Justices of the Peace, 1741-1949

RECORD GROUP: Clerk of the Court
SERIES: Justice of the Peace
DATES: 1741-1949
VOLUME: 236 volumes, 14 record cartons and 15 manuscript boxes

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This series consists of docket books and loose papers concerning civil small causes and criminal cases brought before more than 70, but not all, Justices of the Peace (JOP) in Monmouth County. Due to the large amount of records of Justice of the Peace Joseph H. Schooley, which included docket books and loose papers, a separate finding aid was created. See Justice Schooley finding aid.
The office of Justice of the Peace has a long history within the judicial system. Under the oldest English laws, the Justice of the Peace was regarded as a “protector of the King’s or Queen’s peace.” Originally, the duties of the office involved settling matters of minor civil and criminal offenses. The jurisdiction of the Justice of the Peace changed very little over hundreds of years.
The Royal Majesties realized, very early, that the only way to keep England’s interests safe in the colonies would be through the courts and the Judges and Justices who presided over them. Through the appointments of England’s loyal servants to the prestigious, high court positions, the Crown would be assured that disruptions and disturbances by the colonists would be dealt with appropriately. The Royal Governors were given the power and authority to appoint and depose all court officials. The protection of England’s interests began at the town level in the Court of Small Causes presided over by a Justice, whose length of term was “for good behaviour” which, in most cases meant indefinitely.

Both before and after the Revolution, the Justice of the Peace was responsible to hear, try to determine all cases brought before him, without a jury. Cases brought before Small Causes included landlord-tenant disputes and cases of debt involving amounts under 40 shillings. At various times, after the Revolution, acts of legislation were passed gradually raising the amounts from $60 to $200.

Also included on a Justice’s calendar of cases might be neighborly disputes or the sale of intoxicating liquor on the Sabbath. Anyone cursing or swearing in public places might also be brought before Small Causes and, if found guilty, assessed court costs and a fee for poor behavior. However, the most well known duty of the Justice of the Peace was to perform marriages.

Although the State Constitution of 1776 stated that, temporarily, the common law of England would remain in force, there were a few changes made to the legal system, especially to the office of the Justice of the Peace. Through the 1776 Constitution, the Council and General Assembly were no longer appointed by the Royal Governors. Justices were chosen by joint selection and appointment, with the approval or commission by the Governor. The term of office was limited to five years.

The next major change occurred under the 1844 Constitution. While the Constitution did not change the jurisdiction of the Justices, it did allow, for the first time, their election by the people. According to the Constitution, “two, and not more than five, justices of the peace in each of the townships throughout the State,” could be elected. The population of the city or township determined the number elected. Justices were required to record in their docket books all cases brought to their court. By law, their docket books could not be destroyed. The law also stated that the books could be used as evidence in all courts of law in the State, even after the Justice’s death, impeachment or resignation. The Justices of the Peace may not have been as revered as the illustrious Supreme Court judges, but they were an important part of the legal process.


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Docket Books
Each of the 210 individual docket books consists of a kind of a diary kept by the Justice in which he noted events pertaining to the case, for example, the issuance of a summons, the filing of court papers, the appearance and testimony at the trial, and the decision. These volumes thus constitute a historical record for the Court of Small Causes for the Justices and years available. They are not a complete record for the Courts of Small Causes, as not all justices are represented in the record series. The Justice of the Peace Docket Books are arranged alphabetically by the last name of the Justice. Most Justices recorded cases chronologically within their books, starting a new page for each case and adding notes to the same page as the case progressed. Some of the Justices maintained indexes by plaintiff and defendant in the front of their books, providing page references. A few Justices used alphabetically arranged books or maintained separate books for specialized purposes, such as civil cases, criminal cases, and marriages. Marriages in the docket books were not added to the Archives searchable online Marriage Returns database. The time span covered by the volumes varies considerably, depending on such factors as the size of the volume, case load, system of recording cases, and length of service by the Justice. Although most books cover less than a ten-year span, there are a number covering lengthier periods as long as thirty-six years. The Docket books have been microfilmed but not scanned or indexed by plaintiffs or defendants except as noted above.

