Wouldn’t it be nice to see some of the original records of the General Court of Trials, held in various Rhode Island locations around the state during the 1600’s and early 1700’s.
So it turns out you can see some of them, for free. If you go to the bottom of this web page on Helin Digital Commons, the last 5 entries (scroll all the way down …) from 1724 contain over 400 pages of original Rhode Island court records. Pulling up any one of the five books shows you a download button in the top corner, for that book only, and an index spreadsheet towards the bottom of the page. There are five book parts and one index.
If you are interested in this sort of thing, I would suggest you download the 5 parts and the index, and store them on your own computer. This is publicly available but you never know when something will go away.
I downloaded the index, which is a spreadsheet, opened it in Excel, selected the whole sheet, used Sort & Filter –> Custom Sort –> and set it to sort by the following columns in this order: B, A, D, C. This made the index really useful. To sort by the other side, I sorted the columns in this order: D, C, B, A.
I quickly spotted several of my ancestors who were either litigious or got into some trouble. There are some “Indictments” in the list as well as civil suits, so this seems to cover civil and criminal matters, but by no means is it complete.
The web page gives the range of page numbers found in each book. The page numbers from the index refer to the handwritten page number at the top corner of every page (not the electronic image number). Once you know the page you want, you find which book has that page.
Looking at the records
I looked for this entry: George Lampheare v. Jonathan Babcocke – 1724 – 441. Only the page number is needed to find the record. It was in Part 5.
Lanpher to Babcocke [in margin]. George Lanpheare of Westerly in the Colony oforesd, Labourer Petn on Accon of Debt by Bond Damage £48 : Currt money of New England Jonathan Babcocke of Westerly Labourer Debt the Deft made Default Therefore It is Considered by the Court that he the sd George Lanphere have & recover of & agst the sd Jonathan Babcocke fifteen Pounds Nineteen Shillings & fix fence Debt & Damages & Costs of Suit £3 : 5 : 4 Execution Granted.
I found page 441 to look over this Lanpheare case (probably belongs to my 8th great-grandfather George Lamphere). Noting something unexplained about fence debt, I looked around a bit at the surrounding pages and found another entry for him, unindexed, where he is ordered to pay some fence debt. I think if items are close together, they seem to have one index entry only.
Although I did not see my 11th great-grandparents Mary or Richard Pray in the index, they were mentioned in a charge of copulation against Shadrack Manton in 1672 (page 8 of Part 1). Shardack pled not guilty and the jury found him not guilty.It’s not clear to me which records are in here and which are not; the coverage seems to be statewide because I see actions from all areas – jurors reporting, jurors being fined for not reporting, criminals and petitioners appearing.
Other published early court records
For access to additional records, two volumes have been compiled with more thorough indices:
- Fiske, Jane Fletcher. Gleanings from Newport Court Files 1659-1783. Boxford, Massachusetts: 1998.
- Fiske, Jane Fletcher, transcriber. Rhode Island General Court of Trials 1671-1704. Boxford, Massachusetts, 1998. (still for sale at R.I. Genealogical Society: http://www.rigensoc.org/forsale.php )
I had fun looking at these old pages. I only wish more of the Rhode Island judicial records were online.
The post you are reading is located at: