|Nought is on earth more sacred or divine,|
|That gods and men do equally adore,|
|Than this same virtue, that doth right define ;|
|For the heavens themselves, whence mortal men implore|
|Right in their wrongs, are ruled by righteous lore.|
Edmond SPENSER, " Queen"
The first arrangements in the Miami country for the protection of person and property against lawlessness were necessarily somewhat rude and informal. What Judge BURNET, in his valuable Notes on the Northwestern Territory, says in a general way of the earlier Ohio colonies, is doubtless equally true of those which presently dotted the shore between the beautiful Miamis. His remarks and illustrations are these:
When these settlements were commenced by emigrants who resorted to them, early in 1788, provision had not been made for the regular administration of justice. Judicial courts had not been organized, and the inhabitants found themselves in an unpleasant situation, as they were exposed to the depredations of dishonest, unprincipled men, without the means of legal redress. To remedy that evil, the people assembled to consult and devise a plan for their common safety; they chose a chairman and a secretary, and proceeded to business. The meeting resulted in the adoption of a code of by-laws for the government of the settlement, in which they prescribed the punishment to be inflicted for various offences, organized a court, established the trial by jury, appointed Mr. MCMILLAN judge and John LUDLOW sheriff. [Judge BURNET here evidently refers to a meeting in Cincinnati, which must have been several months, at least, later than "early in 1788."]
To the regulations they
all agreed, and each gave a solemn pledge to aid in carrying them into
effect. It was not long before a complaint was made against Paddy
for robbing a truck-patch, on which the sheriff was commanded to arrest
him and summon a jury for his trial. The order was obeyed, and on
the evidence the jury found him guilty, and lie was sentenced to
twenty-nine lashes, which were inflicted in due form on (he same
Other complaints of a similar character were made I at, in consequence
of the interference of the officer in command of the garrison, no
decisive proceedings were had, and this useful tribunal, organized for
self-protection, on the genuine principles of Judge LYNCH, was
not without a serious conflict between the citizens and the military,
which Mr. MCMILLAN received very serious and permanent injuries.
'The first regular court organized for Hamilton, county was that ordained by Governor ST. CLAIR at Fort Washington, when the county was proclaimed, January 4, 1790, and designated in the elaborate old fashion as the court of common pleas and of general quarter sessions of the peace. The first session of the court seems to have been held on the ensuing second of February, at which were present William MCMILLAN, presiding judge, William WELLS and William GOFORTH—William I, II, and III, judges; Jacob TAPPING, justice; John BROWN, Sherriff Levi. WOODWARD and Robert WHEELAN, constables. Provision had been made for such courts by a law of the territorial government, proclaimed at Marietta, August 23, 1788, which soon superseded, in the settlements rapidly springing up thereafter, the extemporized courts of Judge LYNCH.
The territorial court was
also held from time to time in and for Hamilton county. The "docquet"
the first session held in Cincinnati is still extant, and is a literary
as well as judicial curiosity. It is as follows,
Of Cincinnati—1. Jacob REEDER; 2, James WALLACE; 3, James CUNNINGHAM; 4, Francis KENNEDY; 5, John CUMMINGS; 6, John VANCE; 7, John TERRY; 8, Seth CUTTER; 9, Richard BENHAM; 10, James BURNES; 11, Luther KITCHELL; 12, Henry TAYLOR; 13, Nathan DUNNALS; 14, Joseph CUTTER; 15, David LOGAN; 16, Abijah WARD. of Colimbia—17, Benjamin DAVIS; 18, Elijah MILLS; 19, Samuel NEWELL; 20, William GERRARD; 21, Elijah STITES; 22, James MATTHEWS; 23, John MANNING; 24, Nathaniel STOKES.
Returned to serve, the first sixteen, viz: 1, Jacob REEDER; 2, James WALLACE; 3, James CUNNINGHAM; 4, Francis KENNEDY; 5, John CUMMINGS; 6, John VANCE; 7, John TERRY; 8, Seth CUTTER; 9, Richard BENHAM; 10, James BURNS; 11, Luther KITCHELL; 12, Henry TAYLOR; 13, Nathan DUNNALS; 14, Josiah CUTTER; 15, David LOGAN; 16, Abijah WARD.
One judge only attending, court, without proceeding to business, was adjourned until eleven o'clock of to-morrow, A. M.
Proclamations duly made, court was adjourned till twelve o'clock at noon to-morrow.
Court was adjourned, ut supra, until twelve o'clock, at noon, to-morrow.
Court adjourned until twelve o'clock, at noon, to-morrow.
Court adjourned until twelve o'clock, at noon, to-morrow.
