Circuit Court: In Equity, 1851-1902

RECORD GROUP: Clerk of the Court
SERIES: Circuit Court, In Equity
DATES: 1851-1902
VOLUME: 3.5 cubic feet

Cir Ct in Equity image for webpage

Circuit Court in Equity is a set of 128 loose papers for court cases involving disputes over real property.

By the King’s ordinance of 1751, the New Jersey Colonial Supreme Court was given the power to not only try cases involving civil and criminal acts but also to try cases in Law and Equity, which jurisdiction, until this point, had been held by the Court of Exchequer.

In 1798, a new court, within the Supreme Court, was created through the “Act Concerning the Supreme and Circuit Courts.” The act stated that the Justices of the Supreme Court, or at least one of them, were to hold a court in each county, twice a year, hearing cases relating to equity disputes and cases involving land titles within that county. The traveling court was referred to as the “Circuit Court.”

It was not until 1838 that the actual county Circuit Courts were established by an Act of Legislation that created a separate circuit court in each county but which were still to be presided over by a justice of the Supreme Court or a judge specifically appointed for that purpose. The Act also gave the County Circuit Court jurisdiction over its own cases and directed that all judgments were to be recorded within the County rather than at the Supreme Court level. The County Clerk was made the Clerk of the Circuit Court and charged with recording and maintaining the Circuit Court minutes and judgments.

Circuit Courts were again defined under the 1844 Constitution as a separate court distinct from the Supreme Court with the power of trying cases relating to land and equity “at the circuits,” meaning within the individual counties. Although the Constitution of 1844 allowed the Legislature to give the Circuit Court and Common Pleas courts chancery jurisdiction in mortgage foreclosure cases, it was not until the Act of 1851 that the Circuit Court actually was given the power to try and make a final judgment on the cases involving foreclosures.

Circuit Courts were abolished under the Constitution of 1947. The functions and jurisdiction of the Circuit Courts were absorbed by the new State Supreme Court and County Superior Courts.

These case files include chancery reports, subpoenas, appeals, foreclosure and Sheriff Sale notices and reports, and names of plaintiffs and defendants.

The legal definition for “In Equity” relating to real estate is, “the remaining interest belonging to one who has pledged or mortgaged his property,” or the surplus of value which may remain after the property has been disposed of for the satisfaction of liens. The term came from the development in English courts of equity of the right of an owner of property to redeem his property even after a foreclosure, which right came to be known as the “equity of redemption.” The existence of the right was predicated on the property being of far greater value than the debt owed to the party that foreclosed.” (Black’s Law Dictionary, Fifth Edition). In simple terms, Circuit Court/In Equity cases relate to foreclosures on properties by a mortgagee (person who loans the money). But “In Equity” cases go a step beyond a simple foreclosure due to other circumstances leading to the foreclosure.

The “In Equity” records are a small but complex system of lawsuits by the mortgagee against, not only the mortgagor (person borrowing the money), but other individuals involved with the property. In some cases, the mortgagor may have sold the property to another individual but never paid off the outstanding mortgage with the proceeds of the sale. There are also cases where the property may have changed hands two or three times leaving the mortgage still unpaid. By law, the mortgagee could sue each of the individuals who sold the property and did not pay off the mortgage.

Other cases involve the death of the mortgagor and the mortgagee filing a claim against the widow, children and even grandchildren. Twenty-nine of the 129 cases in this record series include the names of children and their spouses, grandchildren and their residences at the time of the lawsuit. A point of interest is the fact that many of the heirs had moved out of state.
The following cases offer some genealogical information:

Asay, John & Jane Manalapan
Clayton, David & Caroline Howell
Clayton, Lewis & Sarah Manalapan
Collins, Albert Keyport
Corlies, Russell & Anne
Croes, John & Elanor Keyport
Cuttrell, Edward & Catherine Keyport
Dexter, Charles & Sarah (Sarah m. 2nd William Cooper) Raritan
Emley, William & Mary Upper Freehold
Hance, George & Maria Oceanic
Harvey, Samuel & Lydia Port Washington
Hulit, Leonard & Rebecca (nee Brewer) Howell
Knox, Robert Raritan (Granville)
Lippincott, Henry & Abigail (nee Hulet) Howell
Lippincott, William B. & Lavinia Long Branch
Minton, Archibald & Maria Fair Haven
Morgan, Penrose C. & Ann Ocean Twp.
Nelson, Oscar & Mary Middletown
Poinsett, Abner & Elizabeth Eatontown
Reid, Jonathan F. & Melissa (Melissa m. 2nd John Eager) Millstone
Rock, Charles & Charlotte (Charles son of Peter Rock) Atlantic
Schenck, Garrit & Sarah Ann Marlboro
Schenck, Lorenzo Eatontown
Smith, Hezekiah & Zilpha Freehold
Spencer, Peter (son of Robert & Caroline) Atlantic
Stillwagon, William (mother, brothers & sisters) Holmdel
Vanhise, John & Rachel Highlands
Vanmater, Robert & Margaret Freehold
Walling, Theodore & Ann Raritan
This collection is open to researchers.

The original records are stored in seven manuscript boxes and have not been microfilmed.

Circuit Court in Equity case records are arranged alphabetically by last name of the defendant. In the case of the death of the husband, the widow is named as the defendant. Each case file includes:

a. Year of suit
b. Name of Person filing the suit (plaintiff) and his or her residence
c. Name of defendant and wife (in a few cases, the wife had taken the mortgage); and his or her residence
d. Location of Property
e. Description of Property
f. Dates of mortgages
g. Chain of title (in most cases two previous owners)
h. Names of other individuals involved in the sale and resale of the property and the dates of the sale
i. Name of individual who purchased property at foreclosure (not all cases)
i. Genealogical information

Monmouth County Archives
125 Symmes Drive
Manalapan NJ 07726
Tel. (732) 308-3771

These records were transferred to the Archives by County Clerk Jane G. Clayton before 1996.

A finding aid was created in 1996 and revised in May 2016 by George Joynson. An Access database was created July 5, 2007.

The database is in a separate table in Access as part of the Circuit Court 1798-1935. See the Circuit Court Loose Papers finding aid for more information.