Legal Papers of John Adams, volume 2

Adams' Minutes of the Trial

New Pleadings

Editorial Note Editorial Note
Editorial Note

Redevelopment of Boston's North End is not a wholly modern phenomenon or problem. In the case which follows, Adams represented two housewrights and two bricklayers in an action of trespass brought by Jacob Emmons, alleging that on 30 April 1767 they “with force and arms . . . broke and entered the plaintiff's Close” and “did then and there break down and erase to the foundation the brick walls and chimmies of the plaintiff's dwelling house there standing and did then and there with force as aforesaid fill up the cellars of the plaintiff's said house with dirt, bricks and other rubbage.”1

The matter was tried at the Suffolk Inferior Court on 7 January 1772, where, upon a sham demurrer to Adams' plea of not guilty, judgment was rendered for the defendants.2 The matter was appealed to the Suffolk Superior Court, where, at the August 1772 sitting, the pleadings were reopened and Adams put forth his real defense, a plea in confession and avoidance (Document I). After a formal traverse of the force and arms alleged as a necessary part of the declaration in trespass, the plea admitted the acts complained of, but asserted that the defendants had been au-10thorized by law.3 The house in question had stood in the area desolated by the great fire of 3 February 1767, and the defendants had acted pursuant to statute in clearing a newly widened street which encroached upon the plaintiff's property and in removing the remains of the buildings thereon as a common nuisance and hazard to passersby. Jonathan Sewall for the plaintiff thereupon demurred to the plea. At the hearing on the demurrer, however, as Adams' minutes (Document II) show, Samuel Quincy argued in plaintiff's behalf. The court overruled the demurrer and awarded the defendants their costs, taxed at £4 11s. 2d.4


SF 102174. The defendants were Giles Brewer, William Crafts, Benjamin Richardson, and Asa Stodder.


See the Inferior Court judgment in SF 102174. At the July 1771 term with Samuel Quincy for the plaintiff and Otis for the defendant, the case had been “Continued for Special Pleadings.” Min. Bk., Inf. Ct. Suffolk, July 1771, No. 147. Since the pleadings actually filed in the Superior Court are headed, “Common Pleas. Boston January term 1772,” (Doc. I) it seems probable that they were originally drawn up for the latter court, but that at the last minute counsel agreed to defer the issue which they presented to the appeal.


As to the traverse of the force and arms (once necessary to avoid a fine to the King, but by this time purely formal) and the plea in confession and avoidance generally, see Sutton, Personal Actions 77–78, 83–84, 184–189.


SCJ Rec. 1772, fol. 111. Sewall was also of counsel in the Superior Court. Min. Bk. 95, SCJ Suffolk, Aug. 1772, C–51.