Tag Archives: colonial records

New Digital Collections: Colonial Court Records & District Superior Court Records

The State Archives of North Carolina would like to announce the addition of two new collections to the North Carolina Digital Collections: Colonial Court Records and District Superior Court Records.

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The Colonial Court Records digital collection includes two series: Estate Papers, CCR. 179-CCR.186, and Land Papers, CCR.187. Records relating to any of the higher courts in early North Carolina represented in the series Colonial Court Records (CCR) are extremely scarce until 1683, and are almost non-existent for several higher courts well after that date. Records of the General Court, the most important of these courts in terms of powers and amount of business transacted, do not begin to be abundant until 1694. It functioned from as early as 1670 until 1754 and during those years heard a great number of lawsuits involving decedents estates. When the records of this court were arranged at the Archives about 1959, papers from cases concerning estates were sorted out of the other loose papers and were designated Estates Records even though they were not true estates reports, inventories, accounts, etc. Papers concerning approximately seven hundred estates resulted. They were then foldered individually by decedent and arranged alphabetically.

For a more detailed account of what records are in the Colonial Court Records Collection, please see the CCR finding aid.

The District Superior Court Records digital collection currently contains only one district, Edenton District, from 1756 to 1806. It includes writs, transcripts, narratives, inventories of estates, notes, bonds, appeals, and subpoenas relating to the settlement of estates in the counties under the jurisdiction of the Edenton District Superior Court. It also includes a short subseries of guardians’ records (1760- 1805) arranged by name of the ward, and records of unnamed decedents and wards.

The supreme courts of justice system, in effect briefly from 1755 to 1759, served as the immediate predecessor and the pattern on which the district superior courts system was based. Under the supreme courts of justice, the colony of North Carolina was divided into five districts–each with its own independent court. The following towns served as the seats of the court districts: Edenton, Enfield, New Bern, Salisbury, and Wilmington.

Each supreme court of justice was independent and had the same jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters in their respective districts. Duties of the district superior courts also included the power of probate for deeds and wills. The state’s judiciary system underwent several more changes, with varying changes in duties and jurisdictions of the district superior courts until 1806 when the district superior courts were closed and replaced by superior courts erected in every county seat in the state. For a more detailed account of court history please seeing the digital collection landing page, or NCPedia article “State Judiciary.”

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“What Does That Say?” Series, Pt. II

Deciphering the Handwritten Records of Early America

Since beginning my work with digitizing the General Assembly Session Records collection at the State Archives, I have had to do a bit of research on how to effectively interpret 18th century manuscripts in order create the appropriate metadata for the records and improve discoverability of these records in our digital collection. The following sections include a brief history of writing during this time period, characteristics of 17th and 18th century British-American handwriting, and some tips on deciphering the text found within these records.

This is the second blog post of a series on how to read handwritten colonial documents, see the first blog post of this series on abbreviations, shorthand, and lettering.

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“What Does That Say?” Series, Pt. I

Deciphering the Handwritten Records of Early America

Since beginning my work with digitizing the General Assembly Session Records collection at the State Archives, I have had to do a bit of research on how to effectively interpret 18th century manuscripts in order create the appropriate metadata for the records and improve discoverability of these records in our digital collection. The following sections include a brief history of writing during this time period, characteristics of 17th and 18th century British-American handwriting, and some tips on deciphering the text found within these records. This is the first blog post of a series on how to read handwritten colonial documents.

As a skill most take for granted today, writing was not a widespread accomplishment during this time period; however, with the growth of commerce and industry, the need for this skill became more apparent.

According to Monaghan (1988), reading and writing were considered to be two separate endeavors, as the ability to read was not dependent on the ability to write. Initially, reading was simply a means to an end—a skill that provided direct access to the Scripture. The Bible was this era’s most popular book, so it comes as no surprise that it was the first text children learned to read. Thornton (1998) contends that “reading was taught first, as a universal spiritual need; writing was taught second, and then only to some.”

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New Digital Collection: The General Assembly Session Records

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Session of November-December, 1768: Lower House Papers, messages to and from Governor Tryon. Available online through the NC Digital Collections.

The General Assembly Session Records collection is now available online via the North Carolina Digital Collections. This collection features records of early North Carolina state legislatures from the State Archives of North Carolina. The documents consist of bills and resolutions, petitions, committee reports, messages from the governor, legislative messages, tally sheets, election certificates, resignations, and other material related to the work of each session of the General Assembly. The physical collection includes items from 1709 through 1999, but the digital collection will focus on the earliest materials. This digital collection is currently in progress, and more items will be added as they are digitized. Check back for future updates on the status of this project.

While the first official assembly was said to occur around 1665, it wasn’t until 1776 that the first state constitution was ratified by the “representatives of the freemen” and the General Assembly was given full legislative power as well as the authority to choose all state executive and judicial officers. Several amendments have been made to the state’s constitution over time, which has altered the powers and structure of the General Assembly.

For more information on the history of the North Carolina General Assembly, please check out these NCpedia pages developed by the State Library:

Other resources:

For more information on the General Assembly Session Records collection, please search our MARS catalog. Another digital collection of interest includes the Federal State and Constitutional Materials, which highlight North Carolina government’s role in the ratification of federal amendments and its own internal efforts to protect the rights of its citizens dating back to the Declaration of Rights in 1776.

Archives Information Circulars

A new Archives Information Circular – Circular 18: War of 1812 Records in the North Carolina State Archives – is now available on the Services page of the State Archives website.

If you are unfamiliar with the Archives Information Circulars (or the AICs, as they are sometimes known), they are essays written by members of the Archives staff on a specific subject of research. They also serve as guides to the materials in our collections relating to that subject. Currently there are nineteen circulars available online that cover everything from: colonial records, marriage bonds in North Carolina, African-American resources, Tennessee records available in our collections, records relating to Native Americans, and materials that show North Carolina’s contributions to various war efforts.

The circulars are available in PDF format and are maintained by our Public Services Branch, the same unit that runs our Search Room and responds to requests for copies or research. Please visit the Services page for a complete list of Archives Information Circulars.