Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The First Court in Washington County and the Northwest Territory

The Marietta Register, October 27, 1881

Upon opening the October term of Court, the conspicuous feature of the Court room was a large oil painting on the wall above the Judge's bench, by Sala Bosworth, of this city.  The subject of the painting was the First Court held in the Northwest Territory at Marietta on September 2, 1788.  

This painting is in size about 3 by 4 feet, and is full up to the other work of this well-known artist.  The whole tone of the picture is dark.  The Judges, Gen. Rufus Putnam and Gen. Benjamin Tupper, sitting in the background on a platform somewhat raised above the floor are prominent figures.  The scene is taken at the time Col. Ebenezer Sproat, the Sheriff, was making proclamation of the opening of the Court.  

Williams new History of the County gives the following account of the opening of the Court:

 "The first Court held in the Territory was that of the Court of Common Pleas at Campus Martius, September 2, 1788.  A procession was formed at the Point, where most of the settlers resided in the following order:  The high Sheriff with drawn sword; the citizens; the officers of the garrison at Fort Harmar; the members of the bar; the Supreme Judges; the Governor and Clergymen; the newly-appointed Judges of the Court, Gens. Rufus Putnam and Benjamin Tupper.  Rev. Dr. Manasseh Cutler, one of the Directors of the Ohio Company, then here on a visit, opened the Court with prayer, and Col. Ebenezer Sproat, the Sheriff, made official proclamation that 'a Court is opened for the administration of even handed justice, to the poor and the rich, to the guilty and the innocent, without respect of persons.'  Gen. Putnam, alluding to this first Court, says:  Happily for the credit of the people, there was no suit, either civil or criminal, brought before the Court."

Several ladies appear in the painting, the costume of one of whom behind a Judge's chair makes her an important factor in the make up of the colors of the painting at least.  On the whole this work is well done.  If it had been within the rules of art, however, we would like to have seen the picture divided, one part showing the make up of the procession from the point to the Campus Martius, with a sprinkling of Indians in the background or foreground or somewhere.  This, however, might be a subject for a companion piece.  There are several more fruitful subjects, that properly studied and properly brought out, on canvas, would add much to our knowledge of the early history of the county, and in view of our approaching centennial would find an appropriate place and ought to command a ready sale.

S. J. H.

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