Friday, July 24, 2009

Tennessee Court System Prior to 1870

By Charles A. Sherrill
Tennessee State Library and Archives

For Tennessee's first hundred years, Justices of the Peace were the foundation of the state's legal system. These men, often without legal training, served the citizens in their counties by resolving minor disputes, performing marriages, and serving on the quarterly court. They saved both time and expense by resolving issues without formal court proceedings. The regular courts changed and evolved through the years, but the Justice of the Peace remained the first source of help for citizens with legal problems.

The Watauga Association formed the first court in what is now Tennessee, in 1772. The five members of this court served as both legislators and judges, under the leadership of John Carter.

In 1776 North Carolina accepted responsibility for the Tennessee frontier and authorized John Carter to continue holding a court at Jonesboro for the "Washington District." When Washington County was organized in 1778, this court became the County Court of Common Pleas and Quarter Sessions. Appeals were technically (though not practically) grantable to the Superior Court of Law and Equity of Salisbury District, 200 miles to the east.

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