The History of Caroline County, Maryland, From Its Beginning, 1920, pp. 7-17


CAROLINE COUNTY COURTS

I.  Importance of Courts of that Day

        As has been mentioned the Palatine of Durham was the model for Maryland government and accordingly much power was vested in the county unit—the court.  The following list of court powers of that day gives an idea of their jurisdiction.

Court powers:

  1.  To divide Counties into Hundred.
  2.  To appoint a constable once a year for each Hundred.
  3.  To divide the county into highway precincts.
  4.  To appoint once a year an overseer for each highway precinct.
  5.  To hear and consider petitions for new highways.
  6.  To let contracts for keeping ferries
  7.  To let contracts for erection and repair of county buildings.
  8.  To appoint inspectors of weighs and measures. (Later for tobacco.)
  9.  To provide county with standards of weights and measures.
10.  To require tobacco inspectors to render them accounts.
11.  To remove inspectors from office for misbehavior.
12.  To (through Justices) levy taxes.
13.  To exempt paupers from poll tax.
14.  To exempt superannuated slaves from tax.
15.  To (through Sheriff) collect taxes.
16.  To grant rights to keep ordinary.
17.  To establish rates of ordinary as to eating, drinking, etc.
18.  To advise sheriff as to day of election of “delegates.”  (The justices sat with sheriff
       during election.)
19.  To (in some cases) direct the sheriff to sell insolvent debtors into servitude.
20.  To pay annual prizes amounting to several thousand pounds of tobacco for the
       best  pieces of linen manufactured in the county.
21.  To train and organize Militia.
22.  To (in case of poverty)
         a.  Bind out orphan children as apprentices
         b.  Engage physicians for sick paupers.
         c.  Levy tax for the support of the poor and needy.
II.  Establishing the Courts

        The same assembly, 1773, which gave us Caroline, enacted various laws relative to the new County Courts.
           1.  The Assembly appointed seven Commissioners.
               2.  These Commissioners were authorized to purchase "A quantity of land, not exceeding four acres of
                     land, at or adjoining Pig Point on the east side of the Choptank River, below Melvill's Warehouse."
                3.  The Justices of Caroline County were authorized to secure a place for court and gaol.
                4.  Ordered court to be held at Melvill's Warehouse until Court and gaol at Pig Point were complete.
                5.  Authorized Justices to levy a tobacco assessment sufficient to pay for land on which to build court
                     house and gaol, plus 5% sheriff's fees for collecting.
                6.  The commissioners were authorized to contract and agree for the building of the Court house and
                     gaol.

III.  Places of Holding Court

              1.  Melvill's Warehouse.  March 1774 to August 1778.
                2.  Bridgetown (now Greensboro).  August 1778 to March 1780.
                3.  Melvill's Warehouse.  March 1780 to March 1790.
                4.  Pig Point (now Denton).  March 1790 to present.

IV.  Court at Melvill's Warehouse

        By order of Assembly (1773) Melvill's Warehouse became the temporary county seat and court convened there for all terms from 1774 to 1778.  The following is the official record of the same.

Court Organization
        Maryland at a County Court of the Right Honorable Henry Harford, Esq. Absolute Lord and Proprietary of the province of Maryland held for Caroline County at Melvill's Warehouse in the County aforesaid, the third Tuesday in March, Anno Domini 1774 beginning the 15th day of the said month and continued by several adjournments until the 17th day thereby.  Lordships, commissioners and officers authorized and employed to hold the said court were:

Present
The Worshipful
Mr. Charles Dickinson
Mr. Benson Stainton
Mr. Thomas White
Mr. William Haskins
Mr. Richard Mason
Mr. Joshua Clark
Mr. Nathaniel Potter

        The said Lord Proprietary
            his Justices

Wm. Hooper, Esq. Sheriff         George Fitzhugh, Clerk.

