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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions

by Johanna Miller Lewis, 2006

The Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions served as the civil, administrative, and judicial arms of North Carolina county government beginning in the Proprietary period (1663-1729). Staffed by justices of the peace and appointed by the governor, the court heard cases in which the amount of litigation was between 40 shillings and 20 pounds, as well as a variety of minor civil and criminal actions. The Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions played an important role in the daily administration of county life, as it oversaw the construction and maintenance of roads, bridges, and public buildings; the distribution of licenses for ferries, mills, and taverns; and the apportionment and collection of taxes by the sheriff. Justices also acted as an Orphans' Court for the county and supervised the settling of estates. At the close of the colonial period, the county Courts of Pleas and Quarter Sessions remained virtually intact, but the state legislature now appointed all officers of the court. Following the Civil War, the new state constitution replaced the justices of the peace with a county commissioner form of government in 1868.

References:

Paul M. McCain, "Magistrates Courts in Early North Carolina," NCHR 48 (January 1971).

William S. Powell, North Carolina through Four Centuries (1989).

Additional Resources:

"Types of Government Records at the State Archives." State Archives of North Carolina. https://archives.ncdcr.gov/Public/Collections/Government-Records (accessed November 1, 2013).

Comments

Comment: 

Hello,

I am looking to find records of The Court of Pleas and Quarters where my ancestors served as Judges - I believe both Edward Outlaw II (1685-1738) and Edward Outlaw III (1720-1759) in Duplin County. Possibly also Capt. James Outlaw (born 1744). Are there records that can be used to find opinions, minutes or transcripts where they presided?

Thanks,

Ed Outlaw

Comment: 

Hello,

Thanks for your comment.

One thing I would like to point out is that Duplin County wasn't created until 1750, which was created from New Hanover County, which was created in 1729 from Craven County, which was created in 1705 from Bath County. It's really important to know the counties as they existed at the time the records were created because that is the county you will find them. For example, you mention your first ancestors Edward Outlaw  as 1685-1738, so those records could be in New Hanover, Craven, or where the records for Bath are located (Bath no longer exists). Take a look at our library's county formation web page at https://statelibrary.ncdcr.gov/research/genealogy-and-family-history/fam....

A source you may want to look at is the State Archives Guide to County Records. This was published in 2009 and updated online in 2018. https://archives.ncdcr.gov/researchers/collections/government-records/co.... Click on the county of interest and it will tell you exactly what kind of records exist for that county. Every county is a bit different. one-third of NC counties have had court house fires and lost records as a result. Another one-third have missing records for unknown reasons. Only one-third of all counties have no missing records so what records each county has depends on court house fires, unknown reasons for missing records, when the county was created, etc. Minutes exist, but vary county by county

One more thing i want to add. The Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions is not what we think of court now - a lot of the court records were about proving land deeds, dealing with wills and estates, assigning guardians to orphaned children or bind them and other children out as apprentices. There were not a lot of cases to decide on, not like courts are today where there is case after case that must be decided on. Also, in my experience, the judges are not always named. Something to be aware of.'

Thanks,

Erin Bradfor, Govenment and Heritage Library

Comment: 

Looking for the Court of Please Term Aug 1803 in Wayne Co NC. About William Ham and his children wanting to see property. I live in Washington State is this document on line?

Comment: 

Hello, 

I am sending your comment to our reference librarians who can assist you. 

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library

Comment: 

I work for the Surry County Register of Deeds and I am looking for minutes from October 13, 1834 in Surry County NC. It involved a Thomas & Mary East selling land to T. B. Wright. Is there anyway to obtain this?

Comment: 

Hello, 

This would be located at the State Archives of North Carolina for that time period. 

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library

Comment: 

I am looking for a source for the following:
"State of North Carolina, Bladen County: This day Archibald Kelly personally appeared before me and made oath that he and nine other men together in a class in the year 1779 furnished the Continental Army with a substitute by the name of John Dailey who was to serve as a soldier during the war and that the cost thereof to him was ten pounds current money. Signed and sworn to before me this 30th day Sept. 1791. J. Lewis Arch'd Kelly"

Thanks for any assistance since I can't travel right now to NC to the Archives
Julie Gaddy

Comment: 

Hello, 

Thank you for your comment. There are two main sources that i think will assist.

First, i stronly suggest looking at the Colonial and State Records of North Carolina, a 26 volume series digitizedand full text searchable that is available at https://docsouth.unc.edu/csr/

The next thing, if its not there, is searching court minutes for Bladen County, which are held at the State Archives of North Carolina. 

Good luck!

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library 

Comment: 

Can you help me with some abbreviations that I don't understand? I'm looking at a page in the "Craven Co NC Court Minutes (Court of Please & Quarter Sessions) 1749-1756, Book IV by Weynette Haun, 1987. On the page it states "Co.mo. Stephen Swilley in the Room of John FRACKS". What is "Co.mo."? And what "Room" is he going to & why? I just don't understand it. I hope you can help. Thank you.

Comment: 

Greetings:

In some microfilmed indenture records I've reviewed (1813, Wilkes County, ) the person bonding out two boys is identified in the recording as the "Chairman of the County Court of Wilkes...") I'm presuming this is referring to the Court of Common Pleas and Quarter Sessions. Your entry on this body indicates there was no County Board of Commissioners until the Reconstruction period, so I'm wondering what a Court Chairman was in the early 19th century and he was a governor appointee? I'm presuming this was an executive administrative post.
and not merely a JP, because the person is also identified with the post-nominal, "Esquire," meaning lawyer.

Many thanks in advance,

Kind regards,

A, Colvin,
Senior, History,
University of Houston

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