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Provincial Court

Although the exact date of the creation of the Provincial Court is unknown, it most likely dates from Leonard Calvert's commission as Lieutenant General (governor) of the colony in 1637, which gave him authority to try all cases except those concerning life, member, or freehold. The Provincial Court, originally called the County Court, was modeled after the English county courts. The name change probably occurred sometime between 1640 and 1642, when the first Maryland counties (St. Mary's and Kent) were created, each with its own county court. The Provincial Court had concurrent jurisdiction with the county courts in most matters, served as an appellate court to the county courts, and had original jurisdiction in criminal cases involving life or member and in civil cases with a value above a given sum or poundage of tobacco. The Provincial Court also heard chancery, testamentary, and guardianship cases until the Chancery Court and Prerogative Court were established and guardianship matters were transferred to the county courts. In addition, the Provincial Court had concurrent jurisdiction with the county courts in recording conveyances of land, as was compulsory after 1663. No limit was initially placed on cases brought before the Provincial Court, which prompted the Assembly to pass an act in 1710 [Acts of 1710, Ch. 1] limiting the court's jurisdiction to cases where debt or damage was not less than twenty pounds sterling or five thousand pounds of tobacco. In 1773, [Acts of June-July 1773, Ch. 1] county courts received exclusive jurisdiction in civil cases with a value less than one hundred pounds sterling or thirty thousand pounds of tobacco. The House of Delegates perennially complained about the fact that the Provincial Court judges usually sat on the provincial Council. The Maryland Constitution of 1776 addressed this grievance by forbidding a person from holding more than one "office of profit." The constitution also renamed the Provincial Court as the General Court and divided it geographically into the General Courts of the Eastern and Western Shores.


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