Court adjourned until five o'clock of this day, afternoon.
Eodem Die, five o'clock, afternoon.
None of the judges present, the sheriff proceeded to adjourn the court without delay.
No business entered upon at this term by reason of there not being present, of the honorable the judges, a number sufficient to constitute a quorum.
Some notes have also been taken for this work from the records of the first session of the general court of quarter sessions of the peace, held in Cincinnati February 2, 1790. Present, Judges GOFORTH, WELLS, and MCMILLAN, Justice Jacob TAPPING, Sheriff John BROWN, and Constables Levi WOODWARD and Robert WHEELAN. A recognizance was returned against Josiah WHITE, for slandering Jacob TAPPING, esquire. The accused put in
May term," 1790.—Present, the judges, justices, constables, and sheriff. The commissions of the peace and the governor's proclamation were read. The names of grand jury were called; Robert BENHAM, foreman. Adjourned to 2 P.M..
On sitting again, Abel COOK was called up for breach of the peace; also Josiah WHITE, for selling liquor to soldiers; also Jacob TAPPING, esq., for possessing four shirts and one pair of stockings, bought from a. soldier; another account of the same sort appeared against the said Tapping. A call was ordered for Sylvester WHITE and David STRONG, for having "on account" public clothing. The same charge was made against Scott TRAVERS, viz : that a pair of overalls and a woolen vest belonging to the Federal service were found in his possession. Abel COOK plead guilty to hitting James SOWARDS, and was fined fifty cents. Thomas COCHRAN had fifty cents fine for selling whiskey. TAPPING was fined seventy-five cents, and Scott TRAVERS was let off. White failed to put in his appearance. Captain David STRONG cleared up the matter as to his acquaintance with TAPPING'S clothes business, and was dismissed. The
Jury came in with a bill against Asa HARTSHORN, Mahlon FORD, and David STRONG for thrashing Isaac TAYLOR.
The court adjourned.
We have also the following
memoranda from the higher
John C. SYMMES, judge. Present, six justices—William GOFORTH, William WELLS, William MCMILLAN, John S. GANO, George CULLUM and Aaron CALDWELL; Joseph LE SURE, clerk pro tem; Robert BUNTEN, coroner; John LUDLOW, sheriff; Isaac MARTIN, sub-sheriff; Benjamin ORCUTT, crier; Robert WHEELAN, Samuel MARTIN, Sylvanus RUNNELS, constables. The grand jury was called over, David DAVIS, foreman. The jury retired. Witnesses were called for the United States court business, assaults and habeas corpus. "JOB, a negro man, vs. John TANNER;" also United States vs. James MAYS, for the murder of Matthew SULLIVAN; Same vs. Joseph PAXTON, as accessory with MAYS; Same vs. George TURNER, on ccrfiorarf. Same vs. Matthew WINTON and Matthew DEROUGH, charged with riot. The sheriff called forty-eight names, from which these twelve were chosen to try MAYS: Robert BENHAM, Robert MITCHELL, Samuel DICK, Benjamin JENNINGS, Matthew WINTON, Henry PICKLE, James DEMENT, Charles BRUCE, William KELLY, Samuel ROLSTON, James MILLER, Steward WILKINS.
MAYS was convicted and duly hanged by Sheriff LUDLOW.
In this case Mr. DUNN was
prosecutor, and Messrs. GOUDY and SMITH were counsel for MAYS. The jury
out an hour, and came in with a verdict of "guilty." The court received
the verdict in the house of Isaac MARTIN.
June 1, 1795, Governor ST. CLAIR and Judges SYMMES and TURNER, sitting in legislative session at Cincinnati, as noted in Judge SYMMES' letter in the last chapter, passed an act reconstructing the courts of general quarter sessions of the peace and of the common pleas, after a plan borrowed from the statutes of Pennsylvania. The former was to meet four times a year, and to be composed of the justices of the county nominated by the governor, sitting together in bank, any three of whom, but not less, might hold a session. This court might hear and determine all criminal cases in which the punishment prescribed did not exceed one year's imprisonment, nor involve life or limb, nor forfeiture of goods and chattels, or lands and tenements to the government of the territory. In and out of sessions, the justices, or any of them, might take all kinds of recognizances, whether for good behavior, keeping the peace, or for appearing at a superior court, or might commit to jail. Any justice, out of sessions, might hear and determine petty crimes and misdemeanors, if punishable by fine only, and that not exceeding three dollars, and might assess and tax costs in such cases. The term of the quarter sessions could not extend beyond three days.