        The following commission and Writ of Dedimus Potestatem thereon indorsed to the Justices of Caroline County directed are openly read (viz) the Right Honorable Henry Harford, Esq.; absolute Lord and Proprietary of the Province of Maryland to Richard Lee, Benedict Calvert, Daniel Dulany, John Ridout, John Beale Boardly, George Stewart, William Fitzhughes, William Hayward, Daniel of Saint Thomas Ienifer, George Peter, Benjamin Ogle and Philip Thomas Lee, Esquires, Charles Dickinson, William Haskins.  Thomas White, Richard Mason, Joshua Clark, Benson Stainton, Nathaniel Potter, William Richardson and Matthew Driver, Junior men of Caroline County, Gentlemen, Greeting, Know ye, that we have assigned you and every one of  you jointly and severally, our Justices to keep our peace within our County of Caroline and to do equal law and right to all the Kings subjects, rich and poor, according to the laws, customs and directions of the acts of the Assembly of this Province, so far forth as they provide, and where they are silent, according to the laws, statutes and reasonable customs of England, as made and practiced within this Province for the conservation of the peace, and quiet rule and government of the King's subjects within our said County, and to chastise and punish all or any persons offending against the said acts, laws, statutes and customs, or any of them, according to the directions thereof, and to call before you, or any of you, those who in our County aforesaid shall break our peace and misbehave themselves; to find sufficient security of the peace and good behaviour to us and the said subjects, and if they shall refuse to find such security that then you cause them to be committed into safe custody, until they shall be delivered by due course of law from thence; also we have assigned you, and every three or more of you--(then an enumeration of all crimes and misdemeanors follows).............and none others to be Judges.  Also by these presents we do command the Sheriff of our said County of Caroline that at the several Courts to be held for our said county, he give his attendance and cause to come before you, or any three or more of you (as aforesaid) such and so many good and lawful men of his Bailiwick out of every hundred thereof, by whom the truth of the matter may be better known and inquired of.  Lastly, you shall cause to be brought before you at your said Courts, all Writs, Precepts, Process, and Indictments to your Courts and Jurisdiction belonging, that the same may be inspected and by due course of law determined.  Witness Robert Eden, Esq. Lieutenant General and Chief Governor of our said Province of Maryland, this twenty eight day of February, in the third year of our Dominion.
                                                                                                        Robert Eden {seal}

        This first court made appointments and issued Orders of Court but no "trials" were held until August 1774 at which time the Commissioners and other officers were the same as those present in March.

V.  Court at Bridgetown (Greensboro)

        Troubles concerning the location of the seat of Justice began.  Jealousy no doubt was the basis of the entire dissention.  During the Revolutionary period the County Treasury had become depleted by general conditions as well as by the depreciation of currency so that the monies therein had almost reached zero.  Wright says, "Each year that this great and glorious conflict continued, depreciated Caroline's finances until they had almost if not quite reached the vanishing point."  With keen political acumen the Northern part of the County made a heroic effort to  have the County Seat removed to Bridgetown (now Greensboro).  The down County politicians offered vigorous opposition claiming that Edenton (now Denton) the place chosen by the 1773 Assembly was more centrally located and making protest against "The Bridgeers" lacking dignity of name.  The upper county retaliated in kind by reference to "Pig Point" and the impropriety of the name Edenton because of its relation to Governor Eden.
        And so the war waged.  Mass meeting were held and committees from both sections with the fastest local craft obtainable flew "hither and to" across the bay to Annapolis trying to impress lawmakers of their needs.  That they created some contention among the lawmakers there is shown by the following enactments of 1786 when:

        1.  "An Act was passed suspending the erection of public buildings In Caroline, and a petition was presented to the Assembly, signed by many inhabitants of the County praying
that the public building be erected at Choptank Bridge."

        2.  "A counter-petition signed by many other Inhabitants of the County and preferred to the same Assembly prayed that the said building be erected at or near the center of the County."

        3.  "The Assembly then passed an Act deferring the erection of public building until the next Assembly,  any law to the contrary  notwithstanding."

        That Court convened in Bridgetown a number of  times during this altercation is proven by the Court records.  The orders are as follows: