Scope and arrangement
Based on an historical analysis of the legal system of the period, one can trace the likely pattern and use of the records included in this collection. Due to an economic depression, many New Yorkers fell on hard times. Owing money to their creditors, as indicated in promissory notes and affidavits, struggling citizens were arrested for debt and were bound to James Morris, Sheriff of New York City, for the amount they owed. "Bound for the limits," they were forced to remain in the New Gaol, or the debtors' prison, as it was known. Numerous receipts for bail posted to the court clerk and letters from attorneys requesting the discharge of prisoners indicates that the debtors and other prisoners remained in jail until their bail was posted or their debts paid.
Among the names mentioned and signatures that appear in these documents which bear noting are Ogden Edwards, who was appointed Circuit Judge in 1823; Francis Bloodgood, who served as Supreme Court Clerk in the Albany Office from 1797-1825; James Fairlie, who served as Supreme Court Clerk in the New York Office from 1797-1830; Arthur Breese, who served as Supreme Court Clerk in the Utica Office from 1807-1825; Richard Varick, who was appointed Attorney General in 1788 and later went on to hold other elected positions, including that of Mayor in 1789; and Josiah Ogden Hoffman, appointed Attorney General in 1795. At this time, "Declarations, pleadings, and motions in actions brought by the State of New York were filed under the name of the attorney general." 37 Other names of note in this collection are Richard Harison, U.S. Attorney, 38 Cadwallader Colden, and Evert A. Bancker.
Overall Arrangement of the Collection
The majority of the collection is arranged alphabetically by the last name of the lawyer working on the case. However, a number of the documents do not include a lawyer's name. This could be due in part to the practice of representing oneself in court in propria persona. According to Black's Dictionary, this comes from the Latin phrase "for one's self,39 and refers to acting on one's own behalf. The phrase is generally used to identify a person who is acting as his or her own attorney in a lawsuit. Since many of the defendants mentioned in these documents are debtors, it makes sense that they would not be able to afford an attorney to represent them in court.
Morris states that, "Down to the end of the seventeenth century, if a litigant wished to be represented in the New York mayor's court by legal counsel, he would have had to make his selection from the very small number of lawyers of questionable training and competence who were available. If he could not spare time from the shop or had to be at sea when the case was scheduled to appear, he would frequently ask a friend or relative, possibly his wife, to appear as 'attorney' for him. The services of an agent or attorney-in-fact, as distinguished from the professional practitioner, were frequently resorted to in all colonial court." 40
The documents that do not include the name of an attorney are organized by type of document. They are as follows: affidavits, arrest warrants, receipts for bail posted, bonds for the limits, documents indicating that the defendant is "bound" to the sheriff of New York City for debt, requests for prisoners' discharge, promissory notes, legal documents referring to pleas of trespass, writs of error, documents having to do with property, wills, family information or the Court of Chancery, and other miscellaneous legal and business documents.
This collection was received from Doris Harris Autographs, Los Angeles, California, on October 7, 1999. Ms. Harris believed the value of the collection lay in the fact that the collection is an important source of information on lawyers who were practicing during this time period and that it includes a large variety of legal forms. The collection arrived at the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society organized by the last names of the lawyers. The NYG&B chose to retain this organization; however, documents were often misfiled and had to be refiled in their proper location.
The NYG&B originally sought to index all names appearing on each document. However, after initially beginning this project it was determined to be too time consuming an undertaking. For this reason, there is an index to all persons mentioned in the documents that have the names of lawyers that fall alphabetically between "Adriance" and "Bogert." The bulk of the documents are indexed only by the name of the lawyer. A small percentage of the documents do not name a lawyer. These documents are not indexed.
The New York City and New York State legal documents are arranged in two series:
- 1795-18264 boxes
The documents include bonds for the limits, warrants for arrest, dockets of cases, requests by lawyers for the discharge of prisoners, and receipts for bail posted. Available finding aids: List of the names of lawyers that are included in these documents. See index. For documents that mention lawyers whose last names fall alphabetically between Adriance and Bogert, there is an index to all persons mentioned in the document in addition to the lawyers.
About ninety-five per cent of the materials falls between 1799-1801. There are selected documents from 1775, 1795, and the period of 1806-1835.
- 1795-18351 box
Documents include affidavits, arrest warrants, receipts for bail posted, bonds for the limits, documents indicating that the defendant is "bound" to the sheriff of New York City for debt, requests for prisoners' discharge, promissory notes, legal documents referring to pleas of trespass, writs of error, documents having to do with property, wills, family information, and the Court of Chancery, and other miscellaneous legal and business documents.
Dates: 1795-1835, with the bulk of the materials falling between 1799-1801. There are selected documents from 1775, 1795, and the period of 1806-1835.