The court of common pleas was constituted of justices appointed by the governor, of whom three would make a quorum. Terms were to be held three times a year, and of a length according to the business before them. This court might hold pleas of assize, scire facias, replevin, and sundry suits and causes; might hear and determine all manner of pleas and actions, civil, personal, real, and mixed, according to law. All writs ran in the name of the United States of America, and bore the name of the presiding justice of the court and the prothonotary or clerk. They were executed by the sheriff, or in case of his death or resignation, by the coroner. The common cases before these courts in the early day were on charges of fighting and for debt and trespass.
The first State legislature provided for a supreme court and for courts of common pleas—one session of the former and three sessions of the latter to be held in each county every year. The State was divided into three circuits, of which Hamilton, Clermont, Butler, Montgomery, Greene, and Warren constituted the first. The judges were elected on joint ballot by the general assembly, and held their offices for terms of seven years. The common pleas was composed of one presiding judge and three associate judges, the latter chosen from the people at large.
By the constitution of 1852,
Hamilton county was made one judicial circuit, with its own judges of
of common pleas.
The Hamilton county courts of course shared in the changes in the judicial system that prevailed under the State constitution throughout Ohio, whose history it is unnecessary to recite here. By the constitution of 1852 the county was made a judicial district by itself, with three judges of the court of common pleas. Under the old system there had been four judges, but one of whom, the presiding judge, was usually from the ranks of the bar, the remainder, the associate judges, being selected from the community at large, presumably for their general good sense and native judicial qualities. Judge CARTER, in his volume of Reminiscences and Anecdotes, furnishes the following recollections of the best known of the old judges in Hamilton county:
Of all the judges of former days, perhaps, there was no one so much liked and loved for his genial, generous and whole-souled qualities and characteristics, as Judge TORRENCE. He was president judge of the old court of common pleas from before the year 1819 up to the year 1832 ; and, although he was not so much of a lawyer, lie made a very good judge of the law, and administered justice somewhat like a Solomon or a Daniel. Boy as I was, 1 remember seeing him presiding on the bench and towering above his associates—for he was the tallest judge, and large and portly in figure and stature; and he looked upon the bench every inch a judge. He came to this city at a very early day, and soon was a very popular fellow-citizen, for he was fellow-citizen with everybody—men, women, and children, and all. They all liked and loved him, and they always had a good word to say for him, as he always had a good word to say to any of them.
It has not been very many years since the decease of Judge TORRENCE
Judge CARTER has also a kindly word for the famous old clerk of the courts:
Major Daniel GANO, the old long-time clerk of the old court of common picas and supreme court, and quite as long time clerk of tile old superior court—who of the old pioneers of this city does not remember him, the finished and thorough clerk of the courts, and the cultured and polished gentleman? . . He was born and grew up here, and he lived here, and he died here. Near four-score years of age, he departed this life, which had been rewarded, through tile whole long line of it, by the highest regard and esteem of his fellow-citizens. He was a worthy, clever man and most efficient officer, and was certainly one of the best looking men in the city and country. He was distinguished for wearing a large, perfectly while cambric ruffle down the open bosom of Ills shirt, adorned with a beautiful breastpin, and the old-fashioned. Revolutionary plaited queue of his hair, tied with black ribbon in a bow .and hanging down his back between his shoulder; and even for modern times he never gave it up, and retained in his toilet this mark of the old Revolutionary forefathers of this country, to the day of his shroud and coffin. He was buried with it, and no doubt it is in his grave and flourishing still.
Another character of the old courts mentioned by Judge CARTER, was John STALEE, who was deputy sheriff under many administration for a long series of years, and finally died in office, committing suicide by an over-dose of morphine.
The old court of common pleas
sat three times a year. It licensed ministers to solemnize the rite of
marriage, and also licensed auctioneers, ferries and taverns. The court
appointed its own clerk and public prosecutor, and the commissioner of
insolvents, an official of that day, the commissioner in chancery,
surveyor, and county inspectors. The associate judges had the power of
appointment of the recorder, or of a county commissioner, in case of
death, resignation, or removal of the incumbent in office.
The early courts, according to Judge Burnet, were held in a rented room in the tavern of George AVERY, near the frog-pond at the corner of Main and Fifth streets. The building was accordingly adorned with the prescribed instruments of justice in that day, the pillory, the stocks, and a whipping-post, and sometimes a gallows was added. A strong log building on the north side of the public square was occupied as a jail.
The courts in the early day,
in part at least, were held in the Gano building on Main street,
Fifth and Sixth. The territorial court met in Yeatman' tavern. The
court house owned by the county was a rude stone building on the public
square, near the southwest corner of Fifth and Main streets, fronting
the former, about where Alien & Company' drug store now stands, but
somewhat back from the street, giving room for the erecting of a
stand or bower on the fourth of July and other public occasions. It was
built in 1802, and its entire cost is said to have been but three
dollars. It was built of limestone, after a plan furnished by Judge
in the shape of a parallelogram, with forty-two feet front and
feet depth. The walls, including the parapet, were forty-two feet high.
