The Lawbook Exchange has published their Catalogue 102 of Recently Acquired Rare Books and Manuscripts in Law and Related Fields – America, Great Britain and Europe, 15th to 20th Centuries. That's a broad swath. Essentially everything in western law since printing began is covered. Not everything is in this catalogue, of course, but a lot of it is. Here are a few of these diverse items.
Britain's American colonies were always looking for more settlers, but not all had the same opportunities. Some immigrants did not have access to naturalization, just as was the case in England. However, America needed immigrants more, so in 1740, the laws were changed for the American colonies. Here is a printing of the act that changed the situation in America: An Act for Naturalizing Such Foreign Protestants, and Others herein Mentioned, As are Settled, Or Shall Settle in Any of His Majesty's Colonies in America. That was the technical name but it was familiarly known as the “Plantation Act” as it was encouraging settlement. The requirements were that the foreign immigrants had resided in a British colony for seven years and that they take an oath of allegiance and receive the sacrament. However, exceptions were made for Quakers and Jews so they could be naturalized. Quakers can't swear oaths so they were permitted to simply affirm it rather than swear it. Jews were exempted from an obvious requirement, allowing their oath not to require the phrase “on the true faith of a Christian.” Missing from these rights were Catholics, or “Papists” as they were called. They were not Protestants or one of the “others mentioned herein,” though many lived in the British colonies. Item 62. Priced at $1,750.
Here is a book about a city in England featuring one of its more dubious attractions. The title is Halifax, And its Gibbet-Law Placed in a True Light. Together with a Description of the Town; The Nature of the Soil, The Temper and Disposition of the People; The Antiquity of its Customary Law, And the Reasonableness Thereof... published in 1708. That law allowed the Lord of the manor to gibbet petty criminals found guilty of theft. I don't know what that “true light” was but gibbeting was a rather primitive practice employed in Halifax after having been abandoned elsewhere. Unlike the use of a gibbet for hanging, Halifax's had an ax that dropped like guillotine. The intent was to behead the convict. The practice finally came to an end in 1650 when Cromwell outlawed the law in the last place that still used it. The book was written by Samuel Midgley when in prison for debt. However, he lacked the money to publish it. The manuscript was later discovered by William Bentley who published it under his own name. Item 10. $500.
As long as we are talking about man's inhumanity to man, this is an extreme case. What was he thinking? Joseph Wall was the British Governor of Goree, an island off the coast of Senegal. He had a military background and previous instances of brutality, but his background was sufficient to get this less than prestigious governorship. This time, he was approached by one Benjamin Armstrong and other soldiers about unpaid wages. Wall decided their behavior was mutinous and, without benefit of a court martial, ordered the men flogged – 800 times with a knotted rope. Predictably, Armstrong and two others died. On returning to England, Wall was charged with murder, but the case was dropped when a ship carrying witnesses disappeared. They later showed up, but Wall escaped to the continent where he lived for many years. Twenty years later he returned to England and surrendered, evidently believing the witnesses were all gone or authorities would let bygones be bygones. They did not and two witnesses were found. Wall was convicted of murder. A great effort for a pardon was made by his wife's family but public sentiment was against Wall, plus a double standard was perceived in the treatment of sailors versus officers that a pardon would have generated outrage. Wall was hanged before a large, cheering crowd. Item 134 is a stated third edition from 1802 of The Trial of Joseph Wall, Esq., Late Governor of Goree, For the Wilful Murder of Benjamin Armstrong, A Serjeant of the Africa Corps...January 20, 1802. $1,000.
Not all murder charges end so badly for the defendant. Jane Butterfield was a pretty young girl of 14 when she was brought to the home of William Scawen to be a housekeeper. Scawen was an elderly, wealthy man, and though his health was not good, it was sufficiently well for him to seduce the young girl. What happened broke Jane's father's heart, quite literally, and he dropped dead. Both Scawen and Miss Butterfield were terribly upset by this, with Scawen feeling great remorse. The result was Scawen took her into his household, apparently with better intentions this time, though one wonders. He provided her with the best things, fine clothing, an excellent education. He took on all the responsibilities of a father. In turn, Butterfield cared for him tenderly, taking care of all his medical needs, which were great, including dressing the persistent sores the man had. Everyone who knew them said the couple cared deeply for each other. However, 14 years later with his health very fragile, Scawen's physician insisted he stay with him. A couple of weeks later, Scawen died. His physician was suspicious and claimed Scawen had been poisoned with mercury. He so testified at trial, while Butterfield's attorney brought in other physicians who said the cause of death could not be determined. Item 122 is The Trial of Jane Butterfield for the Wilful Murder of William Scawen...19th of August 1775... Jane Butterfield was a sympathetic defendant and the community was very much in her favor. The jury also felt the same. It took them only 10 minutes to acquit her. She seems to have disappeared from history after that and while I am not certain, it also appears that Scawen's sister managed to convince the old man in his final days to disinherit Butterfield and leave his money to her. Item 122. $750.
Next is the classic biography of America's most notable founder and first President, The Life of George Washington... by John Marshall. Marshall is still America's longest serving Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Item 91 is the second, abridged edition, published in 1832, and comes with the separately published Atlas to Marshall's Life of Washington, also from 1832. This copy contains the inscription, “For Mr. Wickham from his old friend the author.” Marshall and Wickham had been friends for many decades. John Wickham was one of the few loyalists who had major careers in the United States after the revolution. Wickham was an attorney who successfully defended Aaron Burr in his trial for treason in 1807. Marshall presided at that trial. Item 91. $17,500.