tv Colonial Williamsburg Courthouse CSPAN January 10, 2016 6:00pm-6:26pm EST
that was awesome. [applause] thanks to the whole panel. i look forward to seeing you here for additional programs during the film forum and "black panthers" will be playing here on sunday. thank you very much for coming. [applause] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2016] >> you are watching american history tv. 48 hours of programming on american history every weekend on c-span3. forow us on twitter information on our schedule and to keep up with the latest history news.
>> each week, american artifacts takes you to museums and historic places to learn what artifacts reveal about american history. williamsburg was the capital 1705-1779.ginia from up next, we take a tour of the courthouse. we learned the role of justices, clerks, and lawyers before and after the american revolution. tom: my name is tom hey, i am the site supervisor of the herehouse capital and jail in colonial williamsburg. we are currently in the courthouse of 1770. this courthouse served as the courthouse for both the city of as the city as well county court for virginia. the court met here once a month for about three or four days.
the courts were the local government of the 18th century. they not only had official business, people coming to sue --be sued, that stay also but they also came here to get tavern licenses, to be appointed to various minor offices, take care of widows and orphans, any number of things like that. being part of the british empire, they were following english common law as adapted by virginia statute law. of coarse the virginia general as we will see in a while, had been leading since 1619. over 100 years. those on the bench behind me were the leaders of local society. wouldcounty court, they
appoint a local governor based on the nominations amongst be sitting justices. the mayor and aldermen of the city were a self-perpetuating body. they served for life. every once in a while, one would act so egregiously us to really annoy the governor and be kicked off the county bench. that was rare, but fairly interesting when it happened. everyone who filled a position here was appointed. that's true for everyone in government with the exception of membership in the house of burgess. an example ofe us a trial that might have taken place here? tom: sure. there were a number. one was a woman who was growing then, and widow by
she had hired a man to move her , and he wasarket sloppy or had an accident on the and her entire year of tobacco production was dumped into the river, so she sued to collect the value of her years worth of work. the court acted pretty reasonably, it appears. plantersinted tobacco to come up with a damage estimate, that was not everything she asked for, about one third to one half of what she asked for. it appeared the jury decided the truth lay somewhere between the extremes. jury trials did happen on an almost monthly basis. usually, juries were impaneled for civil suits.
since criminal cases were for the most part misdemeanors, that meant that by virginia tradition, you rarely have a jury trial for a criminal misdemeanor. forlly, they were only felony trials, and that would be at the capital. people were fined for minor crimes like failure to attend .hurch, being drunk in public if it were theft, you might be whipped. for perjury, forgery, or cheating in gaming, you might spend two hours in the pillory's with your ears nailed to the if you repeated the crime, you might have your ears cut off. tradition, not written in
law anywhere, the enslaved portion of the population was only allowed inside the building when the court one of them in here as a witness or defendant. here as ato have them witness or defendant. magistrate would sit in the chair in the center. you might notice he is directly underneath his majesty's coat of arms. magistrates are tributaries of the mainstream of his majesty's authority. though they have gubernatorial appointments, the king has a royal appointment, so they did meet under the king's authority. the jury sat on the lower bench beneath them. the jury would, just like a jury today, make decisions as to
points of fact in the case. the judges made decisions add two points of law. when the jury had to render a verdict, sometimes they would do it without leaving the bench. other times, they would be sequestered in the jury room and would stay in there without benefit of eat, drink, candle, or fire. the clerk would sit at the table in the center. he was the legal authority here. as a judgeointed based entirely on your social level, the position of your family and society, but in order to be a clerk of the court, you have to work with the secretary anywhere from 3-5 years, and he will appoint you as clerk of the county court. every time the clerk patches -- paid,s pen to paper he is and that means the judges can refer and defer to his professional level of the law.