A wooden cupola, with four projecting faces, arched and balustraded,
feet high, terminated by a dome and resting on a base of twenty feet
surmounted the whole. The total height to the top of the cupola was
feet. There were wings for public offices, two-storied and fireproof,
Judge Turner's original design; but they were not constructed by the
The first institution of this kind here was moved for as soon as 1792, and was constructed early the next year. Mr. Charles CIST says, in one of his numerous publications:
The first jail here was built early in 1793, and, as everything else in the early days of Cincinnati, was located to accommodate the convenience of the bottom interest. It was, therefore, built upon Water street, west of Main street. Although a mere log cabin, of a story and a half in height, and probably sixteen feet square, the ground in its neighborhood being cleared out, it was distinctly visible from the river. Small as it was, it was amply large enough to accommodate the prisoners, most of whom were in for debt. Neither were its inmates kept strictly within its limits, or even those of the yard adjacent; the prisoners visited around the neighborhood throughout thee day, taking care to return in time to be locked up at night, and on the appearance of the sheriff scampering home in a great fright, like so many rats to their holes.
Judge SYMMES wrote from North Bend to Esquire MCMILLAN, December 28,1792, concerning this proposed institution:
Dear Sir: I hope that by this time the jail is begun and going on briskly. I hear that the people of Cincinnati are voting on this question—whether the jail shall be built on the first bottom or the second bank? If you will allow us at North Bend to vote also, our voice is for the second bank most decidedly. Our reasons are : The ground will be had much cheaper—fuel will be had easier and at less expense- -the situation will be more elevated and healthy, in addition to its more magnificent appearance—the soil is much more dry—the prisoners will at no time be drowned in a fresh like pigs in a sty— a great expense will be saved in carting the timber—it is or soon will be in the centre of the town—it will be more convenient than Cincinnati for the people of the other villages in the county—water may be had by digging a well, which ought to be within the liberties of the prison, and if it stood on the banks of the Ohio, a well will be necessary that privileged prisoners for debt, allowed the liberty, might draw for themselves. But if interested motives are to direct our votes, the inhabitants of North Bend
Sir, your most obedient servant,
John Cleves Symmes
William MCMILLAN, ESQ.
This place of confinement is reported also to have been so insecure that it often cost as much for recaptures as for incarceration. At one time, knowing his man would escape from the " board pile," as the jail was called, Sheriff Ludlow allowed him twenty lashes and then dismission from further durance vile. This man had robbed a clothes-line. MAYS, the murderer who furnished forth the first non-military execution in Hamilton county, was kept with more care. Sheriff LUDLOW'S bill for his keeping stands as follows:
November 15, 1792.
Hamilton county, to John LUDLOW, sheriff,— Dr. Boarding James MAYS after sentence, execution expense, gallows and grave................................. . .£ 8s. 9d
This bill was not paid until six years later.
A second and larger jail soon became necessary, and a new one was put up late the next year at Stagg's corner, the southeast, of Walnut and Sixth streets. It was in size fifteen by twenty feet only, but was two stories high, built of hewed logs, with "lapt-shingle" roof. About a year hereafter, eight yoke of oxen, belonging to the garrison of Fort Washington, and in charge Of Captain THORP, quartermaster, assisted by John RICHARDSON, were employed to remove it to the lot at the corner of Church alley and Walnut street, where it remained for some years. The following unique notice, published by an unlucky debtor in the Cincinnati Spy for November 4, 1799, is supposed to have emanated from this miniature bastile:
Those indebted to Dr.
HINES are desired to remit the sums due—he being confined to jail
him of the pleasure of calling personally on his friends—they will
oblige their unfortunate friend
by complying with this request without loss of time.
Hamilton county prison, October 29, 1799.
The total cost of jails for the county to and including this year, for building, repairs, etc., is ascertained to have been three thousand and thirty-two dollars.
