Circuit Court and Supreme Court
In 1722, Pennsylvania established a unified judicial system. The Judiciary Act of 1722 created the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania as well as separate Courts of Common Pleas for Philadelphia, Bucks, and Chester Counties. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania had appellate jurisdiction over the lower courts. This meant that the Supreme Court heard appeals by those who believed a judgement issued by a lower court was incorrect. The complainant or defendant could submit a writs of error, habeas corpus, or certiorari, and the Supreme Court exercised final judgement on such civil cases.
As early as the late seventeenth century, provincial and eventually Supreme Court judges “rode the circuit” to the counties to hear appeal cases. Circuit courts were established in Pennsylvania by an act of March 20, 1799; the first circuit court in Chester County was held May 1800. The act establishing the circuit courts transferred the trial functions of the Supreme Court to the circuit court. Circuit courts were held by judges of the Supreme Court and were empowered to review cases from the Court of Common Pleas, give judgment, and pass decrees and award execution.
Circuit courts were temporarily abolished by an act of March 11, 1809 and all cases pending were returned to county courts by October 4, 1809. The courts were restored by an act of April 8, 1826, and Circuit court was held in Chester County in December 1826. Circuit courts were permanently abolished by an act of April 14, 1834.
The records described here are those from the Circuit Court of Chester County and Supreme Court of Pennsylvania that were maintained by the Chester County Prothonotary. They represent the following collections—Circuit Court Dockets , 1786-1832; Circuit Court Papers, 1800-1806; Supreme Court Papers, 1783-1799; Supreme Court Writs of Error, 1807-1831; and Appeals to the Supreme Court, 1852-1883.
Common records and cases found in these collections include,
Certiorari— order issued by a higher court instructing a lower court to send up to the former all records of a case, certifying their correctness and completeness for review or trial.
Ejectment— action both for the recovery of land and for damages for the unlawful detention of its possession.
Execution— final stage of suit. It is a writ issued to the sheriff or a constable requiring them to execute the court's judgment.
Habeas Corpus— writ for the purpose of bringing a party before a court or a judge.
Trespass— an action to recover damages resulting to a party from the wrongful act of another, unaccompanied by direct or immediate force.
Writs of Error—order issued by a higher court instructing the lower court to remit the judgement on a case.
Most cases will include the following information,
- Name of the plaintiff and defendant
- Court term when the case first appeared in higher court
- Orders and pleas in the case
- Trial costs
This information comes directly from the Guide to Records of the Court of Common Pleas, 1681-1900.