by Anne Motto, Curator of Collections
July 5, 2022
This spring, MCHS received an extensive donation of local documents including everything from very early 19th-century daybooks to early Morris County newspapers, all carefully preserved by generations of one family in Flanders. A treasure trove waiting to be fully explored, organizing and carefully cataloging the donation will likely take months, if not years. Most daunting (and most exciting!) are the 1,411 summonses and related documents from three successive Morris County Justices of the Peace that promise to provide fascinating insight into life in early Roxbury.
An initial inventory revealed that the summonses mostly span from 1820 to the 1839. Likely preserved by the donor’s ancestor, Rhece Nicholas, the third Justice of the Peace, they also come from his predecessors Robert Slaight (c.1820-1825) and Paul Drake (1825-c.1827). Some names appear again and again (one Lot Howell appears to have been particularly litigious), and most cases revolve around promissory notes for amounts smaller than $15 (roughly $400 today depending on the year in question). There is even a summons for non-payment of $1.62 on bushels of turnips. Inquiring minds already want to know how that case unfolded.
Each Justice of the Peace had their preferred location for appearances. Robert Slaight invariably ordered for respondents to appear at Henry Mooney’s tavern; Paul Drake preferred Septemious King’s. Recognizing a tavern’s place in society of that time as a community center and meeting place, it still seems ill-advised to add alcohol to these charged proceedings. Perhaps that is why Rhece Nicholas generally chose to meet at his office.
So much about these documents and their context is still yet to be discovered. As they are individually recorded, new and illuminating details are bound to come to light. Upon completion, we hope that in their entirety, they will help paint a picture of the community, likely representative of the others in the area.