Quarter Sessions, 1721-1948

SERIES: Quarter Sessions
DATES: 1721-1948
VOLUME: 84 volumes, 68 manuscript boxes, and 2 flat boxes
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Dating back almost 300 years, Quarter Sessions is a large record series of Monmouth County court cases, composed of Minute Books, General Quarter Sessions loose papers, Special Quarter Sessions loose papers, and Quarter Sessions Grand Jury lists.
The “Court of General Quarter Sessions of the Peace” (Quarter Sessions or QS) was established in New Jersey in 1675 and redefined as a county court in 1682. The word “Quarter” in its name stems from the practice of holding the court four times each year in each county. In 1788, eight Justices of the Peace presided over Monmouth County Quarter Sessions.

The primary function of the Quarter Sessions Court was to deal with criminal cases, at a higher level than the Court of Small Causes, which was presided over by one justice of the peace, and at a lower level than the Court of Oyer and Terminer, which was presided over by a Supreme Court Justice and one or more other judges. However, except for the most serious crimes like murder, most felonies could be tried in either Oyer and Terminer or in Quarter Sessions. It was not unusual for individuals to be arraigned in one court (usually Oyer) and tried in the other.

As a consequence of the 1947 New Jersey Constitution, the Quarter Sessions Court was officially abolished in 1948.

Quarter Sessions Minutes Books, 1721-1931
These volumes consist of the minutes for the Court of General Quarter Sessions from 1721 to 1948, with gaps in the 18th and 19th centuries. Quarter Sessions Minutes 1721 to 1852 were recorded in with the Common Pleas Minutes Books. The books include General Quarter Sessions and Special Quarter Sessions cases.

Typical entries in the Quarter Sessions Minute Books will include the plea of the defendant and, if the defendant pleaded not guilty, a record of the trial. The trial record includes the names of the jury, the witnesses, and the attorneys. If the defendant is found guilty, the minutes include a record of the sentence. Records of recognizances issued (bail) are also recorded in the Minute Books. Typical cases are for larceny, illegal gambling, assault & battery and other matters.

General Quarter Session, loose papers, 1727-1937 with gaps
Loose papers are mostly Indictments, but also Applications & order for trial, and other.

Special Quarter Session, loose papers, 1877-1925 with gaps
Special Quarter Sessions were scheduled as additional sessions when the defendant wanted to plead guilty and reduce court costs. If the name of the defendant appears in the Minute Books, it should also appear in the Access database.

Quarter Sessions Grand Jury Lists, 1783-1852
These large Grand Jury lists with names of defendants are stored in two flat boxes.

These records are open to the public.
These records are available for research at the Archives. An Access database of Quarter Sessions Minute Books, 1734-1930, combined with Oyer & Terminer court records, was begun February 1, 1995. It now contains 33, 411 records, of which 24,906 are Quarter Sessions, and is available at the Archives. The searchable database contains 40 fields.
The Quarter Sessions Minute Books were written chronologically. The General QS and Special QS loose papers were separated, then arranged by year, then by defendant.
Monmouth County Archives
125 Symmes Drive
Manalapan, NJ 07726
Phone: (732) 308-3771
This collection was transferred to the Monmouth County Archives by County Clerk, Jane G. Clayton before 1995.
Quarter Sessions Minute Books were microfilmed in February 1999. Loose papers have not been microfilmed. Neither have been scanned. Names of defendants in the Minute Books have been indexed. This finding aid was created in 2001, updated by Tara Christiansen in November 2013, updated August 1, 2018 by George Joynson.
Although the minute books are an important court record, researchers should use them in conjunction with other archival records. In addition, as previously mentioned, some criminal cases involved more than one court, and researchers may need to consult Oyer and Terminer or other courts to follow the progress of a particular case.