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This account of the early courts of Pennsylvania is the outcome of some lectures delivered as an auxiliary course in the Law School of the University of Pennsylvania. Their purpose was to describe briefly the establishment and development of the courts in the colonial period. That our ancestors should have expressed such profound admiration for the common law while deviating so widely from it in practice, must have puzzled many who have not learned to put a true value upon the flights of forensic oratory. History alone supplies the key, and colonial legal history has not received the attention it deserves. The absence of reports, the destruction of many records and the inaccessibility of those that have been preserved, have all contributed to discourage work in a field usually abandoned to the antiquarian. But as American law increases in importance, the story of its obscure beginnings will require careful considera

The earliest emigrants, caring little for the common law except those principles associated with Magna Charta, stamped their peculiar notions upon our jurisprudence in a way that the second and more conservative generation of colonists was unable to eradicate. The Revolution, and the constitutional development that followed, concentrated attention on public rather than on private law, which in many of the States has been allowed to develop haphazard, along the lines of least resistance. Before it will be possible to classify and discuss American colonial law in a thorough and scientific manner, much preliminary work must be done in local fields, and, from material so collected, there may be derived finally a rational account of our legal institutions.

It is in this spirit that the following study has been prepared. The original lectures were undertaken, at the suggestion of Dr. William Draper Lewis, Dean of the Law School, and material sought in the records without, at first, a sufficient realization of their lack of coherence. It was found that while some special topics had been carefully discussed, and while others were treated incidentally, in works having a different object in view, there was no concise

statement of the origin and growth of the courts and their jurisdiction based directly on the statutes and archives of the commonwealth. Such a narrative, it was thought, might prove useful to those who have not found time to become acquainted with the scattered literature of the period described. The treatment is not exhaustive; that would be impossible in a volume of this size, but it is believed that the information contained will be found accurate, as it is based on a careful examination of the public records. While the labor involved was greater than anticipated, the result by no means does justice to a deeply interesting topic.




The work cited as Charter and Laws of Pennsylvania contains the Duke of York's Laws and the Acts of Assembly prior to 1700. The Statutes at Large of Pennsylvania, as published to date, begin at 1700 with Volume II and end at 1793 with Volume XIV. Compilations of the laws of the State by Dallas and Smith are also cited for acts in the last years of the eighteenth and early years of the nineteenth centuries. The regular series of Acts of Assembly which begin with 1800 are cited, according to local custom, as pamphlet laws, abbreviated "P. L.” The records of the court at Upland were published by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1860; the records of the court at New Castle by the Colonial Society of Pennsylvania in 1904. This society is about to publish the records of the courts of Chester County which, unfortunately, are not yet available for reference. For the convenience of the general reader, illustrations have been taken from published records, when practicable, rather than from manuscript sources. The dates are given just as they appear in the records without accounting for the discrepancies due to the reform of the calendar in 1752.

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