Mr. CIST'S Miscellany, a treasure-house of Cincinnati and Miami antiquities, also furnishes the following interesting remarks and reminiscences:
As a gallows stood in 1793 on Walnut below Fifth street, the presumption is that it had not unfrequently been made use of, although there is little pioneer lore on the subject, and its victims must have been distinct from the military corps, in which deserters are shot, not hung. But in those days the gallows, the pillory, and the whipping-post, were appendages of civilized society, two of them in (lie farther advance of civilization driven out of existence, and the third in a rapid process of extinction. Several of our citizens survive  who have witnessed not only these structures, but also the administration of justice under their operation. Jonah MARTIN, while a youth, was present when Sheriff GOFORTH inflicted the "forty stripes save one" upon a woman covicted of setting fire to haystacks, and Mr. Samuel STITT witnessed the same punishment applied to another woman guilty of theft, by the hands of Levi MCI.EAN, the deputy sheriff and jailor at that time. It must not be inferred, however, that the infliction was as severe as it appeared to be. GOFROTH was a man of great humanity, and even MCLEAN, although jailor, pound-keeper, butcher, and constable, four hard-hearted vocations, played on the fiddle and taught singing-school.
" Men are not steel, but
steel is bent,
Man are not flints—even flint is rent."
and LEVI, unless his prisoners rebelled on his hands, or he had himself taken a glass too much, in which case he would turn in and take a flogging frolic among his pets, without making much distinction between debtors and criminals, was rather a good-natured fellow than otherwise.
Thirty-six years later, persons are yet living who saw " a man," as they express it, tied up and whipped at this post. The following is the court record in one of these cases:
At a special court of General Quarter Sessions of the Peace, holden at Cincinnati, in and for the county of Hamilton, in the territory of the United States northwest of the Ohio river, on the twenty-first day of August, 1792, the grand jury return a bill of indictment against Patrick DORSEY, for feloniously stealing and carrying away from the armorer's shop at Fort Washington, in said county, on Saturday the eighteenth day of August instant, one silver watch, of the value of fifteen dollars.
The prisoner, Patrick
DORSEY, pleads not guilty, and thereupon trial was had, and the jury
"We, the jury, do find the prisoner guilty, as stated in the
Thereupon the court sentenced the aforesaid Patrick DORSEY to receive
stripes on his bare back, and
also to pay to Peter DAVIS, from whom the watch aforesaid was stolen (the said watch being restored to said Peter again), the sum of fifteen dollars, together with the costs of prosecution, herein taxed at eight dollars and twenty-five cents.
The whipping-post stood about one hundred feet west of Main and fifty south of Fifth street, near the line of Church alley. The jailer usually did the whipping, and it is said that sometimes, when he was intoxicated, he would take down the cat-o'-nine-tails and, going in among the prisoners, administer an indiscriminate flagellation on general principles.
In the matter of executions, the county has been singularly fortunate, considering its population and crime record during the last half century, scarcely more than half a dozen men having been hanged in it, under sentence of the courts, during that period.
The third jail, built up
town after the burning of the first court-house and the leasing of the
county's half of the public square, stood on the west side of Sycamore
street, between Hunt and Abigail, not far from the present county
It was a more spacious and comfortable affair, built of brick, with
rooms for prisoners, and a yard enclosed with a high brick wall, in
they might take exercise. It was occupied until the construction of the
new court house and jail was so far advanced that a transfer of
could be made.
The first court house was used as a barrack during part of the War of 1812-15; and the carelessness of some soldiers who were playing cards in one of the rooms or in the garret, resulted in the destruction of the building by fire early in the year 1814. The county commissioners then decided to remove the temple of justice further out—to a point then almost, or quite, out of the village —upon a large lot tendered the county as a gift by Mr. Jesse HUNT, its owner, near the present intersection of Main and Court streets. The new building was soon begun, but, though no great structure for size or elaboration of architecture, it occupied several years in building, and was not finished until 1819. Judge CARTER has supplied an elaborate description of this court house in his recent volume of Reminiscences and Anecdotes, which we copy in full by permission:
It was situated, itself and appurtenances, on a circular plat of ground about two hundred feet in diameter—just where our present modern court house stands. It was a substantial and spacious structure, about sixty-two feet in length east and west, and fifty-six feet in breadth north
This room, the only court
room in the building at first, was a very spacious, convenient, and
one for all the purposes of law and justice, and we doubt if there were
many better court rooms in the land. For thirty years it proved
and capable, and as one room with others would have been quite so
for all purposes of bench, bar, and people. The old people, as well as
the old judges and the lawyers, took much pride in the old court room.
