Stephen F. Austin State University

1837 Court Case Sheds Light on Republic (December 2011)

1837 Court Case Sheds Light on Republic
by Robert L. Schaadt, Vindicator Archivist, Liberty, Texas

Harris County Archivist Sarah C. Jackson and Paul Scott, Harris County Records Manager, were kind enough to share a recently rediscovered Harrisburg County Justice of the Peace Case.

The case papers are from the Harris County Archives under the direction of Ms. Jackson.

It was from John Shea's Court of 1838, dismissed in 1839.

John C. Reed sued Joseph Dunman for money he owed Reed in 1838, but the whole business started in 1835.

This case sheds light on how promissory notes that were so prevalent in the Republic of Texas were used to pay debt.

If you loaned money or goods to a person, they could give you a note promising to pay the debt within a specified time.

That person often used it as currency to pay their own debts to a third party and thus the litigation.

This process of passing notes, some worthless others quite valuable, could go on for a long period of time and involve many parties.

Gold and silver coins were hard to come by in the Republic of Texas and the paper currency was not worth a lot, about thirty-seven cents, since it was devalued with each passing year.

Some merchants refused to accept it as legal tender.

People had land, cows, and hogs to back their promissory notes and thus the notes were worth more to the lender in those days.

The case started in 1835 when Joseph Dunman of the Municipality of Liberty promised to pay Burrell Eaves and Company $87.87 ½ for the value received on them.

The note documented that Burrell Eaves and Company received one barren cow worth $70 at some point, leaving a balance of $17.87 ½.

The half-cent coin was produced in the United States from 1793-1857 made of pure cooper.

So this ½ cent piece was used in currency in the Republic of Texas, a carry over from the United States of the North.

No coins were minted by the Republic of Texas so merchants and others often used Spanish, Mexican and US coins for change.

Then at Tevis Bluff, Feb. 9, 1836, Burrell Eaves promised to pay Samuel Rogers $64.59 in good merchantable beeves to pay up his accounts in full on the May 1, 1836.

Tevis Bluff was either the Tevis Bluff on the Trinity River or Tevis Bluff on the Neches River, the future site of Beaumont.

By 1837 apparently Rogers could not find Eaves and did not receive his beeves.

So Rogers sued him in the justice of the peace court resulting in the case of Samuel Rogers vs. Burrell Eaves.

April 29, 1837 Justice of the Peace Henry Wise Farley issued a notice to Burrell Eaves that he would be in default judgment if he did not appear before the court.

Constable John S. Booth was instructed to give public notice by advertisement.

What those methods were is uncertain in 1837, but no doubt written handbills were posted in public places and circulated by the people where Mr. Eaves might read them.

John S. Booth, Liberty County Constable, wrote to the court May 5: "Endorsed not finding the witness named Eaves gave public notice by posting the same, To Burrell Eaves: You are hereby summoned to appear before me the undersigned authority at my office in Liberty on the 29 day of April instant to answer to the demand of Samuel Rodgers against you for one hundred dollars by note with Judgment by default, suit rendered against you.

Liberty April 19, 1837 Henry Wise Farley, Justice of the Peace for the County of Liberty."

Burrell Eaves, being a busy man, and it appears working as a cattleman and rancher, promised to pay Arthur Slaydon $50 worth of grazing or stock or cash for valued received on May 6, 1837.

This note endorsed by Slaydon was due by May 1, 1838.

This note was recorded in the court record for an unknown reason or the connection to the case is missing.

So in May 1837, the court ruled that Eaves owed Rogers $100.

June 16, 1837, Peter J. Duncan, Constable for the 3rd Beat of Liberty County received five beeves, valued at $65, being part payment for the default judgment obtained by Sam Rogers against Burrell Eaves.

Liberty County Justice of the Peace Court Henry Wise Farley duely recorded this fact in the official record.

Thus the case ended in Liberty County, Republic of Texas, with Eaves still owing Rogers $35.

John Shea, Justice of the Peace, County of Harrisburg, Republic of Texas, informed Constable James M. McGee to summon Joseph Dunman "if he shall be found in your county" to appear in his office in the City of Houston, 10 a.m., July 5, 1838.

Dunman had to answer John C. Reed for the side of Burrell Eaves in an action of debt upon the note for $87.87½.

It is unclear what Eaves had to do with it, but it is assumed that it goes back to the Dunman-Eaves note.

It is not clear which county Constable McGee was from, Harrisburg or Liberty.

Thus the original 1835 note by Dunman to Eaves was back in court since John C. Reed had ended up with it as payment for goods or services.

With news and people travelling much slower in 1838, it was not until July 19 that Judge H. W. Farley responded with the true and correct copy of the proceedings from Liberty County in regards to these notes.

Judge Shea called the cause on July 25.

Dunman and Reed declared themselves ready for trial.

After hearing evidence given by Liberty County Constable Pete J. Duncan who presented the Liberty County trial transcript written by Judge Farley and a fellow by the name of Felix, last name indecipherable in the papers, Judge Shea dismissed the suit.

The judge then ordered Reed to pay the justice's fee of $9.25 and the constable fee of $2.50.

On July 27 Reed gave bond that he would appeal the judgment to the county court.

At the January Term of 1839, Reed paid the cost and the suit ended or at least the judge noted that it was dismissed.

It is apparent from the information about the notes and the characters involved, the entire story is not in the case file.

Who passed the original note, worth only $17.87 ½, to Reed?

How did Rogers fit into the picture and did Slaydon get paid?

Joseph Dunman was a legendary figure of early Texas History for he settled in the Humble areas in 1828, perhaps the first settle of that area.

In March of 1836, Joseph Dunman rode into the Municipality of Liberty with Travis' appeal from the Alamo that led to the formation of Capt. William M. Logan's Company that fought at San Jacinto.

It is thought that he died in Harris County in 1859.

History never changes; new facts just give us a much better understanding of the past.