|Norfolk County, MA courthouse dome|
The court officer went to a great deal of trouble to explain what was going to happen and why. We were even treated to a video that explained the purpose, importance and history of jury duty.
I learned that the first African Americans in Massachusetts served as jurors in 1860 (no mention, though, that this right was likely taken away from them some years later). I also learned that women did not become jurors until 1950, thirty years after winning the right to vote.
Most of my time on jury duty was spent waiting and reading. I passed the time reading the recently released Witchcraft Prosecution: Chasing the Devil in Connecticut by Richard G. Tomlinson. This book explains the history of witchcraft in Connecticut from 1642 to the early 1700s.
This books falls right on the heals of my reading The Naked Quaker: True Crimes and Controversies from the Courts of Colonial New England by Diane Rapaport.
I couldn't help but reflect on the importance of court activities and their future role as historical documents. The court records from the 1600s provide insight into a time period that seems distant and far removed from today. Reading the witch trial records from the 1600s made me realize just how similar we are in regards to aspects of human nature such as greed, jealously, fear, sexuality and power. When you read between the lines of the witch trials you quickly come to understand that they had more to do with these items that they did with witches.
Like a twist in a bad movie, the court officer said she was going to release us mid-morning only to return to and notify us that they were impaneling the entire jury pool. So off we went to the courtroom.
It was very interesting to hear the judge, meet the lawyers and to see the representatives for the plaintiff and the defendant in this civil case. The judge explained to us what the trial was about and then asked us a number of questions.
I have to admit that I was glad that the jury was filled before they called my name. Though I greatly appreciated the insight into how Americans courtrooms work, especially considering that I was studying 17th century court records simultaneously. I really made me consider how our actions of today would be the historical records of tomorrow.
Being in a courthouse was a really wonderful backdrop for reading early American court records. While the book is interesting enough on its own, it sure made it a lot more fun.