Early Settlers of
Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements
Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life
By: Ethelene Dyer Jones
Office of Justice of the Peace and Notary Public
The offices of justice of the peace and notary public were perhaps more important in the earlier days of our county that today. Before convenience in travel made it possible to get into the county seat town and seek legal advice, to have legal transaction done or to have a legal paper documented, these public servants played an important role in the life of a community. One has only to examine recorded marriage lists or other legal records to see how frequently these men (and in the olden days it was nearly always men) performed legal services.
It was interesting to note the duties assigned to a justice of the peace. The officer could perform marriage ceremonies. Sometimes, depending on the jurisdiction, a price for the ceremony beyond which the justice was not to go was suggested, but most of the time the one with justice-of-the peace rights would set his own price. He would require a marriage license, and would then have to turn a signed document into the county jurisdiction so the marriage could be entered in public records.
Other duties of a justice of the peace included the right to witness oaths and signatures. He could also issue subpoenas and warrants to those who had infringed upon the law and needed to appear either in a local justice court or a higher court. The justice of the peace could also make arrests when anyone within his jurisdiction infringed upon the law, caused a fight, or otherwise had conduct that was a danger to public safety or the peace of the community. Arrests for misdemeanors also fell under his power. Local land-line disputes and timber rights settlements were sometimes within the justice’s parameters of practice.
The justice of the peace could sit as judge in small claims court. He could hear evidence from both sides, and if necessary call for witnesses to seek to learn more of the claims presented. He could provide mediation services in disagreements and arguments. Furthermore, he had the right to conduct inquests.
An interesting article was written by
student James Reece for Sketches of Union County History
Robert Lee Nelson married Alice Bridges in 1920. They made their home at Track Rock Gap. There he had a farm and operated a country store. He was first elected a justice of the peace the first year he was married. He was then thirty-eight years of age. He must have had a reputation for good character in that district.
James Reece, in writing about
stated: “He presided over his court with
the dignity of a mountain jurist.” He
was called the “Judge Bean” of
In fact, Justice Robert Lee Nelson was so conscientious about the cases he tried, probably using his grocery store as the courtroom, that it is said the governors of the state of Georgia during Mr. Nelson’s long term of judging locally sometimes had to intervene and remind Mr. Nelson that he was over-stepping his bounds as a local justice of the peace.
With characteristic mountain out-spokenness, Mr. Nelson sent word back to the governor: “You look out for your side of the mountain, and I’ll look after mine.”
And “look after his side of the
Mr. Robert Lee Nelson did, indeed. That
he was serious about “holding court” at Track Rock is evidenced by some
Mr. Robert Lee Nelson (April 15, 1882
– March 29, 1973) and his wife, Alice Bridges Nelson (February 1,
22, 1970) were both interred in the
Jones; published July 29, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville,
Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
[Ethelene Dyer Jones is a retired educator, freelance writer, poet, and historian. She may be reached at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; phone 478-453-8751; or mail 1708 Cedarwood Road, Milledgeville, GA 31061-2411.]