This Saturday, March 26th, The Legal Genealogist is getting together with a whole bunch of Maryland genealogists at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore for the Pratt Annual Genealogy Lecture — four lectures, in all, focusing on genealogy and the law.
To be precise, these lectures: That First Trip to the Courthouse; Finding the Law; Making a Federal Case Out of It; and The Ethical Genealogist.
So, of course, in preparation for these, I had to spend some time poking around in old Maryland statutes, and anyone who regularly does Maryland research knows what I found.
I mean, seriously, the Archives of Maryland Online couldn’t make it much easier to do research into Maryland laws starting as far back as the Freemen’s Assembly of 1637/38 and as far forward as the Session Laws of 2014.
Both in word searchable text format and in digitized volumes of early records — often records microfilmed by the Library of Congress — the site has compiled about as comprehensive an online library of state law as exists anywhere in the United States.
And it’s all readily available for any of us to work with, even at 3 a.m. as we sit at our computers in our bunny slippers.
We can read, for example, of the trial of Thomas Smith, “indicted of pyracie,” before that Freemen’s Assembly on the 14th of March 1637, and how he was sentenced to death and to forfeiture of all his property, saving only that his wife retained her right of dower.1
We can read of the imposition of an export tax in October 1695 on “furrs or skinns” in order to pay for “the maintenance of a ffree schoole or schools within the Province” — with the rates set at:
every Bear Skin nine pence sterling
Beaver four pence p skin
Otter three pence p skin
wild Catts, foxes, Minks ffishers and Wolf skins one peny half peny p skin
Muskratt four pence p Dozen
Racoons three farthings p skin
Elk skins twelve pence, p skin
Dear Skinns drest or undrest four pence p skin
young Bear and Cubb Skinns two pence p Skin…2
We can read how, in 1752, the Legislature changed the law so that no slaves could be set free by will or testament “inasmuch as giving Freedom to Slaves, by any last Will and Testament, may be attended with many Evils.”3
And how the Legislature acted in April 1777 to encourage service in the military forces of the Revolution, by exempting anyone who enlisted from arrest for debt and exempting his property from execution while he served.4 Those 1777 laws had both carrot and stick: anyone who helped any deserter could be fined, imprisoned or, for a second offense, whipped.5
And it goes on and on… through private laws like the 1805 “Act for the relief of James Gantt, an insolvent debtor, of Prince-George’s county”6 and public laws like the one in 1861 authorizing the Baltimore authorities to close the bars and taverns “whenever in their judgment the public peace and tranquillity may require.”7
Wonderful resources, full of both direct genealogical information and the laws that let us understand the records we find.
Check ’em out.
- Archives of Maryland 1: 16-17, Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly January 1637/8-September 1664, in Archives of Maryland Online (http://www.msa.md.gov/ : accessed 23 Mar 2016). ↩
- Ibid., Archives of Maryland 19: 276, Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly 1693-1697. ↩
- Ibid., Archives of Maryland 50: 76, Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly 1752-1754. ↩
- Ibid., Archives of Maryland 203: 154, Hanson’s Laws of Maryland 1763-1784. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid., Archives of Maryland 562: 2, Session Laws, 1804. ↩
- Ibid., Archives of Maryland 526: 38, Session Laws, 1861. ↩