Thursday, November 15, 2007

An Astonishing Legal Document

I’ve never heard this story before and I’m hoping someone out there can give me some help.

On February 6, 2006, Heritage Auction Galleries sold an astonishing legal document.

No, Abraham Lincoln’s name does not appear on the document, nor did he write a word of it. In fact, he had nothing to do with the document or the ensuing legal case.

So, what’s the big deal?

Allegedly, this document refers to a legal case involving Thomas Lincoln (Lincoln’s father), John D. Johnston (Lincoln’s stepbrother), and Squire Hall (Lincoln’s stepbrother-in-law), but that’s not all. All three men signed their name to the document (pictured above)!

According to the item description on the Heritage Auction Galleries website, Johnston and Squire Hall were both arrested for “assaulting an officer in attempting to execute process” on November 5, 1835. In addition, both men were arrested for “gaming.” Bail was fixed at $100 for the assault charge, while bail on the gaming charge was $50.

The document appears to have been written on March 12, 1836. Johnston and Hall each obligated themselves to the state for $50 each and promised to “appear on the first day of the next term of the Coles Circuit Court to Be holden at the court house in the said County of Coles on the 6th day of April then and there to answer and indictment preferred against him by the grand jury and not depart said court without leave thereof then this recognized to be void." Apparently, Thomas Lincoln acted as a “guarantor” or “legal head of household.”

Again, according to the website, the assault charge was tried before a jury on April 6. Johnston was acquitted, but Hall was found guilty. On October 8, Hall received a sentence of 24 hours in jail and was fined $5. Both Johnston and Hall were found not guilty on the gaming charge.

Abraham Lincoln claimed that his father “never did more in the way of the writing than to bunglingly sign his own name.” To my knowledge, there are only a handful of Thomas Lincoln signatures out there. On the other hand, I don’t think any John D. Johnston signatures have survived. Moreover, a document with both signautres, along with Squire Hall's signature is a one-of-a-kind item, right?

However, the document sold at auction for less than $12,000. If the legal case can be verified and the document is indeed authentic, I think the buyer has made an incredible investment!

Has anyone out there heard of this legal case or this document? If you can shed some light on it, please send me an email.

1 comment:

DrRenShen said...

From the book Charles H Coleman, Abraham Lincoln and Coles County, Illinois, (New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1955), pp.29-30.

In 1835 Thomas Lincoln's stepson, John D. Johnston, was very active in the courts. On three occasions during that year (April 4, November 5, and December 28) he was summoned as a grand jury witness or as a witness in circuit court.(1) The November 5 summons caused complications, for on that date Johnston and his brother-in-law Squire Hall were arrested for “assaultling an officer in attempting to execute process,” and for “gaming.” Bail for each was fixed at $100 on the first charge and $50 on the second. The assault case was tried before a jury on the following April 6 and Johnston was aquitted and Hall was found guilty. The court, “not being sufficiently advised what judgment to give took time…” and postpone imposing sentence until the October term. On October 8, 1836, Hall received a sentence of a five dollar fine and twenty-four hours confinement in the county jail. That same day Johnston and Hall were found not guilty on the gaming charge.(2)
On the same day, October 8, 1836 that the assault in gaming cases against Johnston and Hall were settled, Lincoln Lincoln, Dennis F. Hanks, Johnson and Hall lost a suit brought against them by Noel M. Jones and Benjamin F. Norton. A year and a half previously on March 4, 1835 the four defendants together with one William Moffitt, had signed a one-year lease on a saw and grist mill for which way they were to pay $220.121/2 at the end of the year.

1)Charles H Coleman, Abraham Lincoln and Coles County, Illinois, (New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1955), pp.29-30. And Johnston and Daniel P. Needham summoned before Coles County grand jury, April 4; Johnston and Squire Hall summoned to circuit court to testify in behalf of John M. Eastin and N.L. Killin, indicted for “gaming,” November 5; and Johnson summoned to testify against Robert Lake, indicted for assault with intent to commit murder, or December 28, April 1836 term of the Coles County Circuit Court. Summons on file in lower vault of Circuit Clerk's office.
2)Ibid, ,Coles County Circuit Court Record, vol. I, pp. 58, 63, 83. Cited hereafter as Circuit Court Record.