
       the evolution of the county courts during the first two decades following the
       settlement, in their relation to the Provincial Court and the Council, was doubt-
       less one of trial and error, the local administration of justice and the civil
       administration of county affairs were conducted side by side and by the same
       commissioners or justices. In the case of St. Mary's County, which was the
       seat of government, the general court, or Provincial Court, as it was soon to be
       called, came into existence a year or two after the settlement, when the swad-
       dling clothes of early Provincial infancy were cast aside, and executive, legis-
       lative, and judicial functions became defined. The Provincial Court was at
       the beginning the only court of original jurisdiction, except when the Gen-
       eral Assembly occasionally acted as a court of justice, and so remained until
       December 30, 1637, when Capt. George Evelyn was made Commander of the
       Isle of Kent and given authority to appoint six or more additional commis-
       sioners to hold court with him, with power in civil cases not involving more
       than 10 sterling, and in criminal cases with power similar to that exercised
       by Justices of the Peace in England sitting in their Court of Sessions, not
       extending to life or member (Arch. Md. iii, 59). Thus was the first secondary
       court of limited jurisdiction established, although not until some time between
       1640 and 1642, apparently in the former year, when the settlements about
       Kent Island ceased to be called a hundred of St. Mary's and were given a
       legal county status, could the Eastern Shore court be technically designated a
       county court. Perhaps coincident with the commissioning of Capt. George Eve-
       lyn to hold court in Kent, was the granting of a county status to St. Mary's
       and the creation of a St. Mary's County Court. Of the exact date of the
       creation of a county court in St. Mary's we cannot be certain, as the provincial
       records for the period are incomplete, and all the local records of St. Mary's
       County have been destroyed by fire. Certain it is, however, that January 24,
       1637/8, St. Mary's is referred to specifically as a county, and John Lewger
       appointed Conservator of the Peace there with powers limited to those of a
       single Justice of the Peace in England (Arch. Md. iii, 6o-6i). It is also cer-
       tain that the powers of this Conservator of the Peace were, by the terms of
       his commission, more limited than those of the Kent court which consisted of
       seven or more justices with powers similar to those of an English Court of
       Sessions. The explanation of this difference is apparently a simple one. The
       distance of the settlements about Kent Island from the Provincial capital of
       St. Mary's made a greater degree of local judicial and civil authority necessary
       


 
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Proceedings of the County Court of Charles County, 1658-1666
Volume 53, Preface 11   View pdf image (33K)
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