attorneys is growing in the 18th century. local attorneys would sit here. attorneys like patrick henry or thomas jefferson. see a growth of attorneys in the legal profession at this time. finally, the enforcement sat in the boxes on either side, the sheriff and deputy sheriff. they would serve writs of orange and subpoenas. they would ensure that the orders of the -- writs of order and subpoenas. they would ensure that the orders of the court were carried out. they are paid for everything they do. there is a fee schedule and a sidewall. much did the function of the court change from being a colony before the revolution and after? tom: that's a fascinating question. most historians would say it changed very little. they took down the king's coat
of arms. save theped saying god came and started saying god save the commonwealth of virginia -- stopped saying "god save the saying "godtarted save the commonwealth of virginia." they would draw a line through part of the preprinted form, so very few changes. the very first thing that would session ishe court the very first day the clerk of the court would usually put the docket together. so people who are anxious to sue or anxious not to be sued would come see
the clerk and find out where in the docket they could reasonably expect their case to come up. that's the first day. it takes about a day to put the docket together. the first day of the court -- nothing happens until you get a quorum of magistrates. and that depends on what is going to happen. four for civil suits, five for a felony criminal trial of an enslaved person. you have to wait until you have the proper number of justices. , and the clerke sits at the table, as i said, and he is critically important. the clerk, unfortunately, was ill, and they had to cancel court. that's how important the clerk is. court would begin to meet about .idday if there were criminal
procedures, they handled those first. otherwise, you very quickly get into people suing one another. most court cases were not very exciting. occurredl transactions in virginia on credit. the credit was capped on books. it was called book debt. if you wanted to sue someone to , youe you could collect it could sue for book debt or get the court to declare a bond debt, which is a bond of higher dignity. if the person dies, their estate has to pay off all of the bond debt. year aight be twice a grand jury to hear people
accused of failing to attend church, not keeping up their section of the road, not teaching their children the catechism of the church, a number of things like that. morals charges. there might be women brought up forbearing base or pastored stard children. they knew what the laws were by virtue of growing up in the society. there was also unwritten law, the law of tradition. the finest of southern or new england terms, we do it this way because we have always done it this way. that's the way granddad did it. up with the certainties, these verities of life.
things people are taught as young children. if it's not yours, don't take it. there were very few surprises in court. people knew when they had done wrong. you knowe arrested, why you are part of a criminal case. if you are summoned for a civil case, it's usually for a debt. what is interesting is unlike there is one debt suit that has not been around since the 1780's. --you are found to go a debt oh debt, you could serve 20 days in the local debtor's prison. you are released on the 21st still owing every penny of the
debt but you have had to serve and in debtor's prison, order to get out of that, you have to give the court a schedule of all of your worldly possessions that can be sold. between virginia law and english law. in england, you stay in debtor's prison until the debt is paid. in virginia, they limited to 20 days. sat on thismen who bench attended the college of william and mary. george witt, the first law , was aor of this country sitting justice and one-time .ayor of the city he was taught entirely at home. his mother taught him greek and
, and he was so well-versed in lifeages that later he taught himself hebrews so that he could read the old testament and it. -- hebrew sonating that he could read the old testament in it. quite a fascinating figure. he knows the local population the best. decision is a group decision. a single magistrate cannot make a single decision in a court all , but i am sure there is a great degree of agreement since they justices all come from the highest level of local society. i am sure they all shared the same local view.
