John Tazewell letter to John Norton, 1770 July 12
Wmsburg, Virginia, July 12th, 1770.
I received your Favour of the 10th of March relative to your Claim
against Mr. Waters's Estate, and am sorry to inform you there is not the most distant
Prospect of saving your Debt, to which I have before been particularly attentive. I have
already paid, on Account of the Estate, upwards of £10,000, in Satisfaction of Debts due
by Bond and Specialties, and there remain more Claims of that Sort that will go
unsatisfied; if, however, contrary to my Expectation, any Means can be fallen upon
to save your Debt, you may rely on my Assistance.
An Act of Assembly passed a few Days ago, which it is thought will affect
Merchants in Britain who have Debts due to them in this Country, and several
Merchants and others have wrote to their Correspondents to endeavour to put a Stop to
it, by Application to the Lords of Trade & plantations, and your Son Mr H. Norton
has desired me to state the Case to you that you may take such Steps, relative to it,
as you think proper.
In the year 1722 a Charter was granted the City of Williamsburg, &constitutg
the Court of Hustings, in which all Causes arising within its Jurisdiction, that is,
within the Limits of the City, were to be tried ; the restraining this Court to such Actions
only as did actually arise within the Limits of the City, was soon found extremely
inconvenient, for the greatest Part of the Court's Time was taken up in endeavouring
to find out the Place where the Debt was contracted or Contract arose; nor was it
sufficient to prove your Claim a just one, unless your Witnesses could prove the certain
Place where the Bond was executed or Debt contracted. Besides, here, the general Resort
of Persons from all Parts of the Country, no Debt contracted in England, however just
could be sued for, tho' the Debtors had actually agreed to pay the same here; and as this
is the general Mart of Exchange, most sterling Debts were and are settled here.
To remedy these Inconveniences, an Act of Assembly passed in the Year 1736, giving
this Court a more extensive Jurisdiction, & permitting the Recovery of Debts in it,
wheresoever contracted. This Jurisdiction has ever since been exersised by the Court
of Hustings & has made it by far the most convenient Court in the Colony to the
Merchants and others in recovering their Debts, as well as because the Business of it
is carried on with the greatest Dispatch; as that its Judges are equal if not superior
to any in the Colony. Here, Suits have seldom remained undetermined longer than 3
or 4 Months, when they have remained undetermined almost as many Years in
most of the other Courts.
The first of this Month an Act passed, the Title whereof is "An Act to explain
"certain Doubts, touching the Jurisdiction of the Court of Hustings of the City of Williams
"-burg." By this Act the Court is reduced to its pristine inconvenient State, and its
Jurisdiction confined to Causes actually arising within the Limits of the City.
If this Law is not disallowed by the Lords of Trade & Plantations, to whom our new Laws
are referred for Examination, the former Inconveniences which attended this Court
will be revise, and great Injustice done Creditors, for this Law is to affect the
Recovery of Debts already contracted, as well as those hereafter to be contracted.
If this Law is not disallowed, Creditors for the Recovery of their Debts must
either bring their Suits in the General or County Courts, where Years must elapse before
an unjust or unwilling Debtor can be brought to Justice. To a Man in Trade, it is
unnecessary to enumerate the ill Consequences of such Delay. Debtors too often appear
ready to take every Step in their Power to delay the Payment of just Debts; & the present
is the first Law that I recollect that has been made that tends to assist them in it.
I own I was much surprised to hear it had passed, & upon Enquiry was informed
there was but a Majority of two Members in Favour of it. Retrospective Laws such
as I consider the present in some Measure to be, as it affects the Recovery of Debts
already contracted are almost always unjust, and on this Accout as well as because
it expressly contradicts the Law in 1736, before mentioned, it ought, as I conceive, to
have a suspending Clause (like other Laws of that Nature) till his Majesty's
Thus have I endeavoured to lay before you my Reasons for thinking
this Law will sensibly affect Merchants in England who have Debts due to them
in this Country, which I might have shared, as your Acquaintance with this
Country will make you a very good Judge of the Inconveniencies that may
I am Sir yr. mo: obt. Servt.
Virga the 12th July 1770
Recd. 12 Septr Exd
Concerng the Act of
Assembly relative to
the Court of Hustings
Ansd. 9 March 1771