Skip to main content



Theophilus Parsons (1750-1813) Papers

Theophilus Parsons (1750-1813) Papers

1 of 2
Open Finding Aid

THEOPHILUS PARSONS (1750-1813) PAPERS, 1762-1809





Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Creator:Parsons, Theophilus, 1750-1813
Title:Theophilus Parsons (1750-1813) Papers
Dates:1762/1809
Quantity:3 linear feet (4 boxes)
Abstract:This collection consists primarily of legal papers, which include court issued "writs" (legal forms) serving notice to named defendants to answer to charges brought by plaintiffs against them, writs of execution enforcing a judgment, or writs summoning parties to the Court of Common Pleas, on appeal from the decisions of the Justice of the Peace.
Collection Number:MSS 353

Series List

SERIES I. Legal Papers and Memorandum Books
SERIES II. Oversized Legal Papers

Scope and Content Note

This collection consists primarily of legal papers, which include court issued "writs" (legal forms) serving notice to named defendants to answer to charges brought by plaintiffs against them, writs of execution enforcing a judgment, or writs summoning parties to the Court of Common Pleas, on appeal from the decisions of the Justice of the Peace.


Some of the writs use the officially named causes of action (such as "Writ of Debt," "writ of Scire Facias" etc.) based upon the highly technical English common law system of the 17th and 18th centuries. However, primarily due to relative scarcity in the English colonies of lawyers and judges formally trained in the English common law system, choice of the proper cause of action became much less important. Thus, a great number of the writs in this collection are writs of "trespass," or "trespass on the case," or "case," the "catch-all" cause of action, even though the actual suit might be for debt, assault, or any other situation. A few, however, such as "Writ of Scire Facias" (show cause why judgment has not been executed), "trespass" (describing a true trespass), "assault vi et armis," and "Trespass quare clasusum fregit" (why a "close" was broken for trespass), are appropriately named. Other complaints are informally written, not naming a particular cause of action, but simply stating the situation and the case against the named defendant.


This collection provides researchers of early American law with the forms of litigation in the middle and late 18th century, the types of causes most commonly brought before the local justices of the peace, and the American simplification of the English common law system.


The collection has been organized into two series.


Series I. Legal Papers and Memorandum Books contains the litigation documents described above, arranged chronologically. It also contains three personal books, one of which is a hand written treatise of memorandum by Parsons on the laws and jurisprudence of England, its government, judicial systems and religious institutions past and present, as well as a description of the city of London, including its population, environs, colleges, and monuments. European currency past and present, weights and measure, and various other subjects are all carefully inscribed in a miniscule hand. It is not possible to ascertain which of the passages are copied from other sources, which written by Parsons himself. Some portions are attributed to various sources; notes on European currency have been copied from "Chambers Dictionary;" notes on famous persons from "Martin's Biographia Philsophia."


Series II. Oversize Legal Papers contains papers that do not fit into standard document boxes.


Biographical Sketch

Theophilus Parsons was born in Byfield, Massachusetts on February 24, 1750, the son of Moses Parsons, a minister of Byfield, and Susanna Davis Parsons. He was one of nine children. He attended Dummer Academy and graduated from Harvard College in 1796. While studying law with a lawyer in Falmouth, Maine, he taught school. When Falmouth was destroyed by British ships during the Revolutionary War, Theophilus returned to Byfield and continued his study of law with Judge Edmund Trowbridge. He married Elizabeth Greenleaf on January 13, 1780. The children of the marriage who were living at the time of his death were Theophilus, William, Mary Judith, Lucy, Charlotte, Charles Chauncy, and a daughter "Mrs. Watson."


In the 1780s and, at least until 1791, Theophilus was living in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and was a Justice of the Peace in Essex County. Also active in politics, he was involved in the formation of the "Essex Junto," a Federalist group favoring adoption of the Federal Constitution but opposed to the form of Massachusetts Constitution then being proposed. In 1800 he moved to Boston, and in 1806 became Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. He held office until his death on October 30, 1813, at age 63.


Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Common law
Courts--Massachusetts
Judges
Justices of the peace--Massachusetts--Essex County
Law--History
Trespass
Writ of debt
Writs--Massachusetts--Essex County

Restrictions

Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.


Administrative Information

Copyright

Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

Theophilus Parsons (1750-1813) Papers, MSS 353, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.

Provenance

The bulk of the papers were donated on May 5, 1955. A portion of the papers were separated from the Charles and Thomas Parsons Papers, MH 175.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Frances Malamy, November 2005. Updated by Heather Mumford, November 2010.


Related Material

Genealogical and Personal Memoirs Relation to the Families of Boston and Eastern Massachusetts, Ed. William Richard Cutter (New York, 1908), pp. 23-25.


Parsons Family Papers, 1720-1880, MSS 145


Charles Parsons and Thomas Parsons, Jr. Papers, 1777-1864, MH 175


you wish to report:


...
Select the collections to add or remove from your search
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
I
J
K
L
M
N
O
P
Q
R
S
T
U
V
W
X
Y
Z
 
OK