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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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Justices of the Peace

by Jo White Linn, 2006

Justices of the Peace, or judges of record, were appointed in early colonial North Carolina for certain county or borough districts to preserve the peace and ensure that the law and legal processes were thoroughly and expeditiously observed. Appointments of justices of the peace were made by governors on the recommendation of the Proprietary royal council of the colony, giving the post significant executive power. In colonial North Carolina, at least three justices of the peace had to be present for business to be conducted at the county court, or Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, which met quarterly. The proceedings were recorded in the Minutes Books, frequently in great detail.

The justices of the peace exercised wide administrative and executive powers and were often the most visible governmental officials in the lives of North Carolinians prior to the Civil War. Their actions are a matter of record in the counties whose records have survived. When the state's inferior courts were abolished in 1868, the justices of the peace retained their power to appoint county commissioners and oversee taxation; however, their usual duties became trying petty cases and solemnizing marriages. In the modern court system, justices of the peace are minor functionaries, dealing with local cases such as trespass and assault.

References:

Paul M. McCain, The County Court in North Carolina before 1750 (1954).

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

 

Authors: 

Comments

Comment: 

I am looking for the place where Justice of the Peace Mr. A. Shapiro (1876) had his office. My relatives were married in his office on 12 March, 1876 but in the record it does not give a place where his office was located in Forsyth County, N.C. Is there a chance that I could have you determine in what town his office was located.? Thank you for your efforts. Sincerely, David Arnall

Comment: 

Hello, 

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

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library

Comment: 

Please forgive if this is a duplicate request, but I can't discern if my original request went through. Can you confirm that Edmund Mathis was commissioned Nov. 29, 1766, as a Justice of the Peace in Duplin (now Sampson) County, NC? Thank you very much.

Comment: 

Hello, 

I suggest that you check court records for Duplin County in November 1766. Original Records are located at the State Archives of North Carolina.

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library

Comment: 

Hello. I have a copy of the marriage record of my great grandparents, from 1881. They were married in Fishing Creek, Warren County, NC. The Justice of the Peace is listed as "W.J.(?) Williams. Is it possible to find out the actual name of the JP? Thanks in advance!

Comment: 

Hello, 

I am sending your comment to our reference staff to assist you. 

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library

Comment: 

Hi there...I found a cohabitation record from August 6, 1866. Due to the handwriting some words are hard to decipher. I wanted to verify the name of the Justice of the Peace in Nash County at that time. It looks like "John or James" F. Taylor, possibly. Thank you

Thank you in advance,

Comment: 

Thank you for reaching out! Your find sounds exciting! I forwarded your request to our Reference staff. I am not sure if we can help with that but they are best positioned to help you. 

Best wishes, 
Kelly Eubank, Government and Heritage Library

Comment: 

Is there a document that lists names for all those who served as a Justice ofthe Peace? I am looking for John Bird/Byrd 1670-1716.
Thank you,

Comment: 

Hi Lindy,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia. I have never seen a complete list for all the Justices of the Peace in North Carolina. If you are looking for a list for a particular county and time period we will be more than happy to help. Please let us know and your email will be sent to out Reference Team.

Sincerely,
Elizabeth Hayden
Government and Heritage Library

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