Historical & Special Collections •

852 RARE: A Controversial Execution in 1818 Edinburgh

In December 1818, Robert Johnston, age 24, was executed for robbing Mr. John Charles of some £600 in pounds and notes, plus a watch key and chain. This single crime, trial, and execution ignited a swarm of controversy – evidence of which can be found in our collections. We recently acquired a pamphlet, Letter to the Magistrates of Edinburgh … with Regard to the Execution of Robert Johnston, which joins several others in our collection that describe the trial and gruesome execution that followed.

Letter to magistrates

Letter to the magistrates of Edinburgh, 1819, HOLLIS 14401279

Opinion diverged about Johnston and the severity of his punishment. Some noted that Johnston, a 24-year-old carter, had repeatedly been in custody on various charges; in fact, he had only been out a few days before robbing Mr. Charles. Others noted that his parents were “honest and industrious,” and pointed out that Johnston had been thrown out of work due to economic distress in Scotland. These writers thought his only choice was to steal or starve.

All agreed that the punishment – execution by hanging – was severe. Other carters had recently committed crimes in Edinburgh; perhaps local magistrates wanted to make an example of Johnston. Citizens interceded on his behalf, to no avail.

On the day of the execution, a noose was slipped around Johnston’s neck, and he mounted a table, which was supposed to drop suddenly at Johnston’s signal. Unfortunately, the table did not drop completely, leaving him half standing and half suspended, struggling. As the crowd realized he was still alive, they urged the attending magistrate to halt the execution. Soon the crowd threw stones at the magistrate, overpowered the police, cut Johnston down, partially revived him and carried him off. The police eventually recaptured him, dragged him to the station, and continued their attempts to revive him before returning him to the gallows. During all this time Johnston appeared conscious but did not speak.

When the execution resumed and the table dropped once again, Johnston continued to struggle for about 20 minutes before finally expiring. The whole gruesome business lasted almost two hours.

Witnesses agreed on the sequence of events, and all were shocked at the inhumane and error-ridden execution. However, they vehemently disagreed about whether the magistrates exercised their duty to ensure a working scaffold and secure a competent executioner. Some blamed the magistrates; others blamed the crowd (which they called a mob) for cutting Johnston down and thereby prolonging his suffering.

Robert Johnston trial account

Authentic account of the trial … of Robert Johnston, 1819, HOLLIS 4390803

Letter to the citizens of Edinburgh

Letter to the citizens of Edinburgh; in which the cruel and malicious aspersions of an “eye-witness” are answered, 1819, HOLLIS 4388450

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For historians of crime and punishment, it is useful to consult materials like the pamphlets here, which offer multiple perspectives, reminding us that there is often more than one “truth.” These pamphlets also shine a light on issues that concerned the populace and the police nearly two hundred years ago. They show that controversy over the death penalty was, and remains, a recurrent theme in other legal systems as well as our own.

Go On A Blind Date With A Book!

BlindDateWithABookThis summer, the Harvard Law School Library Historical & Special Collections Department’s latest exhibit, “It Was a Dark and Stormy Semester … Portrayals of Harvard Law School in Literature,” is on display in the Caspersen Room on the fourth floor of Langdell Hall. This exhibit highlights prominent examples of literature that reflects or is inspired by Harvard Law School. In conjunction with this exhibit, the library is also offering two ways for visitors to get involved. The first is our “Blind Date with a Book” program that encourages visitors to take a deeper dive into this literature and the second is our online display, which offers everyone a chance to contribute to our list of titles that include depictions of HLS students, faculty, alumni, or the campus itself.

In this post, Carli Spina explains a bit about these interactive components of the exhibit:

1. So what exactly is “Blind Date with a Book”?

In “Blind Date with a Book” programs, books are wrapped in plain paper to hide their titles and authors and a brief description of the book is written on the front. The descriptions focus on who might like the book and the genre and visitors are encouraged to pick a book that sounds appealing without seeing the cover or reading the synopsis. You won’t know exactly what you have until you stop by the Circulation Desk to check the book out. The goal is to encourage people to branch out into new authors and genres that go beyond their normal reading patterns. Hopefully you’ll find a book that you never would have picked up before!

