Most of what is to be learned about Chribbs’s business activities can be found in the records of court cases. Two types of records are available:
- entries in the court order or docket books that formally record the proceedings and decisions of the court and
- individual case files containing miscellaneous loose papers created by the parties or court officials.
Following are summaries of the numerous cases in the Randolph County Court of Common Pleas in which Chribbs was a party. (Note 1.) During this period, court for Randolph County—then part of the Northwest Territory or the Indiana Territory—was held at Kaskaskia. Also included below are a few documents that have not been associated with court cases but are nevertheless found within the court’s files and have to do with Chribbs’s business affairs.
1799 – Chribbs & Mitchell v. Pierre Dumay (Dumais)
On April 17, 1799, the court issued a capias (arrest warrant) against Pierre Dumay. The capias stated that the suit was for “trespass on the case” with a claim of $7,000 in damages. (Note 2.) “Trespass on the case” is an antiquated term that included claims that today might be called negligence or breach of contract.
Perhaps the defendant was the man referred to as “Peter Dumais” in Chribbs’s 1798 settlement with Aron Colvin described in Part III. If so, this case would appear to be an attempt by Chribbs & Mitchell to recover their losses for Colvin’s “disappointment of hunting” caused by Dumais’s failure to follow some instructions Chribbs had given.
Like the Colvin suit, Chribbs apparently reached a settlement instead of going to trial. The reverse side of the capias includes a notation by the sheriff that the case was “setled by plt.”
1802 – Chribbs & Mitchell v. William McRoberts
On March 4, 1802, the court issued a capias against William McRoberts on a claim of trespass on the case. (Note 3.) The suit arose out of a promissory note for $25 that McRoberts had signed in 1799. Chribbs & Mitchell were represented in the case by attorney James Haggin.
An excerpt of the plea Haggin drafted for them is shown here.
The defendant appeared in court when the case was heard in June 1803 and admitted that he owed money on the note. The court issued a judgment for Chribbs & Mitchell for $31.56 plus their costs. (Note 4.)
1802 – Chribbs v. Isaac McHenry
On March 4, 1802, the court issued a capias against Isaac McHenry based on Chribbs’s claim of a covenant broken. (Note 5.) McHenry didn’t appear in the case, and apparently it went no further.
In the process, Chribbs recorded brief written testimony before Justice of the Peace Pierre Menard regarding the matter. (Note 6.)
1802 – Chribbs v. Julius Saunders
In 1802, Chribbs sued Julius Saunders alleging a failure to pay a debt owed on $2,000 of goods, wares, and merchandise. (Note 7.) Based on Chribbs’s initial testimony and because Saunders was not within the territory, the court issued a “foreign attachment” under which the sheriff was to take possession of the defendant’s property. (Note 8.) Accordingly, the sheriff recorded the following items taken:
1 dwelling house and kitchen and lot, 1 knife box, shoe brushes, 2 pitchers, 1 strainer, 1 case and two razors, overalls, 1 shot pouch and powder horn, 3-1/2 yards of webbing, 8 pewter plates, 1 pewter basin, one funnel, 2 pocket books and papers, 1 pair of snuffers, 1 vial, 1 hank of flax, 2 vest shapes, 1 pound of cotton, one jug, one boot jack, 1 padlock and key, 1 teapot, 1 flour caster, 1 candle mold, 2 bed quilts, 2 bedsteads and beds, 1 iron pot, 2 smoothing irons, 1 kettle, 1 basket, 1 knife steel
The court subsequently continued the matter for several sessions, but Saunders never did appear. Finally, in June 1803 the court granted a default judgment but impaneled a jury to determine what amount of money Chribbs was due. The jury returned a finding of $1,316.33 owed. (Note 9.)
Chribbs apparently recovered at least some the amount he had been awarded by the jury. The sheriff proceeded with a sale of the defendant’s property. The case file contains a list of personal property sold by the sheriff, as shown in the accompanying image.
1802 – Correspondence with John Jordan
In what may contain a reference to the Saunders lawsuit, on August 24, 1802, Chribbs wrote a letter to John Jordan about various business matters. Jordan’s prior or subsequent letter to Chribbs is on the reverse side of the document but is not legible. (Note 10.)
At the end of his letter, Chribbs wrote: “it is said Mr Saunders has a claim to some lands at the mouth of the Cumberland.” The Cumberland River flows into the Ohio River at Smithland, Kentucky, where Chribbs & Mitchell themselves would own property.
