Debtors Thrown In Prison – Couples Desiring To Get Married Were Forced To Post Bond Before Ceremony
From the 1938 centennial edition of The Times-Register
Court records of this county made soon after the formation indicate that the court was rather strict with people who did not pay their debts. It appears as though persons were jailed for debt as in practically all such court records the notation was made that the defendant appeared in court in the custody of the sheriff.
Landlords were protected in collecting rent from tenants as will be seen from the following case which was recorded as of November 16, 1840:
“Wm. Williamson having obtained an attachment in the goods and chattels of Ludlow B. Sisson, his tenant for $25 for rent which will become due on the 25th, December next. And a constable of this county having by virtue thereof attached the crop of tobacco, of the goods and chattels of the said Sisson. This day came the plaintiff by his attorney and it is ordered by the court that the constable expose to sale at public auction the attached efforts aforesaid for money payable on the 25th, December next, the time when the rent will be due and that he take a bond or bonds with good security or securities of the purchaser or purchasers and assign such bond or bonds as a sufficiency thereof to the plaintiff in satisfaction of the aforesaid sum of $25 and all costs incurred in prosecution of this attachment and sale and the overplus if any, return to the defendant.”
Did Not Take Chances
It will be seen from the above that the court order was dated November 16 but that the rent was not due until December 25. There was nothing to indicate that the defendant had abandoned his rented land although that supposition is presumed from the record. However, the record clearly states that the rent was not due until December 25. This indicates that at that time landlords were not taking great chances on the tenants getting away without paying the rent.
Some of the old court records are not self explanatory but an intimation of their meaning is clearly given and a little imagination will depict their meaning. The following order which is not quite clear seems to be a license issued to a man to perform marriage rites:
“Aaron Newman this day produced credentials of his ordination and also of his being in regular communion with the Baptist Church took the oath of allegiance to the commonwealth and with Henry Edmundson and WIlliam McDermid, his securities entered into and acknowledged a bond in the penalty of $1,500 conditioned as the law directs. Whereupon on motion a testimonial is granted him in due form.”
Could Not Marry Without Bond
Before entering into matrimony a bond was required and the following bond is a sample of those issued at that time:
“KNOW ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS that we, William Foster and Jessie Walker are held and firmly bound unto John Rutherford, acting governor of Virginia, in the sum of one hundred and fifty dollars, current money; and for the payment of which, well and truly to be made to the said Governor and his successors in office, we bind ourselves, our heirs, executors and administers, jointly and severally, firmly by these presents. Sealed with our seals and dated this 14th day of August 1841.”
“THE CONDITION OF THE ABOVE OBLIGATION IS SUCH THAT whereas a marriage is shortly to be had and solemnized between the above bound William Foster and Minny Walker of the county of Roanoke. If therefore, there be no lawful cause or impediment to obstruct said marriage, then the above obligation to be void, otherwise to remain in full force and virtue.”
From such records it seems plain that the bond was required to insure that the parties had not been married previously or that other impediments were not obstacles to a legal ceremony.
Roof Was Leaky
Soon after the first courthouse was used the following notation is seen in the court records:
“It appearing to the court that the roof of the court house is not water-proof whereby the building is liable to be injured it is ordered that the commissioners of public buildings withhold from the contractors a sum sufficient to indemnify the county for the deficiency of the work and the injury likely to incur therefrom.”
This notation was made in the court record book on June 21, 1841.
On July 19, 1841, is recorded the first steps looking towards the erection of a poorhouse in this county although previously to that time the county had provided for the poor. The records on that date include the following notation:
“Ordered that David Sloan, Wm. Ferguson and John Persinger for Back Creek, Joseph Woods, Sam Phillips and Absolom Smith for Catawba, James Kyle, Chas. Carney and John F. J. White for the center of the county, be appointed commissioners to look out for and ascertain the best situation for a site together with a probable cost of the same for erection of a poor house for this county and report to the September court next.”
In the early days not only taverns but stores were permitted to sell liquors as will be seen from the following court record dated July 19,1841:
“David Nininger, having obtained license according to law for selling goods, wares and merchandise in this county, the court being of the opinion that such store is a fit and convenient place in the neighborhood for the retain of ardent spirits and that he is of good character, a certificate is hereby granted said Niningerto retail at his store wine, run, brandy and other ardent spirits or a mixture thereof, so that such liquors be not drank in or at the store during the time for which his merchandise license is granted.”
A notation in the court records dated February 21, 1842 as following is interesting:
“Ordered that Powell H. Huff be appointed a commissioner to provide a stove suitable for the debtor’s room in the jail of this county to be paid for out of any funds in the sheriff’s hands not otherwise appropriated.”
In February, 1842 Lewis Harvey received a commission from the governor of the commonwealth appointing him as sheriff of the county but before he could qualify he died and by March 21,1842 William McDermid received his commission as sheriff and on that day took the oath of office.
Much of the discussions and actions of the court pertained to road matters as road building got under way in earnest soon after the county was formed. There were a number of road surveyors and road overseers appointed. At the March, 1842 term of court the following notation is typical of orders pertaining to roads:
“On motion of the overseer of the road leading from Thomas Barnes’ at the Botetourt line to Burlington in Roanoke leave is given him to erect at the expense of the county a cheap and substantial bridge over the ditch near the ford of Carvin’s Creek at the place known as Botetourt Springs.”
Poorhouse Was Built
On June 20, 1842 in the claims allowed was one for $1,522.10 to W. C. Williams for public buildings and the previous minutes indicate that this was for courthouse or jail. On the same date a claim of $700 “for poor house” was allowed. It was not stated previously what the commission had recommended for a poorhouse but it was recorded that they made their report.
A rather odd case was heard in court in the August, 1842 term and was listed as Woods vs. Garst. A transaction between the two men over land wound up in court and the jury brought in a verdict that there had been no value placed upon the land at the time of the contract of sale so that they proceeded to fix the value. They set $5 per acre as the price for one tract of 117 acres; $1.75 per acre for a tract of 354 acres and for a 154 acre tract but 15 1-2 cents per acre was set as the true value.
At January, 1843 term of court is found a notation which is hard to explain. It reads as follows:
“Samuel Howbert, John Huff and Christian Stoutamire, commissioners appointed to examine the first two sections of five miles of the Salem and New Castle turnpike road this day made their report which was objected to by the commonwealth attorney and rejected.”
-Prepared by Lisa King
Leave a Reply