2. What about this exhibit made you want to bring the program to HLSL?

Ever since I read about other libraries hosting “Blind Date with a Book” programs, I’ve wanted to bring it to HLSL. I think most of our visitors focus on Harvard’s academic collections, but HLSL and the other library’s at Harvard University also have an impressive collection of other books including ranging from mysteries, to thrillers, to graphic novels, and memoirs. With its focus on depictions of Harvard Law School across literary genres, this exhibit was the perfect opportunity to highlight this diversity. Hopefully this exhibit will introduce visitors to some of these other materials that they might not have considered in the past.

3. What types of books will I find on the “Blind Date with a Book” cart?

We’ve tried to include something for everyone on the cart. You might pick up a graphic novel, a memoir, a romance, or a historical novel. Part of the fun is not knowing exactly what you will find, but rest assured that the cart offers a wide variety of options to appeal to all tastes. The only certainty is that the book you select will have a connection to Harvard Law School.

4. Can you talk a little bit about the exhibit’s virtual components? 

In addition to the “Blind Date with a Book” cart, the exhibit also has two virtual components. First, there is a the exhibit website, which will tell you more about portrayals of Harvard Law School in literature even if you aren’t able to visit the exhibit in person. In addition, we have also created a virtual display that shows books featuring Harvard Law School that weren’t included in the exhibit. Best of all, anyone can submit other books to be added to this display, so that we can learn about books we may have overlooked!

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 10.40.07 AM

The cart is available in the Caspersen Room on the fourth floor of Langdell Hall during normal exhibit hours. Stop by to find a new summer read!

852 RARE: Of Butchers, Bakers, and Cordwainers

Among the appeals of older books and manuscripts are the fascinating glimpses they may provide into earlier times and their inhabitants. Recently a slim volume in a plain, nondescript binding crossed my desk. The title was in typically long eighteenth century style but straight-forward: A copy of the poll, taken the eighth day of September … 1780 at the Guildhall, in the Borough of New Windsor … at an election of two representatives to serve in the ensuing Parliament … . The poll in the title refers to a fifteen page alphabetical list of voters (only men, of course) and their occupations. This seemingly straightforward list provided an unexpected glimpse of life in a late eighteenth century English town, as well as a wealth of information about its residents.

TpThe town of New Windsor (now known simply as Windsor), 23 miles west of London, was a “free borough” and during the Middle Ages one of the fifty wealthiest English towns. After a period of decline it experienced a revival when George III began renovations to the castle there in the late 1770s. The town’s growth seems to be reflected in the 1780 poll, which shows a significant number of citizens in the construction trades: carpenters, bricklayers, glaziers, painters, and stone masons, among others. The list reveals that the town was sophisticated enough to support a perfumer (Robert Calley), a jeweler (John Snow) and a watchmaker (James Turlis) and had enough overnight visitors to keep at least four “innholders” in business. The poll also reveals broad class and economic divisions, listing several labourers, along with several gentlemen. Adcock

The occupation of the very first citizen—Thomas Adcock, staymaker— sounds delightfully archaic to a modern reader. Yet there were at least three of them in New Windsor in 1780. How many staymakers are there anywhere now? Or, how many coopers, horsebreakers, rabbit sellers, cordwainers, soap boilers, collar makers, peruke makers, or tripemen? How many of today’s occupations will sound delightfully quaint (or mystifying) 235 years from now?

 

 

 

On the other hand, most of the occupations in the list are recognizable, even if the vocabulary has changed, and show how the necessities of life were filled for New Windsor’s residents. HsThere were several victuallers, shopkeepers, shoemakers, higlers, “taylors”, and bakers, and at least two butchers, a cheese-monger, fishmonger, brewer,  a physician, an apothecary, tea dealer, and a milkman. Among the town’s inhabitants were at least five attorneys and a gaoler (jailer), as well as a number of family businesses: Joseph and William Cantrell (bakers) and Henry and William Coombs (ironmongers). Of course, death and taxes are always with us, as they were for the people of New Windsor, verified by the occupations of Edward Edwards (collector of excise) and Charles Jarman (taylor and undertaker).

This seemingly unremarkable 1780 poll list reminds us that such routine documents are anything but dull and may, in fact, be rich resources for historical and genealogical research.

