The Legal Matters category of the Historic Manuscripts Collection consists of an interesting variety of documents related to legal transactions and disputes, dating from 1670 to 1972 (most documents in the collection date from the nineteenth century). The documents include land agreements and leases, affidavits, petitions, judgments in civil and criminal suits, legal notices, promissory notes, licenses, bills of sale, contracts, and bonds. Some of the documents in this category highlight the unsavory and the tragic, documenting gambling, assaults, domestic violence, slavery, and prostitution in Schenectady County in the early-to-mid-nineteenth century.
There are approximately 50 coroner's inquests included in the collection, ranging in date from 1824 to 1843. Inquests are inquiries made into the manner and cause of person's death. These documents were created when there were reasonable grounds to believe that the death of a person resulted from violence or suicide, or when a person's death was sudden or mysterious. The inquests in this collection tend to be fairly brief, are signed by a number of jurors, and -- on occasion -- impose moral judgment on the deceased. During this time, law enforcement structures were rudimentary, and physicians may or may not have been enlisted to participate in inquests. As the documentation created by coroners was expanded and forensic science developed in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the record-keeping became more standardized, formal death certificates began to be recorded, and the legal and medical terminology employed became more technical.
Included here are just a few examples of the inquests included in the collection. Click this link to see the full, searchable finding aid for the Legal Matters category of documents.