Twenty Stripes Meted Out By Judge Nearly 100 Years Ago-Law Abiding Populace
From the 1938 centennial edition of The Times-Register
Much water has gone under the bridge since the first courts were established in this county and the methods of legal procedure have changed to a marked degree. This fact is apparent upon reading the early court records of this country when first established when court was held in the James Huff home and a few years later when the first sessions of court were held in the courthouse that was completed in 1841.
While at that time there were few cases of a serious nature and matters that now would be tried by a magistrate were heard, the court had a wide jurisdiction and some of their methods were unique.
For instance the early court over which justices of the peace presided always gave a preliminary hearing to a person charged with a felony. The grand jury did not seem to investigate anything except such cases as breach of the peace and selling liquor without a license.
One of the first cases involving a felony to come before the local court was on February 17, 1840, when Thomas Golden was brought into court for a preliminary hearing on a charge of shooting and wounding Pleasant Blankenship. After hearing evidence in the case the following notation was recorded in the court book: “The court are of the opinion that the prisoner is guilty and therefore should be brought to trial in the March term of court.” In view of the fact that the same men would try him at the regular term of court as those who expressed the opinion that he was guilty the above notation seems a little out of line-at least with present ideas on court procedure.
It must be said that in those days the people of this vicinity were a very law abiding people. Cases of breach of the peace were common but such cases as a rule merely involved people who had been in a fist fight. The fine for such an offense was rarely over five dollars. On November 17 Isaac Miller was hauled into court and when found guilty of some petty offense was fined one cent.
In those days it was necessary for the court to pass on a man’s qualifications to operate an ordinary tavern. Such taverns or “house of entertainment” as they were called were evidently considered by the court to be “useful”-at least that notation was made in the court records on approving applications. A large number of such applications were approved by the courts in the early days of this county and the following order approving one is a sample and the wording in all of them is exactly the same with the exception of the applicant’s name: November23,1838.
Tavern Keeper Qualifies
“On the petition of John Gordon and it appearing to the satisfaction of the court that he is of good character and not addicted to drunkenness and gaming and the court being of the opinion that he will keep an orderly and useful house of entertainment and license is hereby granted him to keep an ordinary at his house in the county.”
Operating a tavern without a license was contrary to law and on August 22, 1838, John Poage was indicted for such offense. The court records show that he was charged with “unlawfully receiving compensation for dieting and operating a tavern without license.”
In finding a defendant not guilty the court records of that day almost always bore the same notation which was “the court finds the defendant not guilty and the defendant go hence without day.”
As soon as this county was formed there were a number of turnpike companies organized for the building of macadamized roads from Salem to various points in this section of the state. The court had power to alter the roads and in the first few years of the Roanoke county court a large number of petitions were heard by people who wanted changes made in the roads. There were probably as many complaints in those days as to the manner in which roads were laid out as there are today.
The local court also had the power to award damages to a land owner when a road was built through his property and a number of such cases were heard by the court in day.
On August 23, 1830 the following court order was made:
“On motion of David Gish who owns the land on both sides of Wolf Creek in the county and being desirous to raise the dam for a water grist mill, it is ordered that a writ of ad quod damnum be awarded him to be directed to the sheriff of this county to be executed the 31 inst.”
This order relates to the Gish who founded the grist mill near Vinton and which was responsible for the founding of a town at that place.
For some years after the founding of this county the lash was used as a penalty for those who transgressed the law. A case of this nature was recorded in the September, 1846 term of court when Charley Hatcher was hauled into court for a preliminary hearing on a charge of larceny. The court heard evidence of the charge and decided to bind him over for trial. Hatcher requested that the court mete him out punishment then and there as he did not want to wait until the next term of court. He probably was of the opinion that the court would not have ordered him held for trial unless they believed him guilty. The court complied with his request and ordered the sheriff to give him twenty stripes.
At the term of court held on December 21, 1840, a commission composed of George Shanks and others reported on a proposed plan for improving the temporary jail as they had been ordered to do by the court. This report was accepted and agreeable with one exception and that exception was that the recommendation that the lining with planks of the lower room in the western part of the building be not followed.
-Prepared by Lisa King