Afterwards, about the year 1838, there was another smaller court room
in the old court house. This was in the second story, immediately above
the one described, and was occupied by a new court, which the exigency
of the times seemed to require, called the superior court, and now
as the old superior court. The old court house also contained a
office, not very large, but convenient in its arrangement, on tile
corner, and a county commissioners' office, and a grand-jury room, and
several other jury rooms. The great building had three large outside
on the east, on the west, and on the south sides, opening out into
with stone steps to the ground on the east and west, and wooden porch
steps on the south side. The number of large windows in its walls above
and below, and on every side, was about fifty, and all these were
with the old-fashioned green Venetian blinds; while the outside walls
the court house were painted a pale cream, or nearly white color,
to the building a marked, distinctive, and even beautiful appearance as
seen from every side, especially as it was adorned with a large central
square dome erected on the middle of the ascending four-sided roof, and
this dome surmounted by a cupola with green Venetian blind windows and
a tall spire above it, with long, gilded vane, and .the four cardinal
on it with gilded letters, N., S., E., W., and two huge balls above and
below, all shining in luminous gold. In former days no court-house
lie built and exist and live without a steeple—
And came from dacent paple;
He built a church ill Dublin town,
And on it placed a staple."
And as with the churches, so with the court houses of former days, they were literally nothing without a spire for aspiring minds. They were of no account without a " for the stable, staple, and steeping ambition of young fledged lawyers, whose flight might reach its highest pinnacle.
The dome, spire, and steeple of the old court house were the tallest of the kind in ye ancient days, and commanded the admiration, and almost the adoration, of the old people; and the old court house was the centre of attraction for the judges, the lawyers, and the people. As the old court house was the centre of attraction, so it stood in the centre of a large, circular plat of ground, with the streets forming a capacious way all around. On the periphery or circumference was erected a white painted rail-fence, with four ornamented gates to the yard of the court house, one on each side, with the cardinal points. The yard within was sodded with green grass, slanting and inclining from the basement walls of the court house, and adorned in neat and orderly manner with locust trees and shrubbery; and from each of the gates there were wide pathways leading to the court house doors, and one or two of these were paved with large flat flagstones, so that the "circular square" of the court house had quite a beautiful and attractive appearance.
After some years, the necessities of increased business requiring it, there were two separate buildings erected on Main street on the front line of the square, one north and one south of the line of the court house, the former one occupied by the treasurer, auditor, and county commissioners' offices, and the latter by the offices of the clerk of the court of common pleas and the county surveyor; and these were quite neat and eligible buildings for their purposes, adorned with side, covered porticos as they were, and flights of steps leading up to them over the offices in the first or basement story. They of course added much to the importance and attraction of the court house square, and converted the shape of the grounds from a circle to a larger segment of a circle.
The large plat of ground upon which the old court house and its appertaining surroundings stood, was given to the county of Hamilton for the purposes of a court house and county offices by Jesse Hunt, an old, respected, opulent, pioneer, public-spirited citizen of Cincinnati, and the grandfather of our present United States senator, HON. GEORGE H. PENDLETON, on the mother's side—about the year 1814 or 1815. But at that time the grounds were considered far out of town, and it was some time before the minds of the citizens of the city could be brought to any unanimity on the subject of locating the public buildings of the county there, so far off from the limits of the stores and dwellings of the town. But at last the gift was accepted, and operations were commenced for the erection of the court house, and they dragged their slow length along, and it was not until the close of the year 1819 that the court house was completely finished and ready for full occupation, and then it was occupied; and then commenced the proper, prosperous, and profound history of the old court house.
In the afternoon of Monday, July 9, 1849, this old and noble structure burned up, or down, and nothing was left of it but its thick, blackened walls, and they had been made and builded to last forever. Fire had been communicated to it by a neighboring pork-house conflagration on a warm summer's day. It caught on its exposed tinder roof and cupola, and soon roof, dome, cupola, spire, and steeple were wreathed and enveloped in smoke and flames. I remember intently gazing at the surrounding, wrapping, warping, writhing, enclosing flames from the immense roof, and these whirring, whirling, and curling and leaping amidst the densest black smoke from the now fired frame-work of the dome and steeple, presented a flaming and famous scene for a painter. Dome, spire and steeple and roof soon fell with a tremendous crash into the midst of the enclosing and enveloping walls, which were only blackened and not injured in their structure by the fire in the least, and
Drake and Mansfield's book, entitled Cincinnati in 1826, has the following derogatory remarks concerning the old court house:
It presents neither in
its domestic economy nor external architectural model of convenience or
elegance. Its removal from the centre of the city is justly a cause for
After the fire the courts and county offices, and the law library, found a temporary home in a large brick building of four stories on the northwest corner of Court street and St. Clair alley, owned by Mr. James WILSON, and afterwards occupied by Messrs. WILSON, EGGLESTON & Company, as a pork-packing house. The offices went to the second floor; the four rooms required by the Supreme court, the court of common pleas, the superior and commercial courts, were found on the third floor; and the law library, then very small, was put in a small room on the same floor, near Canal street, and looking out upon the alley. After the common pleas was reorganized and enlarged in 1852, more room was required; and in order to keep the common pleas rooms together, the third floor was given up to them; the superior and commercial courts were provided for on the second floor of a building across the alley, on Court street, the two structures being connected by a bridge from one second floor to the other. Mr. W. W. SCARBOROUGH says in his Historical Address on the Bar Library, published in 1865:
It is not to my purpose specially to describe those buildings, or to chronicle the many rich things done and said there. No one of the bar of that time could wish a more felicitous subject- But it was an evil place, no place of seeds, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegrantaes.
