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Proceedings of the County Court of Charles County, 1658-1666
Volume 53, Preface 12   View pdf image (33K)
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          xii         Early Maryland County Courts.


          than was required near the seat of provincial authority at the little capital
          at St. Mary's City. Here the Governor and Council, sitting as the General or
          Provincial Court, apparently at first heard local cases except those minor ones
          which might come before the Conservator of the Peace or before the manorial
          or hundreds courts of that county.
            Whether a county court existed in St. Mary's before 1644 may be de
          batable, but it is certain that one with the usual powers was in existence in
          that year, for on August 26th the Governor commissioned William Braithwaite,
          Esquire, Commander of St. Mary's, with Thomas Green, gentleman, and
          Cuthbert Fenwick, gentleman, as Commissioners, to hear minor civil cases,
          and criminal cases not involving loss of life or member (Arch. Md. iii, 150-
          151), the same limitation of powers which extended to all county courts for
          several decades thereafter. It is generally stated that the local St. Mary's
          County Court possessed less independent powers than did the other county
          courts, and that the Provincial Court assumed concurrent jurisdiction with it
          in local matters. This may, or may not, be strictly true. It should be remem
          bered, however, that at this period the Governor reserved the right to sit in
          with any county court, or to designate members of his Council to do so, and
          that this was more frequently exercised in the case of St. Mary's than in the
          more distant counties seems likely, but there are several instances to be found
          in these county records now presented where the Governor and members of the
          Council exercised this right in Charles, Kent, and Talbot counties. An examina
          tion of the St. Mary's County cases heard originally in the Provincial Court,
          and those which came before the Provincial Court on appeal from St. Mary's,
          does not seem to indicate that the cases involving residents of St. Mary's
          originating there, varied in character from those originating in other counties,
          although the loss of the local St. Mary's County Court records makes one
          hesitate to be too dogmatic on this point.
            In addition to the Kent and St. Mary's local courts, both of which are
          known to have been functioning respectively as early as 1637 and 1644, local
          county courts came into existence elsewhere coincident with the establishment
          of the following counties: Anne Arundel 1650, Calvert 1654, Charles (new)
          1658, Baltimore 1660, Talbot 1662, Somerset 1665, Dorchester 1668, Cecil
          1674, Prince George's 1695, Queen Anne's 1707, Worcester 1742, Frederick
          1748, Caroline 1773, and Harford 1773. Of these sixteen counties eleven date
          from the seventeenth century. The counties whose court proceedings have been
          selected for publication are the four possessing the earliest court records
          now known to be in existence. These are Kent (1637?) Charles (1658), Tal
          bot (1662), and Somerset (1665), respectively the second, fifth, seventh and
          eighth in order of county organization. All the records of St. Mary's, Cal
          vert, and Anne Arundel counties covering the seventeenth century, and in
          the case of the first two named, the eighteenth century records as well, have
          been burned, while the Baltimore County court proceedings before 1682, ex
          cept those relating to land, are so fragmentary as to be negligible. Of the
          Dorchester County court proceedings for the seventeenth century practically
          nothing now remains. A detailed calendar of the existing court proceedings,
          


 
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Proceedings of the County Court of Charles County, 1658-1666
Volume 53, Preface 12   View pdf image (33K)
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