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Bristol County, Massachusetts Court Records
The Bristol County Court Records are an accumulation of single-sheet file documents issued by (or directed to) the judiciary of Bristol County in southeastern Massachusetts, mostly during the colonial period. Seventy-eight of the 96 records date from the Second Charter period in Massachusetts legal history (1692-1760); 56 predate 1730; five date from the seventeenth century. The earliest document is a 1696/7 writ of attachment issued by Bristol County justice John Saffin; the latest is an 1816 recognizance issued by Zebedee Macomber. The Bristol County collection includes documents deriving from every tier of the county court system. More than 60 per cent of the documents in the collection relate to cases referred to or heard by the Court of General Sessions, including most of the items predating 1725. Around 25 per cent relate to cases before Common Pleas; most of the remainder document cases heard by individual county justices. The collection includes examples of at least 15 specific document types, representing various stages of judicial procedure. Among those more frequently encountered are: complaints and petitions directed by plaintiffs (and others) to the several courts; summonses, writs of attachment, and arrest warrants (instruments used by the courts to initiate legal proceedings, served by a sheriff or constable); bonds of recognizance (whereby the courts sought compliance by threatening the forfeiture of pledged monies); writs relating to jury duty; jury presentments; and memoranda of judgment and writs of execution. Most of the Court of Common Pleas documents pertain to actions between private individuals for the collection of debts. The General Sessions documents typically indicate either minor criminal offenses against order (sabbath violations, vagrancy, drunkenness, and so on) or sexual misconduct (especially fornication and bastardy). Also represented are cases against public officials, usually selectmen (failure to hire a minister or elect a constable; over- or under-taxation). Only occasionally do two or more documents within the collection pertain to the same specific case. Many of the documents—especially warrants—bear endorsements.