Oldest Record at the Court House

SOURCE: The Clinton Advertiser, Apr. 10, 1920


The oldest record in the court house is said to be a little volume which contains the proceedings of the superior and district court of the Third judicial district, Territory of Iowa, from 1840-1948 [sic probably 1848?].

This little old record is still perfectly eligible.  Its first entry bears date of October 12, 1840 -- a record which will be 80 years old in a few months.

During that period of years court was first held in Camanche, later in "Vanderburg" the county seat of Clinton county, and finally in DeWitt, where the county seat was removed.

Thomas S. Wilson was first judge, James D. Bourne the first sheriff, or "sherriff" as the word invariably is spelled by the first scribe who kept books for the county in those far-away days.  This scribe was one Martin Dunning.

First Grand Jury

The first grand jury in Clinton county was impanelled for the October term of 1840.  It was made up of the following old timers.

Peter Groat, James Claborn, Robert Thomas, Samuel Doolittle, John C. Holbrook, Frederick Hess, Shoeble Cox, Benjiman Baker, Oliver Crary, Otis Bennett, Daniel Smith, Richard Dawson, Eldad Beard, Robert Bourne, Philip Bradley, Eli Goodard, Alanson Dickerman and Arthur Smith.

Later in the year 1840 the grand jury made its first report according to the ancient record in Clerk C. J. Reusches office.

One Erastus Fairman was indicted for arson. Rodolphus Bennett charged with assault with intent to kill was discharged no bill having been returned.  Nathan Atwell aslo was discharged, the jury finding no bill against him for arson, with which crime he had been charged.

Old Counterfeiting Case

 There were numerous counterfeiting cases in Clinton and adjoining counties in the early days.  The first case of which there is a record is that of the United States vs Thomas L. Bigelow.  Three counts were found against him counterfeiting and having in his possession fraudulant bank notes and apparatus for counterfeiting.

It seems the said Bigelow enticed four men good and true of the community to go his bonds.  Then he decamped.  According to the records when the day came for the case to come up for trial Bigelow "was three times solemnly called and came not."  Then the unfortunate bondsmen were "three times solemnly called to produce the body of the said Thomas L. Bigelow," whereupon, in default of the appearance of the defendant, the bondsmen were held to fork over the amount of the bond.

An Early Attorney

According to this old record, Jeremiah Humphreys, Esq. was one of the first attorneys to practice in Clinton county.  The court record sets forth the fact that in 1841, a practitioner in New York and Michigan, was admitted as attorney-at-law, solicitor in chancery and proctor in the local court, "the court having investigated, and become convinced of his qualifications for such."

There are numerous criminal cases in the old book.  One Lorenzo Begelow indicted for forgery was defended by Attorny Jonathan W. Parker.  Bernard Kemter, indicted for larceny, defaulted, which seems to have been a popular proceeding with the early Clinton county offenders.  There are many defaults in the old book.

An Early Citizen

The book contains the records of early Clinton county naturalization.  The first citizen to be naturalized in the Clinton county court was John Hamilton "a free white man," who "came into court here and made oath on the Holy Evangelist of Almighty God that it was bona fide his intention to become a citizen of the United States and to renounce and abjure forever all allegiance and fidelity to every foreign prince or potentate state or sovereignty whatever, and particularly Queen Victoria of Great Britain and Ireland."  Mr. Hamilton was duly admitted to the full privileges of citizenship.