852 RARE: Art’s History

When we talk about the art and visual materials collection at the Harvard Law School considerable credit goes to Dean Roscoe Pound (dean 1916-1936) and librarians John Himes Arnold (librarian 1872-1913) and Eldon Revare James (librarian 1923-1943) for their work building the collection. However, the story of the collection dates back long before their time. In addition to the objects themselves, we are lucky enough to have supporting documents that provide important historical details about their acquisitions and early use.

A recent discovery that provides wonderful insight into early collecting efforts is a letter from Simon Greenleaf and Joseph Story to Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw (1781-1861) dated June 2, 1840. They write:

We are desirous of embellishing the Law Department of this Institution with likenesses of the distinguished Jurists of our country, of which we have commenced a collection: & having seen a striking likeness of yourself by Clevinger, we respectfully request you to place a copy of it at our disposal for that purpose.

For some context, the Law School, founded in 1817, had been housed in Dane Hall since the building was erected in 1832. In 1840 Greenleaf and Story, the Royall and Dane professors of law, were the school’s only instructors.

A similarly worded letter dated May 29, 1840, to an unknown recipient, can be found in the Greenleaf Papers. On the back of the page is written “Circular for busts”–perhaps this was a draft in preparation for letters like the one sent to Shaw.

Dane Hall Classroom_HLSL_olvwork364037

Classroom in Dane Hall, Harvard Law School, c.1880 Record ID olvwork364037

Not all documentation comes in manuscript form. For example, we can verify where portraits were hung thanks to the above photograph of a classroom in Dane Hall, c.1880, showing one of the Law School’s  John Marshall portraits, as well as portraits of Daniel Webster and Nathan Dane.

The full-length portrait of John Marshall (1755-1835) visible in the above mentioned picture (to the right of the desk) was painted by Chester Harding (1792-1866). Given to the school in 1847 by a group of faculty and students, the portrait is a replica of Harding’s full-length portrait commissioned by the Trustees of the Boston Athenaeum in 1830. Along with the portrait we also have a subscription list dated September 2, 1846, that includes the donors’ names and their pledged amounts. Our records indicate this subscription list was drawn up and circulated by Professor Greenleaf.

Detail of Subscription list of contributors to the purchase of
Chester Harding’s full length portrait of John Marshall, September 2, 1846
HOLLIS 9680277

This is just a small sampling of some of the supporting documents we are aware of. We look forward to future discoveries that will help tell the story of this wonderful collection.

852 RARE: Medieval Manuscripts Online – Magna Carta & More

The HLS Library’s Historical & Special Collections is pleased to announce the release of two early manuscript digital collections of interest to students and scholars of medieval Anglo-American legal history. We are grateful to the Ames Foundation for contributing some of the funding for these projects.

To celebrate Magna Carta’s 800th birthday, we have digitized our entire manuscript collection of English statutory compilations, which include Magna Carta, dating from about 1300 to 1500. Many of the volumes have beautiful illustrations, like the one shown here.

HLS MS 12

Magna Carta cum Statutis, ca. 1325. HLS MS 12, fol. 27r.

One of our favorites is a Sheriff’s Magna Carta – a single-sheet copy of the statute which was read aloud in a town square four times a year.

HLS MS 172

Magna Carta, ca. 1327. HLS MS 172.

We have also digitized our entire manuscript collection of registers of English legal writs, which were used to initiate legal actions in a court. Our collection of registers dates from about 1275 to 1476. Most of our manuscript registers are fairly humble, but this one has a magnificent illuminated initial:

HLS MS 155

Registrum Brevium, 1384. HLS MS 155, fol. 34r (detail).

 Cataloging information for each manuscript may be found by searching HOLLIS and browsing by “other call number”: HLS MS XXX; XXX refers to the manuscript number.

The Ames Foundation has begun a project to fully describe the contents of these statutes and registers to make them even more useful to scholars. Read more about the project, see an example of a fully-described manuscript (HLS MS 184), and find out how you can help.

Together with our recently released English Manor Rolls digitization project, these materials open up a new realm of research possibilities to scholars around the world. We hope you enjoy them!