Justices of the Peace Docket Books include, but are not limited to:
• Leonard Arrowsmith – 8 volumes, 1915-1926
• John A. Borden – 15 volumes, 1888-1924
• Eugene Britton – 8 volumes, 1883-1897
• Martin Ferris – 18 volumes, 1901-1931
• Isaac Johnston – 8 volumes, 1912-1923
• J.C. Lawrence – 7 volumes, 1865-1891
• James Sickles – 6 volumes, 1891-1913
• Theodore Sniffen – 5 volumes, 1896-1915
• David Warner – 6 volumes, 1881-1898

Docket Books, Judgments
There are 24 Justice Judgment books, 1848-1938. Some have front indexes. The judgment books have been microfilmed, but not indexed or scanned.

Docket Books, Bonds
These two books cover 1845-1928, but are in poor condition and need restoration. They have name/page indexes in the front. They have not been microfilmed, indexed, or scanned.

Loose papers, Criminal cases
These loose papers are filed by the last name of the Justice of the Peace, then by year, then by last name of the defendant. They include a variety of documents such, as but not limited to, Criminal costs, State warrant of arrest, conviction of disorderly person, criminal complaint and taxed bill of cost. The crimes include, but are not limited to, grand larceny, keeping a gambling house, assault and battery, swearing, etc. An Access database of individual JOP loose papers for criminal cases is available. The database contains 5,024 records and is searchable by Justice, defendant, crime, year, verdict, complainant, and town. The loose papers have not been microfilmed or scanned.

Loose papers, Small Causes
These loose papers are filed by the last name of the Justice of the Peace, then by year, then by last name of the defendant. They include a variety of documents such as, but not limited to, summons, cancelled checks, unpaid invoices, assignment of judgments, and appeal bonds. The Small Causes loose papers were not indexed, microfilmed, or scanned.

Loose papers, Bonds
These tri-folded loose papers are filed by year. They include the name of the person being elected Justice of the Peace, term, township, name of surety and dollar amount. They also note the book and page the bonds are recorded in the docket books of bonds. They have not been unfolded, indexed, microfilmed or scanned.

These records are open to the public.
The docket books are available for use on microfilm. Two printouts of indexes are available in Archives: 1) alphabetical by name of the Justice of the Peace; and 2) alphabetical by town and chronological within town. Both indexes provide the following information concerning the books:
• NAME – name of the Justice of the Peace
• TOWN – location of Justices Court
• BEGINNING DATE – beginning date of volume
• ENDING DATE – ending date of the volume
• MFILM – microfilm roll number
Special notes concerning some of the volumes are also provided. Cases within the volumes have not been indexed except within the books as noted above in the Scope and Content section.
The Monmouth County Archives also holds loose papers for Justices of the Peace, including justices for which no docket books are available

Access databases:
• JP New, 1874-1949, created July 30, 1997, containing 356 records of docket books. The index shows the name of the justice, beginning and ending years, and microfilm reel number for the docket book. It also shows if there are loose papers for the justice.
• JP 1744-1935, created January 13, 2012, containing 409 records of the eight cartons of loose papers, searchable by Justice, dates, box numbers and type of cases, either small causes or criminal.
• JP Criminal Index, 1755-1929, created May 14, 2012, containing 5,024 records, searchable by Justice, defendant, crime, year, verdict, complainant, town and notes. .

Loose papers of small causes and criminal cases were separated. Both types of loose papers are arranged alphabetically by last name of the justice, then by year, then alphabetically by last name of the defendant. They provide a historical record of the Monmouth County Court for the Trial of Small Causes, the lowest level civil court. The Docket Books are mostly arranged chronologically.
Monmouth County Archives
125 Symmes Drive
Manalapan NJ 07726
(732) 308-3771
Most of the Justice of the Peace records were transferred by Jane G. Clayton, Monmouth County Clerk, to Archives before 1992. On June 21, 1995, the NJ State Archives transferred 3.5 cubic feet of Justice Joseph H. Schooley docket books and loose papers to the Archives under Accession No. 1995-04. The Schooley papers were kept as a separate collection with its own finding aid. On December 27, 2005, Scott Peters donated .1 cubic feet of loose papers of Justice William Imlay, to the Archives under Accession No. 2005-09.
The docket books were microfilmed January 29, 1992. This finding aid was created March 13, 2001; revised November 23, 2011, and then revised on July 10, 2018 by George Joynson. Three Access databases were created: July 30, 1997, January 13, 2012, and May 14, 2012.
See Justice of the Peace Joseph H. Schooley finding aid.