Courting to pay Sherwood 1,300 pounds of tobacco and court costs. Pretty boring, right? But wait. Jim is really annoyed about being hauled into court over this debt, and he has prepared to hit back. Here’s the next case: James Shacklady Plant Hugh Sherwood Defft The Plant declared that the defft tooke away his Cannow Whereby he is damnified to the vallue of Two thousand pounds of Tobacoe: the Deffent denys he tooke it the Plat Craues a Refferance untill the next Cort to haue his Evidence Somoned the Courtt hath Ordred the Said Shacklady a Refferance to the next Courtt: [sic] This time it is James Shacklady suing Hugh Sherwood. A modern rendering might be: The plaintiff declared that the defendant stole his canoe, causing him to be damnified (injured) to the value of 2,000 pounds of tobacco. Sherwood denies the charge. Shacklady craves (asks) the Court for a refferance (continuance) until the next court session to give him time to gather evidence to prove his suit. The Court has granted him that refferance. In others words, Jim says Hugh stole his canoe and Hugh denies it, leaving the court unable to decide whom to believe. To avoid having his case dismissed (declared a
“non-suit”), Jim begged for time to bring in some more evidence and the Court granted his request. (You will be interested to know that this case does not reappear at the next session. Shacklady was blowing smoke.) Aside from all that silliness, the language itself is fun. We can see that capitalization is fairly random and spellings haven’t been nailed down yet. The same word may be spelled differently even in the same sentence ~ as “court” is here. The v-sound was sometimes spelled with a u-letter, though not consistently (“…haue his Evidence”). The use of the superscript abbreviations may have saved the recorder a bit of time, but they aren’t helpful to the modern reader. Yet more subtly, notice how the tense shifts. The plaintiff’s declaration is recorded in the past tense, while the testimony and the court’s decision are written in the present tense. It’s as if the scribe were “reporting live” from the courtroom. Note that Shacklady asked for 2,000 pounds of tobacco in compensation for his canoe. This does not mean that he was a chain smoker; tobacco was the currency of the day. Even taxes were paid in tobacco. (Times have changed somewhat…) Here’s how the county’s tax system worked. Once each year, there was a reckoning at one of the court sessions. Here’s the list of expenses for Talbot County in 1669. Nearly 8% of the total went for the bounty on wolves’ heads.
Tidewater Times June 2014