Early English Manor Rolls Go Online

Historical & Special Collections is pleased to announce that we have begun a multi-year project to conserve and digitize our collection of English manor rolls. The rolls came to Harvard over a century ago, purchased in 1892 and 1893 by Harvard Professor William James Ashley (1860-1927) from London bookseller James Coleman. In 1925 the College Library transferred the collection to the Harvard Law School Library.

The manor roll collection consists of 170 court-rolls, account-rolls, and other documents from various manors, ranging in date from 1282 to 1770. The largest concentration comes from the manor of Moulton in Cheshire. Other manors represented are Odiham Hundred, Hampshire; Herstmonceaux, Sussex; Chartley, Staffordshire; and Onehouse, Suffolk. A limited number of materials in this collection are single-sheet charters and one item is a map of the manor of Shelly, Suffolk.

Manor roll 16A (2)

Detail of roll from Moulton, Cheshire 1518-1521 (Box 2, 16)

 

For a complete description of the collection, see the finding aid, which will change and grow as digital images of the rolls become available, and links to them, along with improved descriptions of the rolls will be added. We expect this primary resource will be of particular interest to legal and local historians, students of early modern English history, and genealogists, all of whom have already used the rolls in their research. We also hope that by putting the rolls online, they will reach a broader audience who may pursue research questions that have not previously encompassed the manor rolls. We welcome your suggestions for improved descriptions; email specialc@law.harvard.edu with your feedback.

852 Rare: Libelous Kentucky Broadsides

In politically polarized times such as these, when it feels like election season is endless and the mudslinging between political parties is relentless, it’s easy to despair. It may seem that we’ve reached a new low in politics, but our colorful— and at times violent— historical record reminds us this is hardly the case.

The broadsides shown below come from a 1941 Harlan County, Kentucky election. Insults and wild accusations were hurled by both opponents, which ultimately resulted in a libel case.

A message to all the good truth-loving, taxpaying, church people of Harlan county; Howard, J. B. M., [S.l. : s.n., 1941], HOLLIS 4006542.

A message to all the good truth-loving, taxpaying, church people of Harlan county; Howard, J. B. M., [S.l. : s.n., 1941], HOLLIS 4006542.

The secrets of Squire J.B.M. Howard's suicides and self defense., Keller, John, [S.l. : s.n., 1941], HOLLIS 4029348.

The secrets of Squire J.B.M. Howard’s suicides and self defense. : I want to ask you voters if you…, Keller, John, [S.l. : s.n., 1941], HOLLIS 4029348.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After accusing each other of an array of offenses that range from dishonesty to drunk driving to bootlegging to murder, the candidates eventually had to sum things up for voters:

A message to all the good truth-loving, taxpaying, church people of Harlan county; Howard, J. B. M., [S.l. : s.n., 1941], Detail of HOLLIS 4006542.

A message to all the good truth-loving, taxpaying, church people of Harlan county; Howard, J. B. M., [S.l. : s.n., 1941], Detail of HOLLIS 4006542.

The secrets of Squire J.B.M. Howard's suicides and self defense., Keller, John, [S.l. : s.n., 1941], Detail of HOLLIS 4029348.

The secrets of Squire J.B.M. Howard’s suicides and self defense., Keller, John, [S.l. : s.n., 1941], Detail of HOLLIS 4029348.

Although we have not been able to locate the results of this Harlan County election, we can learn something about the alternately spirited and vicious nature of Eastern Kentucky politics from this material. The accusations in the broadsides are part of a long history of election violence in the area, though these particular claims may in fact be false.

Interestingly, it seems that Harvard Law School’s Professor Zechariah Chafee probably gave these broadsides to the library. You can see his name penciled in the margins, as well as the date the broadsides were acquired by the library—November 15, 1947. Historical & Special Collections holds Professor Chafee’s professional papers, the contents of which you can explore through the collection’s finding aid. This material relates to Chafee’s work as a law teacher, legal scholar, and defender of civil liberties.

New Library Exhibit: Where Mis’ry Moans

Where Misry Moans for webHistorical & Special Collections is pleased to announce that its new exhibit “‘Where Mis’ry Moans': Four Prison Reformers in 18th & 19th Century England” is now on view in the Caspersen Room on the fourth floor of Langdell Hall.

