Thursday, February 23, 2012
I volunteer at the local archives. I've been working on cleaning up and mending some old (as in, 1800-1805) legal case papers. It always surprises me, since at the turn of the Nineteenth Century this area was the Wild West, that the crimes seem to fall into two base categories: selling stuff to the natives and "trespass" (or, as they spelled it, "trespaf", if the f extended below the line) which seemed to cover a whole lot of ground. Bad business dealing was trespass, outright theft was trespass, anything that resulted in my money being in your pockets without proper cause -- and a few other things besides -- was trespass.
Granted, horse thieves and murderers were simply hung (there wasn't a territorial jail until 1804, when they got someone who owed the county money to build it -- in a court case I cleaned two weeks ago), and nobody minded much about crimes against women or mind-altering substances and their control, so there wouldn't be a lot of court paperwork dealing with the sort of things I think when I hear "Sheriff", but I expected a little more excitement. Something a little wilder than "he owes me $400 and hasn't paid."
I digress; the fact that most of the lawsuits seem to have been brought before the court because it was a slow day on the farm and they had nothing else to do to occupy their time has nothing to do with the reason I brought it all up. It's the handwriting.
Glory, look at it! The elegant swoops and curves, the flow of the letters...all more interesting due to the fact that -- after careful examination on my part -- I believe these files to be the first drafts and scrap documents. There are few official seals and an awful lot of blanks and cross-outs for them to be the proper versions of the documents.
Also, is it really scary to anyone else that I'm getting to know the court clerks by their writing? That bottom piece there? That was the clerk from Cahokia, out St. Louis way. He had a strangely squat and runic style of writing. It's rather hard for me to read. The fellow back east was more lyrical. Wrote, in modern parlance, like a girl. I don't have any examples of his writing, the other two samples I'm showing are from a law office -- that's the lawyer's clerk. He does the flourishes like damn, though. Very nice.
My point, which I have, admittedly, been hours and hours at getting around to, is that suddenly I'm feeling a bit...inadequate. Handwriting, for me, has always been the slow way to communicate, and my impatience reveals itself by a nearly flat-line that is what passes for cursive writing. I simply have no time to make those bumpy, circular thingies that are actual letters. But the sheer beauty of these documents is making me feel like resurrecting an old skill and making it mine.