they all saw the world the same way. all have lived in williamsburg or the surrounding area? >> yes. if we were outside this courthouse, we could see the home of peyton randolph, who was a member of this court. see the home of john randolph, who was a member of the city county court and robert nicholas, who was a member of the court. we know the average judge owned .n average about 800 acres a number of them owned 2000 or 3000 acres. they were very well-to-do. >> they were not paid for being judges? tom: no, they served for the honor of the position. and to a degree, that made
sense. the better off you were, the more free time you had in that society. there is a logic to it. education forthe the lawyers? did they have to pass a test to be one? tom: yes, as a matter of fact. lawyers became lawyers by reading the law by themselves, as patrick henry dead. or they would study under another attorney. -- as patrick henry dead. or they would study under another attorney. when you felt you had sufficient understanding of the law, you would go in be interviewed by two or three attorneys of the high court. most of those interviews were here in town. we see george witt's name or or john randolph, all of
whom lived here in the city. the licensesd sign of the next generation of lawyers. a basicyou had to prove knowledge of the law. ,e know of one justice, carter who was a tough personality who complained about most things in life. he went on to say that you could make a perfectly good living as by the knowledge of five or six ritz. he didn't think much of attorneys. allost arguments to them the time. for the free part of the population, this is a system most people supported. this system was developed by the the first county
courthouses were established in virginia, and they made no significant change in the system until the 1820's. stayedstitution relatively untouched by the change in history and the change in government during the revolution. obviously, it enjoyed a great deal of support from the local population. , and ofelt it was fair part ofthat is the free the population. i suspect the slave part of the population may have had a different viewpoint on all of this. quarterresents the last of the 18th century. it starts off in the last two years of virginia being part of the british empire, and represents the beginning of a new, republican form of
government, of both the republic as many people thought of it, and shortly thereafter, if the united states of america. there were, as i mentioned, to courts that met here. each had its own clerk's office. this was the court of record. having those records kept in good form and searchable was very important. roomoom is the magistrates . not too surprisingly, that's the fanciest. the jury room is a very plain room. bet is where the jury would sequestered with nothing to eat or drink, no light or heat, until they reached a decision. the first thursday of the month for three or four days is the williamsburg customs court. that's the municipal court. since it was the municipal court of the capital city, you could
sue anyone in this court who lived in virginia, and the rate thisis court -- writ of court ran the entire length and breadth of virginia. it was a convenient court for creditors to come and sue people who owed them money. the second thursday of the month, the james county or was in session. they were very typical of the time. they did with the other 59 or 60 county court of virginia did, which is a major advantage for us in our study of this institution. they were still in richmond at the end of the civil war when one third of richmond was burned to the ground, so sadly, we have lost those records. our knowledge of this institution is based almost
entirely on studying other s.unty court' is a typical three or four strand whipped that was used at the time outside. we do have a whipping post next to the stocks and hillary's. a person could be whipped by the court that no more than -- pillories.hillary' a person could be whipped by the court, but no more than 39 times. that's a crossover from biblical law. the deputy sheriff or constable would whip them 10, 20, or 29 times depending on the order of the court, and they did get a fee for that, which is listed on the fee schedule.
i did mention that enslaved people could be brought here and tried for felonies. the basic felony punishment was death by hanging. however,in felonies you could receive the benefit of clergy, which is a holdover from pre-reformation england. at that time, the only people who could receive the benefit of clergy would be members of the clergy. eventually, with the reformation, it expanded beyond that. by the time this building was , if you were found guilty , the chief magistrate would tell you you had been found guilty and ask if you had anything to say. at that point, the defendant would say i plead the benefit of clergy or i demand my clergy, and what that would mean is that they would hold out their left hand and a branding iron would
and applied to the broad of the left hand like this. and the person was expected, by tradition, to yell out god save the king, and they carried the brand for the rest of their life. this shows a t4 thief. the other brand was m for manslaughter. done for free people. it continued in american jurisprudence in most of the colonies until the beginning of the 19th century and then it was gradually phased out. the ultimate lesson we would like people to take away from this building is that human nature has not changed. perhaps the means of expressing has, but the people of the
18th century were fully human, fully real, fully argumentative as we are today. >> you can watch this and other american artifacts programs by visiting our website at c-span.org/history. c-span takes you on the road to the white house and into the classroom. this year, our student documentary contest asks students what issues they want to hear from the presidential candidates. follow c-span's road to the white house coverage and get all the information about our atdent cam contest c-span.org. >> this year marks the 75th anniversary of president roosevelt's fourn freedoms speech. we are joined by the director of the fdr presidential library