At the dawn of the eighteenth century English prisons were often dark, filthy, and rife with disease and suffering. Oversight was lax and inspections were rare at best. This exhibit focuses on four prison reformers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—John Howard, George Onesiphorus Paul, Elizabeth Fry, and John T. Burt—who worked to make prisons more humane and reformatory.

Curated by Margaret Peachy and Mary Person, it will be on view in the Caspersen Room 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM through April 24, 2015. A companion website to this exhibit can be found here.

 

January Madness – Julius Erving (aka “Dr. J.”) and Watergate

What do NBA Hall of Famer Julius Erving and Watergate have in common?  Absolutely nothing … except for legal Hall of Famer– Archibald Cox.

It would be reasonable for a person to ask how the lives of two men working in such different professions could overlap.  Professor Cox never performed a “Rock the Baby” style dunk and Mr. Erving never served as a special prosecutor in the Watergate investigation. Their lives intersected from approximately December 1972 until May 1973 when Cox served as an arbitrator in the Matter of Julius Erving and the Virginia Squires Basketball Club of the American Basketball Association.

ABA

Page 1 of 2 page letter from Robert Carlson to Archibald Cox. Archibald Cox Papers, Box 66, Folder 5.

 

Very briefly:  Erving turned pro after his junior year at the University of Massachusetts and signed a 4-year contract with the Virginia Squires starting on October 1, 1971.  In April, 1972 he signed a contract with the Atlanta Hawks of the National Basketball Association – hence the legal issue. (Erving claimed that the Squires contract was invalid.)  Erving lost the case and returned to the Squires who folded shortly thereafter due to financial problems. He went on to a Hall of Fame career most notably with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Cox was unable to complete his engagement as arbitrator for this case. In early May, 1973 he accepted appointment as the first Watergate special prosecutor.  In a letter to the attorneys for Erving v. the ABA, he apologized for removing himself explaining that, “It seemed to me that the same circumstances of national importance gave me no real choice but to undertake the assignment and made it proper to have to override the arbitral engagement.”

 

croppedwatergate

Portion of letter from Cox to attorneys announcing that he is stepping down as arbitrator. Cox Papers, Box 66, Folder 5

 

Historical & Special Collections holds the Archibald Cox papers, which has several boxes of material from his time as special prosecutor. The Library’s Watergate research material is enhanced by the James S. Doyle collection of Watergate material, and the papers of James Vorenberg, who was a senior assistant to Cox, (as well as a Harvard Law School colleague).

852 RARE: Was Reverend Sacheverell Dealt a Bad Hand?

Sacheverell Ace of Diamonds

Ace of Diamonds, Trial of Henry Sacheverell, HOLLIS no. 14148502

As regular readers of 852 RARE know, the HLS Library’s Historical & Special Collections houses a great collection of historical trial accounts from many jurisdictions, especially England and the United States. Our popular digital collection Studies in Scarlet: Marriage and Sexuality in the US and UK, 1815-1914, gathers together some, but by no means all, of our trials.

Researchers read accounts of trials to learn about particular cases, of course. But trials are interesting for many other reasons, some scholarly and some just plain fun. In trial accounts we can learn about class distinctions, the intersection of law and medicine, the treatment of women and people of color, and the rise of the popular press, which produced trial literature to feed a voracious reading public.

How, then, could we resist adding The Trial of Henry Sacheverell to our collection? Dating from around 1710, this item is an uncut sheet of playing cards that tells the story of the trial of Rev. Sacheverell with a series of illustrations and satirical verse. Our sheet features 26 images of playing cards (hearts and diamonds), each with an image of a conventional playing card at the top, a mock-heroic couplet at the bottom, and an image of the event described in the center.

Trial of Henry Sacheverell playing cards

Trial of Henry Sacheverell, HOLLIS no. 14148502

Dr. Sacheverell was impeached by the Whig-dominated Parliament in 1710 for preaching two sermons that advocated the Tory doctrines of non-resistance and passive obedience. As punishment, Sacheverell was forbidden to preach for three years and his two sermons were ordered to be burned. Many viewed him as a martyr. “Sacheverell Riots” erupted in London and other parts of the country, which led to the downfall of the Whig ministry in 1710 and the passing of the Riot Act in 1714.

Henry Sacheverell is well-represented in Harvard’s library collections, and many conventional accounts of his trial may be found in HOLLIS, the Harvard Library catalog.