By the time the new courts
had gone in operation under the constitution of 1852, the lower story
the new court house was so far completed that the county commissioners
directed the courts to be removed from the packing-house to such rooms
as were ready in the new building. They were small, dark, and cold; and
the judges and the bar had a generally unpleasant time of it there.
one of the judges had a long siege with sore eyes, as a result of his
in these rooms, and, by arrangement with the supreme judge and the
common pleas judges, who together constituted the district court, he
a peremptory order to the sheriff that other quarters far the courts
be obtained. The sheriff accordingly rented from the owner, Henry SNOW,
a member of the bar, the large building on the northeast corner of
and Walnut streets, which he fitted up in comfortable style for the
courts and there they were held until the spacious and well lighted
rooms in the second story of the new court house were ready for
The county commissioners, albeit the removal had been accomplished
their sanction, cheerfully indorsed the action, and ordered all bills
by it paid by the county.
In 1851, county commissioners TIMANUS, BLACK, and PATTON, in pursuance of previous orders, awarded the contract for a new court house, the fine building now occupied by the county officers, the courts, and the bar library, and for the jail, to Messrs. M. H. COOK & Company, for the total sum of six hundred and ninety-five thousand two hundred and fifty-three dollars and twenty-nine cents. The work was to be done according to the plans and specifications submitted by Isaiah ROGERS, architect. The work was commenced, but suffered many frequent delays occasioned by change of plans and conflicting views as to style and utility. The building stands on the east side of Main street and faces west at the intersection of Main and Court streets. The length of the front is one hundred and ninety feet, extension back one hundred and ninety feet, and the height sixty feet, being three dories high above the pavement entrance. The ground rooms are occupied by the county treasurer, coroner, sheriff, and surveyor, with apartments in the rear corners alloted to the recorder and county clerk. The main entrance leads up wide iron stairs to the rotunda room on the second floor, wherein the criminal court is held.
Around this central court room pass wide halls, from which direct entrances are had to the auditor's, recorder's, and clerk's offices; also to the grand jury rooms and the probate court. On the third floor are the courts of common pleas, superior court, the law library, and the stenographers' quarters. The building is of the most substantial stone and brick work, fire-proof, easy of access, well lighted from the outside and centrally from a glass dome in the middle of the building.
Immediately back of the court
house is the county jail, facing east on Sycamore street and surrounded
by a high wall. The jail is connected with the court house by
passages. Between these main buildings, shut out from public view, the
executions by hanging are conducted. The estimated cost of the jail was
two hundred and twenty-six thousand five hundred and twenty dollars.
like the court house, is constructed of Dayton limestone, and was built
later than the court house, being commenced in 1861. Its style of
is Doric and Corinthian. All the work inside the cells, etc., is made
boiler iron. The number of cells is one hundred and fifty-two.
The original appointments of justices of the peace for Hamilton county were noted in chapter IX of this work. Among them was William GOFORTH, who entered upon his duties about one month after appointment. His
February 2. Took the oath of allegiance to the United States of America, and the oath of office as a justice of the peace for the county of Hamilton.
February 4. Joseph Gerard took the oath of allegiance to the United States of America, and was qualified as constable.
August 12. I received a visit from Esq. WELLS and Mr. SEDAM, an officer in the army, who spent most of the day with me, and towards evening, as they were going away and I was walking with them to the boat, Esq. WELLS introduced a conversation with me respecting the pernicious practice of retailing spirituous liquors to the troops, and informed me that General HARMAR wished me to write to COCHRAN and some others, in order to prevent such mischiefs as were taking place. I observed to the gentleman that we had more effectual ground to go upon, and that, by virtue of a statute of the territory, a special session might be called, and wished Esq. WELLS to meet me on the fore part of the fourteenth of August for that purpose, at Cincinnati.
