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Court Records History
Pre-1914 court papers located in the Circuit Court for the City of Fredericksburg, Virginia, are being processed for archival storage. As part of this on-going project, a database containing the names of primary parties (plaintiffs, defendants, deponents, petitioners, etc) has been created. Also included are names and places of historical or genealogical significance.
Words are generally entered into the database spelled as they were found in the original documents (typos excepted). Consequently, several variations of a word may be found. Search accordingly.
Papers in the Fredericksburg Circuit Court Archives are from the following entities:
Mayor's Court for the Town / City of Fredericksburg (1782-unknown)
Authorized by the 1782 incorporation of the town by the Virginia General Assembly, Fredericksburg's Mayor's Court qualified Councilmen and officers of the Corporation, issued warrants for violations of local ordinances, heard evidence against those who violated local ordinances and kept records of executions, fines and fees paid. Much of the civil casework of the Mayor's Court involved petty sums, consequently these actions often involved marginalized individuals who may not appear elsewhere in the public record.
Hustings / Corporation Court for the Town / City of Fredericksburg (1782-1941)
The Hustings Court, known as the Corporation Court in jurisdictions incorporated as independent cities, was the town / city equivalent of the County Court. It was presided over by Justices under the Mayor of the town / city and heard civil and criminal matters. Civil actions on appeal and criminal matters resulting in conviction were sent to the next higher court (i.e.: Hustings Court to District Court / Superior Court and Corporation Court to Circuit Court) for further action. Fredericksburg achieved independent city status (population over 5,000) in 1879, when the Hustings Court legally became a Corporation Court. Oddly, the town had been calling the former entity "Corporation Court" years before that date. Fredericksburg achieved first class city status (population over 10,000) in 1941. This arrangement ended the Corporation Court and yielded the General District Court and Circuit Court existing today.
District Court for the Spotsylvania District (1789-1808)
District Courts, created to relieve the General Court of the congestion of common law cases, were established in eighteen Virginia localities and the district of Kentucky in 1789. Each district was comprised of several counties; court was held twice a year in each district. General Court judges presided over District Courts. The court for the District of Spotsylvania included the Town of Fredericksburg, and the counties of Spotsylvania, Caroline, King George, Stafford, Orange, and Culpeper. District Courts were abolished in 1808, and replaced by Superior Courts of Law.1
- Madison County was also part of the District for Spotsylvania as evidenced by the court records.
- Records for the Spotsylvania District Court are located in Fredericksburg because the District Court sat in the Fredericksburg Court House, not in the Spotsylvania County Court House. Consequently, this Court was often referred to as the Fredericksburg District Court.
- Among the records in Fredericksburg are a number of cases which were instituted in the General Court and moved later to the newly created District Court.
Superior Court of Law for Spotsylvania County (1808-1831)
Superior Courts of Law were created in 1808, superseding the District Courts, but maintaining the same district structure for criminal and civil cases. The courts, established in each county, met twice a year and were presided over by a General Court judge riding a circuit from county to county. Consequently, these courts were often referred to as "Circuit Courts", "Circuit Courts of Law" or "Circuit Superior Courts".1
- Records for Spotsylvania Superior Court of Law are located in Fredericksburg because the court sat in the Fredericksburg Court House, not in the Spotsylvania County Court House. Consequently, this Court was often referred to as the Fredericksburg Superior Court of Law.
Superior Court of Chancery for the Spotsylvania District (1814-1831)
Superior Courts of Chancery were created in 1802 to expedite the hearing of chancery cases, which had previously been heard in the High Court of Chancery at Richmond. Superior Courts were established in three districts and are sometimes referred to as "District Courts of Chancery". The number of Superior Court districts was increased to six in 1812, to eight in 1813/1814 and to nine late in 1814. The Spotsylvania District for the Superior Court of Chancery, established in 1814, included Caroline, Culpeper, Fauquier, Fairfax, Lancaster, Northumberland, Madison, King George, Orange, Prince William, Richmond, Spotsylvania, Stafford, Essex and Westmoreland Counties and the Town of Fredericksburg.1
- Records for Spotsylvania Superior Court of Chancery are located in Fredericksburg because the court sat in the Fredericksburg Court House, not in the Spotsylvania County Court House. Consequently, this Court was often referred to as the Fredericksburg Superior Court of Chancery.
Circuit Superior Court of Law and Chancery for Spotsylvania County (1831-1851)
Circuit Superior Courts of Law and Chancery were created in 1831, superseding both the Superior Courts of Law and the Superior Courts of Chancery. These courts were held in each county twice a year and presided over by a General Court judge riding a circuit from county to county. Circuit Superior Courts of Law and Chancery were abolished in 1852 (with ratification of the Virginia Constitution of 1851) and superseded by Circuit Courts, the structures of which survive to the present day.1
- Records for Spotsylvania Superior Court of Law and Chancery are located in Fredericksburg because the court sat in the Fredericksburg Court House, not in the Spotsylvania County Court House. Consequently, this Court was often referred to as the Fredericksburg Superior Court of Law and Chancery. The Court Order Book for the period shows the last reference to Law and Chancery appearing in the May, 1850 court term.
Circuit Court for Spotsylvania County (1852-1875)
Circuit Courts, established in 1852, were held twice a year in each county and were presided over by a judge riding a circuit from county to county.1
- Records for Spotsylvania County Circuit Court through 1875 are located in Fredericksburg because that court sat in the Fredericksburg Court House (not in the Spotsylvania County Court House) until Fredericksburg was granted its own separate Circuit Court in 1875. From that date onward, Spotsylvania County Circuit Court convened at the Spotsylvania County Court House and its records from that date were kept there. The first reference to Spotsylvania County Circuit Court appeared in an Order Book containing proceedings of 16 August 1850.
Circuit Court for Town / City of Fredericksburg (1875-1914)
The General Assembly of Virginia granted the Town of Fredericksburg a Circuit Court separate from that of Spotsylvania County in 1875. Since that date, a Circuit Court has met at Fredericksburg.
Common Council for Town / City of Fredericksburg (1782-1914)
The Common Council for the Town of Fredericksburg was authorized by the General Assembly of Virginia in the act that incorporated the town in 1781/2.
(1) THE VIRGINIA STATE COURT SYSTEM (1776 - ); Thomas Jefferson Headlee, Jr.; Virginia State Library; 1969
Disclaimer: Data provided by the Fredericksburg Circuit Court Archives in Historic Court Records is not official and is for genealogical and historical research purposes only. All data contained herein should be verified by obtaining a copy of the original record.