Henry County, IAGenWeb

Courts and Bar.

Portrait and Biographical Album of Henry County, Iowa
Chicago: Acme  Publishing Company, 1888.


At a very early day in the world's history it is found that crime was committed and courts of justice were established. Man, if left to himself, with physical power so to do, will encroach upon the rights of others; therefore in every well-regulated community, among the first acts is to properly equip such courts as may be thought necessary to guard the rights of the whole body against those who may offend. Under the Territorial laws of Wisconsin and later of Iowa, there were instituted district and probate courts. After the admission of the latter into the Union changes were made from time to time in the method of administering justice as thought advisable by the General Assembly of the State.

The District Court

The first term of the district court, and the first court ever held in Henry County, convened at Mt. Pleasant, April 14, 1837, with Hon. David Irvin as Judge, W. W. Chapman, District Attorney of the United States.

The first business transacted was the appointment of Jesse D. Payne as Clerk of the Court, who gave bond with John H. Randolph and Benjamin S. Wharton as sureties.

A grand jury was empaneled, consisting of the following named: Claybourne Jones, Sr., Samuel Heaton, Marshal Saunders, Clabourne W. Hughes, D. C. Ruberts, William M. Morrow, James McCoy, Keeland T. Maulden, Benjamin F. Hutton, Jacob Burge, Moses Shirley, Wilson Lowell, Thomas Clark, William King, David Mintes, James Willford, Sr., George W. Lewis, Henry Snyder, Sr., Berry Jones, Lytle Hughes, John H. Randolph, Presley Saunders and Warren L. Jenkins.

But little business was transacted at this term. The county was new, and its citizens were generally peaceable. John Mabee was arraigned before the court, pleased guilty to assault and battery, and was fined $5 and cost. License was granted for the establishment of a ferry across Skunk River, and rates of ferriage established.

At the April term, 1839, Shadrach Scott was indicted and tried for assault with attempt to commit murder, but was acquitted.

At the March term, 1840, the first divorce case was tried, Francis A. Forbs vs. Sarah N. Forbes. The prayer of the petitioner was granted.

The first case against one for the crime of horse-stealing was at the September term, 1840. Lemuel Green was indicted and tried for the stealing of "one sorrel mare, the property of Robert Box." He was found guilty and sentenced to the penitentiary for the term of five years.

The first murder trial came upon a change of venue from Lee County. This was in March, 1843, It was the case of the United States against Edward Reilly. A verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree was rendered, but was set aside by the Judge, and a new trial granted. At the September term, 1843, he was again tried, found guilty of manslaughter, and sentenced to the penitentiary for five years, and to pay a fine of $1,000.

On the organization of the State, in 1846, Henry County, with Des Moines, Lee and Louisa, comprised the First District. George H. Williams, of Lee County, was the first Judge, serving from 1847 till 1852. He was succeeded by Ralph P. Lowe, of Lee County, who served till 1857, when he resigned, and John W. Rankin was appointed to fill the vacancy, serving until the election of Thomas W. Claggett one month afterward.

Under the Constitution of 1857, the same counties heretofore mentioned still continued to form the First District. Francis Springer, of Louisa County, was elected in 1858, re-elected in 1862 and 1866, but resigned in 1869, being succeeded by Joshua Tracy, of Des Moines County, who was appointed by the Governor, and elected to the office in 1870. Judge Tracy also resigned in 1874, and was succeeded by P. Henry Smyth, of Des Moines County, who served from April 25, 1874, till Sept. 25, 1874, when he resigned, and Thomas W. Newman, also of Des Moines County, was appointed to fill the vacancy. He was elected a few weeks later, and served one term, being succeeded by A. H. Stutsman, of Des Moines County, who was elected in 1878, and re-elected in 1882, serving till 1886.

The General Assembly of the State passing an act for the re-organization of the districts, Henry County became a part of the Second District. At the annual election in October, 1886, H. C. Traverse, of Bloomfield, Charles Leggett, of Fairfield, and Dell Stuar, of Chariton, were elected Judges, there being three to each district.

Circuit Courts

In 1868 an act was passed dividing each judicial district into two circuits. John B. Drayer was the first Circuit Judge for the circuit in which Henry County was placed. After continuing this system for eighteen years the General Assembly repealed the act, returning to the old district plan, but with three Judges for each district.

The Bar.

The legal talent of Henry County has always compared favorably with other counties, and at the present time has among its representatives some who are the peer of any attorney in the State. In the fall of 1887 the following named comprised the bar of the county: R. Ambler & Son, T. A. Bereman, Jeffries & Withrow, Fred Hope, A. W. Kinkead, B. B. Lindley, John F. Leach, Mrs. Hannah M. Lyle, W. C. Howard, W. D.Leedham, T. M. McAdam, J. G. Newbold, Palmer & Palmer, J. T. Patch, George C. Van Allen, Woolson & Babb.

Transcribed by Conni McDaniel Hall for Henry County IAGenWeb, November 2014.


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