August 14. On Saturday, fourteenth, I arrived at Cincinnati with Esq. GANO—waited upon Esq. MCMILLAN, who was in a low state of health, but gave me encouragement that he would be able to sit in session. I immediately despatched a messenger to inform Esq. WELLS of my arrival, and another to carry the following letter to General HARMAR:
It has been intimated
to me that the persons sanctioned in May term last, to keep public
of entertainment for the accommodation of strangers and travellers,
abused that indulgence in a way that must eventually be detrimental to
the public service, by debauching the troops under your command with
liquors- I have, therefore, convened a special session on the occasion,
which are now met and ready to proceed on that business; and would
thank General HARMAR to be so kind as to furnish the session with such
evidence as may be an effectual clue to go into a thorough
of the matter; and, as the session are now convened, your compliance as
speedily as may be with conveniency to yourself will greatly oblige,
Sir, your most obedient, humble servant,
Hon. general harmar.
Cincinnati, 14th August,
The court being opened, present, William GOFORTH, William WELLS, William MCMILLAN, John S. GANO.*
Captain FERGUSON, Captain PRATT, Captain STRONG, and several other officers appeared, agreeable to General HARMAR'S orders, and informed the court that, in consequence of the troops being debauched by spirituous liquors, punishment had become frequent in the army, and that the men were sickening fast, and that the sickness, in the opinion of the doctors, was in a great degree brought on by excessive hard drinking, and the officers complained of three houses which had retailed to the troops, to wit: Thomas COCHRAN, Matthew WINTON, and John SCOTT. These charges were supported by evidence, and Thomas COCHRAN and Matthew WINTON, each with a security, were bound by their recognizance at the next general quarter sessions of the peace, to be holden at Cincinnati, for the county of Hamilton, on the first Tuesday in November next, in the sum of two hundred dollars, and in the meantime to refrain from retailing spirituous liquors to troops without a written permission from their officers; and John Scott in the sum of thirty dollars. The court being adjourned without day.
The prompt circumstance with which, after the good old English style, the early courts were opened in this wilderness west, may be inferred from the following court report, which appeared in the Centinel of the Northwest Territory for April 12, 1794:
On Tuesday, the 11th inst., the General Court opened at this place, agreeably to adjournment from October last, before the Honorable Judge TURNER. The procession from the Judge's chambers to the public ground was in the following order;
Constables, with Batons.
Sheriff and Coroner, with
The Honorable Judge.
Clerk, with a Green Bag.
Judges of the Common Pleas.
Justices of the Peace.
Attorneys, Messengers, etc.
While the stalwarts were away fighting the Indians, those pioneers who remained at home, in this county at least, entitled themselves to the pecuniary regards of the county commissioners by killing wolves, panthers and wild-cats. If a boy killed a "big wolf," the scalp, properly certified, would bring two dollars; and if a man killed one of these wild animals less than six months old, he got one dollar and twenty-five cents. If the commissioners thought a man should be engaged in abler business than killing "five-months' wolves or sucking wild-cats," they would beat him down to three scalps for a dollar. In 1797, the commissioners set apart two hundred dollars to kill wolves and wild-cats with. In the year 1800 Joseph MOORE killed a wolf, James PELLICIEW five, John SMITH, Rowland HINDLE, Joseph WILLIAMS, Stephen WOOD, Joseph WALKER, John VINCENT, Robert TERRY, John SHAW, Cale SEWARD, William SMALLY, John DEARTH, James BUNNEL, Peter BALFELL, Jesse ANTHONY, and Joseph SUTTON, killed one wolf each; James MILLS five, Max PARHAGON six, James ROSS two, Daniel GIBSON two, Robert MCKINNEY four, John MCCONNICK two wolves and a wild-cat, Peter MURPHY three "old" wolves, John MCKAIN two, William DOWDER two, James DEMENT two, Alesander HUSTON two, Samuel GREGORY three, James FLYNN eight, Benjamin TRUMAN two, Elijah CHAPMAN four, Emmanuel BURGET and John SPENCER one and a half apiece, Nathan ABBOTT two. The scalps were properly certified, and one hundred and sixty-six dollars and seventy-five cents paid to the slayers. There was money and some fun in the scalp trade; and there was scarcely a boy, doctor, preacher, or lawyer but could relate a personal adventure connected with them and tell how much his "scalp fetched."
April 24, 1809, James LYON, William CULLUM, Enos HURIN, James EWING and John MAHARD were severally commissioned justices of the peace for the township of Cincinnati. Job FOSTER and Joseph JENKINS were similarly commissioned for the township of Springfield; Garah MARKLAND and Stephen WOOD for the township of Miami and Judah WILLEY for the township of Colerain, all to continue in office for three years from the third day of that month.
On the twenty-first of February,
1809, Griggin YEATMAN was appointed and commissioned notary public in
for the township of Cincinnati, "to continue in office for three years,
if he shall so long behave well."
©2003 by Linda Boorom & Tina Hursh