1802 – William McRoberts v. Chribbs
On September 7, 1802, the court issued a capias—this time against William Chribbs as a defendant—on behalf of the same William McRoberts against whom Chribbs’s March 1802 suit was still pending. (Note 11.) If the court’s records are to be believed, the same attorney (James Haggin) represented McRoberts in this case while he was representing Chribbs in the other one.
McRoberts claimed that, in March of that year in Kaskaskia, he “was possessed of a certain trunk of clothes to the value of two hundred dollars” but “casually lost the said trunk of clothes out of his hands and possession” and Chribbs found it. McRoberts claimed that Chribbs knew the trunk belonged to McRoberts but didn’t return it to him and instead disposed of it otherwise. Chribbs did not appear and was unrepresented when the court heard the case in September 1803. The court then issued a default judgment. The court impaneled a jury to determine the proper amount of damages, which the jurors determined to be $175.
That was not to be the end of the matter, however, because Chribbs retained Benjamin Parke to represent him, and the case was appealed or removed to the General Court of the Indiana Territory. (Note 12.) In October 1804, Parke took the deposition of William Wilcox to shed further light on what actually had happened—a deposition that was apparently attended not only by Parke and Haggin but also by McRoberts and Chribbs. (Note 13.) Wilcox explained that Chribbs had paid a debt that McRoberts owed Wilcox and had taken possession of McRoberts’s trunk as collateral.
The reason that Chribbs had not returned the trunk to McRoberts, aside from any debt still owed, was that Chribbs’s house or houses at Massac had burned, destroying everything inside. Based on the dates in the court documents, the fire would have taken place in the middle of 1802.
1803 – Receipt for retail licenses
On August 2, 1803, Chribbs signed a receipt acknowledging that he had received from Robert Morrison “eight licenses for retailers of merchandise.” (Note 14.) Morrison was clerk of the court in Randolph County at that time.
The document stated that the licenses were to be distributed among the merchants at Fort Massac. The cost of each license was ten dollars, which was the tax imposed by Randolph County on retailers.
1803 – Chribbs v. Drusilla Turcott
On September 8, 1803, the court issued a capias against Drusilla Turcott based on Chribbs’s claim that she had failed to pay a $60 debt for goods, wares, and merchandise. (Note 15.) His declaration in support of his claim was made at the December term of the court. The case was continued to the March 1804 session. Both Chribbs and Turcott were present in person at that time, but for some reason Chribbs wasn’t prepared to proceed. Consequently, the court dismissed the case for failure to prosecute.
1803 – Robert McClelland v. Chribbs
On December 8, 1803, the court issued a capias against Chribbs based on a suit filed by Robert McClelland. (Note 16.) Once again, Chribbs’s adversary was represented by attorney James Haggin.
McClelland claimed that, in October 1801, he had in his possession a number of shaved deer skins worth $914.93 and “actually lost” them out of his hands. The goods “came to the hands and possession” of Chribbs who found them, and subsequently refused to return them to McClelland despite being requested to do so, instead disposing of them as his own.
The suit was continued several times until the March 1805 session. At that time, Chribbs was represented by attorney Rufus Easton. Whether Easton made an effective legal argument or the plaintiff simply did not appear, the court decided that McClelland had “neglected to join issues with” the defendant and dismissed the suit.
Later that year, Rufus Easton (1774-1834) would be appointed to be the first postmaster of St. Louis. In the following years, he also served as the Missouri Territory delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives and, after statehood, as Missouri’s attorney general.
1803 – Chribbs v. Comfort Joy
On December 9, 1803, the court issued a capias against Comfort Joy arising out of a promissory note Joy had signed on August 10, 1802 in exchange for “two cows & calves.” (Note 17.) Joy, represented by attorney James Haggin, filed his answer with the court, denying Chribbs’s claim. (Note 18.)
In December 1804, Haggin submitted what amounted to a counterclaim, asserting that Chribbs owed Joy various sums of money offsetting the original claim. (Note 19.) As can be seen from the document, which is shown below, Rufus Easton represented Chribbs in the case.
A couple of weeks later, Chribbs made a formal request to dismiss the suit. (Note 20.)
The court nevertheless took the matter up at its March 1805 session and entered an order dismissing the case for the reason that Chribbs did “not prosecute with effect.” (Note 21.)
1806 – Chribbs v. Thomas Bradshaw
On October 26, 1806, the court issued a capias against Thomas Bradshaw. (Note 22.) The sheriff did not locate Bradshaw, and another capias was issued. No other documents have been found related to the matter.
Copyright 2012-2014 Gregory Hancks
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