Category Archives: Litchfield Law School

Blog posts that relate to the Litchfield Law School, America’s first law school, and the students who attended.

Whose book?

Front Matter

Sometimes it’s really hard to know what to make of historic evidence. I recently retrieved a copy of Zephaniah Swift’s A System of the Laws of the State of Connecticut printed in 1795 for a researcher. Institutional records indicate the book belonged to Tapping Reeve. It was donated by the Woodruff family, and they had owned his home for a number of years. The front and back matter of the book show all kinds of doodles, indicating that it was Tapping Reeve’s book.  A document titled “Rules of the Office” from the law school indicates that this book was on the list of “privileged” volumes, meaning that students were allowed to borrow them.

James Cooley Granville 1799

It seems a little strange that a student would write in a book that did not belong to him, but the above inscription appears in the center of the book. Tapping Reeve did have a student named James Cooley in 1799, and he was from East Granville, MA.  You can learn more about him in The Ledger.

A number of other doodles seem inconsistent with what we know of Tapping Reeve.

Sketch of Tallyrand

According to the researcher who was looking at the volume, Swift visited Tallyrand in 1799, and this could be some commentary on that visit. That Reeve would draw such an unflattering image in a book he was lending seems unlikely, but it’s fun to consider the possibility. Two other writings seem very unlike him.

This page reads, “The great, The illustrious, the magnanimous, Tapping Reeve.”

And this, attributed to the author, reads, “To the illustrious, omnipotentis, and superabominable dignity of his classic and original excellency the Author Z. Swift.” Both Reeve and Swift were jurists and ardent federalists. Whether or not any animosity existed between them is unknown. What this book tells us for sure is that someone in 1799 had a sense of humor, even if they didn’t entirely explain the joke.

Law Day

Litchfield County Bar Association Journal


The Litchfield County Bar Association is celebrating Law Day today with a reception at the Litchfield History Museum.  The Society holds the Litchfield County Bar Association Records, 1793-1886 in the Helga J. Ingraham Memorial Library. This single volume record book contains various information pertaining to the Litchfield County Bar Association. The first entry is dated December 1796.  The volume includes entries by various secretaries documenting rules for admission to practice, resolves, and fees.  Adonijah Strong is the first party listed as Chairman, and Frederick Wolcott the first as Clerk of the Bar.  It establishes a fee schedule for the Court of Common Pleas and the Superior Court. It provides listings of students studying for the bar at the Litchfield Law School and reading law with various attorneys.  It also notes when particular students have completed their studies.  Several Litchfield Law School students held the Secretary’s position and kept the minutes.  The volume ends in 1886.  It has been a valuable resource for providing citations of attendance for many law school students.  Images of the pages will soon be available in The Ledger.


Abraham Lincoln and the Litchfield Law School

It is well known that graduates of the Litchfield Law School figured prominently in national politics during the Civil War era.  Vice President John C. Calhoun was an early proponent of secession.  He may have been influenced by talk of New England secession during his time in Litchfield.    Eugenius Aristedes Nisbet wrote the articles of secession for the state of Georgia.  Earlier still, law school graduates including William Holabird, U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, and Roger Sherman Baldwin participated on the prosecution and defense of the Amistad captors.  Lawyer, minister and humorist  Augustus Baldwin Longstreet was a staunch defender of slavery.

Today, during the course of research for the new Litchfield Female Academy and Litchfield Law School student database announced in our latest newsletter, researcher Lynne Brickley discovered an amazing, and previously unknown, connection to Abraham Lincoln.  Litchfield student Judge John Pitcher advised a youthful Lincoln about the practice of law, gave him advice, and lent him books including two copies of Blackstone’s Commentary in which Lincoln is said to have penned his name.

The staff is excited to learn of this further evidence of the Law School’s national significance, and will continue to research the connection.

Further details:,M1