News & Events

 

WAGS DONATION PERMITS THE PURCHASE
OF SUPREME COURT CASE FILES

          The archives got an early 2020 Christmas present in November when the Watauga Association of Genealogists donated $500 to the Friends of the Washington County Archives. In turn, the Friends allowed the department to continue its’ purchases of copies of case files of Tennessee State Supreme Court cases that originated in the courts of Washington County. This is the third time purchases of this series of court cases was funded with WAGS donations. We are very appreciative of the organization’s long-time and continuing support of the department.

            Thirteen court cases were purchased. These range over a period of time from the county’s antebellum history into World War II (1843-1941). A variety of issues are involved, including divorce, estate disputes and the ownership of slaves, seduction, Confederate currency, murder, and even a “hair-pulling contest.”

          The cases form part of Record Group 24: Tennessee State Court Records and may be viewed in the archives’ Reading Room. A total of 69 Supreme Court case files have now been purchased.

          A guide to these cases is found on our website: https://wctnarchives.org/record-groups/.

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RECORDS OF AN UNKNOWN COURT FOUND: 
THE COURT OF OYER  AND TERMINER

          Serendipity is that wonderful moment when you find something you didn’t know you were looking for. This happened recently in the archives. Looking for something else, we discovered records of the Court of Oyer and Terminer and General Delivery Goal. It is a court that none of us had ever heard of before. With further research, we learned that this court was established in 1782 by the North Carolina General Assembly to serve their counties west of the Appalachians, i.e., in Tennessee.

          It was the oldest court above the level of county court established in what became Tennessee. Prior to this time, cases heard above the level of the County Court had to go before the Superior Court of Law and Equity at Morganton, North Carolina, a considerable distance from the Tennessee frontier. Oyer means to “to hear” and terminer means “to determine,” so the court was to hear and determine cases that originated in Washington and Sullivan counties. “Gaol” is the Old English word for “jail”. The following year, when Greene County was created, it also fell under the court’s jurisdiction. The terms originated in the medieval legal system of England taken from the Anglo-French “oyer et terminer.”

          Court was held twice per year beginning on February 15th and August 15th at the Washington County Courthouse in Jonesborough. Spruce McCay was the judge, Waightstill Avery the attorney general, and John Sevier, in addition to his duties as clerk of the county’s Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, was appointed clerk of the Court of Oyer and Terminer. McCay (c. 1755-1808) tutored a young Andrew Jackson in the law. Avery County, North Carolina is named for Waightstill Avery (1741-1821).

          The records as now organized consist of one set of surviving minutes for August 1782 and documents for several surviving court cases that originated in Washington, Sullivan, and Greene counties, 1782-1784. A variety of civil and criminal cases are documented, including damages, debt, defamation, assault, horse stealing, larceny, and murder. Based on the law creating the court, it should have met twice (February and August) in 1782, 1783, and 1784 before dissolving and being replaced by the Superior Court of Law and Equity in 1785.  

          The guide to the new Record Group 26 can be found at the following url: 
Court of Oyer and Terminer and General Gaol Delivery

                 The digital images can be found at the following url: 
                            Court of Oyer and Terminer and General Gaol Delivery

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2020 News Articles

September 14, 2020      Secretary of State Tre Hargett Tours Archives

August 12, 2020             Historic Postcard Collection Now Online

July 15, 2020                   Circuit Court Case Files Open For Research

January 8, 2020             Lucy Kennerly Gump – tribute

January 29, 2020           Summer in the Archives Painting

2019 News & Events Archive

2018 News & Events Archive

2017 News & Events Archive