Sunday, November 9, 2014

NOVEMBER 9, 1814

200 years ago today in Washington County, Indiana Territory, the Washington Circuit Court was back in session after an adjournment since July.  Since the court had last been in session, several changes had occurred in the Territorial and County judiciary.  First, the territorial legislature had enacted a law in August of 1814 rearranging the judicial districts.  Previously there had been legal controversy over a prior act of the Territory legislature enacted in January 1814 which was in conflict with an act of the US Congress which established the jurisdiction of federal courts.  Benjamin Parke who would later become a Salem resident pointed this out to Governor Thomas Posey.  The new law corrected this and established three districts with each having a presiding judge for the circuit and two associate judges for each county within the circuit.  All were appointed by Governor Posey.

Samuel Lindley had resigned as the presiding judge of the first Washington Circuit Court after its July session.  Moses Hoggatt then declined to serve further as an associate judge.  Jesse L. Holman of Dearborn County was appointed as the new presiding judge of the Second Circuit which included Washington County.  John M. Coleman was appointed as an associate judge.  Simeon Lamb who had served as an associate judge since January 1814 remained as the third judge for Washington County.  Holman presided over the November session which was held in temporary quarters in or near Salem as the new Washington County Court House was under construction.

The first day of the session was dedicated to the pending criminal cases.  John F. Ross served as the Prosecuting Attorney. These cases were:
US v. Susannah Beem                      Forgery
US v. Frederick Wyman                    Assault and Battery
US v. Matthew McClure                   Assault and Battery
US v. John Ramsay                          Assault and Battery
US v. Matthew Lee                           Assault and Battery

The family of Susannah Beem was among the first to settle north of the Muskatatuck in Driftwood Township.  The records do not reveal what document/s she forged.  The punishment for forgery was three pronged.  First, a fine was imposed equal to double the amount of the fraud the forgery attempted to perpetrate with half to be paid to the party injured.  Second, the guilty forger was disqualified from future testimony, jury service and holding a public office.  Third, three hours of public humiliation were to be endured in a pillory.  Beem’s case was eventually tried and she was found guilty.  Her attorney immediately moved for a new trial and the case was continued for several terms of court and eventually dismissed as witnesses either lost interest or settled elsewhere.  It seems that Susannah Beem was not destined to pilloried on the Salem square.

Frederick Wyman was a 30 year old son of Henry Wyman of Dutch Creek who had recently married Elizabeth Baker but had not yet assumed the conduct moderating duties of parenthood.  At the time of his pending case, he was acting as the superintendent of the construction of that part of the public road from Salem to New Albany that was located between the Mutton Fork of Blue River and the south county line.  Perhaps Wyman’s construction supervision was found to be too aggressive. Assault and Battery was punishable by a fine not to exceed $100 and the court had the authority to place a person convicted of this crime under a surety of the peace for up to one year. 

The second and third days of the November session were dedicated to pending civil cases.  These cases were:
Matthew Royse    v.       John McPheeters                     Slander
John McPheeters v.       John Catlin                              Slander
Daniel Beem         v.       Alexander Craig                      Slander
John Dickinson    v.       Marston G. Clark                    Debt
Henry Dawalt       v.       Fred Niedeffer                        Case
Benjamin Brewer v.       Robert McCain                        Slander
William Wright    v.      William Hoggatt                      Debt
Philip Stucker      v.      Aaron Wilcoxsen                     Slander
Cassady Patterson v.     William Patterson                    Case
Hugh Nance         v.       Thomas Dorsey                       Slander
Howard Purcell    v.      Stephen Sparks                       Assault and Battery
John Fleenor        v.       Elizabeth Fleenor                     Divorce
Adam House        v.       Jacob Hattabaugh                    Case

The designation of “case” probably referred to what is known today as a negligence action. More than half of the cases were for the tort of slander which is spoken defamation.  As damages for slander are difficult to prove, there must have been a lot of perceived self-honor to protect.  Hurt feelings apparently were not left to heal over.  Some degree of self-control of our settlers is also apparent as slanderous comments did not lead to fights as only one civil assault and battery case was on the docket.  Perhaps there was much umbrage taken to unguarded comments as many of the residents of Washington County had not yet developed a sense of community and were often encountering strangers.  Also, many persons in the fledgling county had not yet affiliated with any church congregation so as to practice the settlement of personal disputes as suggested in Matthew 18:15-17.

The two pending debt collection cases are of interest because of the notoriety of the defendants.  Marston G. Clark had been a community leader of influence in Clark County, Indiana Territory before he moved to Washington County.  The Stevens Centennial History of Washington County, Indiana contains an extensive portrait of Clark. Clark had been a part of General Anthony Wayne’s campaign against Little Turtle in the 1790s. Clark had operated a ferry across the Ohio River from Beargrass Creek to the location that became Jeffersonville.   He was one of the settlers that helped lay out Jeffersonville.  He was a Major and Aide de Camp of William Henry Harrison’s staff for the Battle of Tippecanoe and is credited with advising General Harrison as to the location where the battle should occur.  Clark then served as one of the three commissioners who determined in early 1814 where the county seat of Washington County should be located.  His status did not protect him from his creditors from Clark County where he incurred debt for a performance bond he had made for a misfeasing official there. Clark’s financial troubles were short term as his political connections resulted in his being awarded the contract for the construction of the first county jail for the sum of $585.  He then opened the first hotel in Salem on South Main Street.  During the 1820s and 1830s, Marston G. Clark represented Washington County as either a State Senator or a State Representative. In the early 1830s he was the Indian Agent for the Kansa tribe near Ft, Leavenworth.

Washington County Sheriff William Hoggatt was not protected from suit for debt by his creditor and neighbor William Wright.  Hoggatt like Clarke was a man of influence as he had represented Harrison County in the Territorial legislature for a term and was a militia officer. He tried to operate a mill on the Middle Fork of Blue River without success and must have run up some debt.  Hoggatt resigned as sheriff and moved to Orange County as soon as it was organized in 1815 and became its Clerk/Recorder.  Sheriff Hoggatt was later sued by Washington County Treasurer Jonathan Lyon for failing to remit taxes he had collected as sheriff.  He must have been a man of some pretense or a friend of indulgent backers as his financial difficulties and public malfeasance did not prevent him from being a co-founder of Bono and being hired by the Bullitt Brothers to lay out Terre Haute, Indiana in 1816.

                                               MARSTON GREEN CLARK


                                      19TH CENTURY LAWYER IN COURT

No comments:

Post a Comment