City Archives
New Orleans Public Library

Territory of Orleans. County Court (Orleans).
Civil Suit Records, 1804-1807

Date range: 1804-1807
Size of collection: 4 boxes
Terms of Access: Digital images are available online as part of the Louisiana Purchase Bicentennial Collection at the LOUISiana Digital Library. The original documents are closed to researchers.

Historical Note

At its first session in 1804, the Legislative Council of the Territory of Orleans divided the Territory into twelve counties, with New Orleans within the County of Orleans. The same act also established a County Court in each of the twelve counties and authorized Governor William C.C. Claiborne to appoint judges to the County Court benches for terms of four years.

On May 1, 1805 Claiborne selected James Workman to serve as judge in the County of Orleans. The statute also provided for a sheriff, a coroner, a clerk, and a treasurer to complete the staff of each County Court. During its first session, the Territorial Legislature authorized the appointment of attorneys to act on behalf of the Territory, relieving the court clerks of this duty.

The County Courts were given jurisdiction in civil matters involving debts of more than fifty dollars or injuries to persons or property of less than one hundred dollars. The Legislative Council also assigned the County Courts jurisdiction in all non-capital criminal matters; that is, those which could not be punished with death or which were not exclusively within the jurisdiction of a superior court.

In 1806, the Territorial Legislature expanded the jurisdiction of the County Courts, authorizing them to hear all criminal cases brought against slaves, even capital ones. Criminal cases involving slaves were not tried by a jury, but rather by a tribunal consisting of a judge or two justices of the peace and three to five white landowners. In non-capital cases, a single justice of the peace and one or two landowners would suffice. Additionally, territorial law allowed a slaveowner whose slave was executed or incarcerated to seek compensation from the government for the loss of his property.

In 1807, the Territorial Legislature established the City Court to replace the County Court in Orleans Parish. In all other parishes the new courts were called Parish Courts.


The records are arranged numerically by docket number.

The Index to County Court Civil Suit Records is arranged alphabetically by the name of the plaintiff and divided into sections, as follows:

Scope and Contents

The records are civil suits filed in County Court, for the most part involving disputes over money--i.e., overdue promissory notes, unpaid bills, etc. Many are very brief, containing only the petition of the plaintiff and the court's judgement. Others include supporting documentation such as a copy of the promisory note under dispute, inventories of assets, and answers to the plaintiff's petition.

The civil suits are not available on microfilm and must be viewed in the original. In some cases, the records are very fragile, and the archvists reserve the right to limit use and photocopying. Occasionally, pages in the records are fragmented and are noted as "part missing" or "fragment only" in the inventory. In other cases, the suit contains only a summons.

Because of the difficulty of deciphering 19th-century handwriting, the spelling of names in the index to the suit records is sometimes a "best guess;" in some instances, the name of plaintiff or defendant or the docket number of the case could not be deciphered. Researchers should check variant spellings before assuming that a name is not included in the index.

The criminal suit records of the County Court (and its successor City Court) are arranged separately.

Back to Civil & Criminal Courts

Updated 8/25/2007

Back to Nutrias Home