State Archives Reports Progress on Preserving Early Texas Supreme Court Case Files
Wednesday, August 7, 2013 • Austin, TX • News Release
Disputes over land and slaves in pre-Civil War Texas are among the courtroom conflicts recorded in the 19th century case files of the Texas Supreme Court. These records capture not only state legal history, but also social and cultural life during the Republic and early statehood years. Today, they reside in the Texas State Archives, which is in the midst of a long-term preservation project aimed at providing researchers with improved access to these fragile yet revealing records.
Thanks to a $5,000 grant from the Texas Historical Foundation (THF) in 2012, the State Archives, which is part of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, initiated a comprehensive conservation and indexing project with the goal of preserving these aged documents for future scanning and the subsequent creation of an online database.
“We’re tremendously grateful to the Texas Historical Foundation for helping us launch this preservation effort,” said State Archivist Jelain Chubb. “We’re in the early phases of a long-term project that will ultimately improve access to the contents of these cases for researchers who visit the Archives in person and online. Though we’ve made progress, the work continues.”
Grant funds purchased archival folders and boxes, as well as the hiring of an intern, who performed basic preservation treatments and indexed the case files.
Over the past year, the grant allowed the State Archives to conserve and index over 500 Supreme Court cases from the mid 1840s through the late 1850s. One such case is Lockhart vs. Sawyer, in which John Lockhart sued Jane Sawyer over the ownership of slaves belonging to the estate of Jane’s late husband. Lockhart’s case originated in Harris County and was filed with the Supreme Court on June 14, 1843. But it was only recently, after the file was conserved and indexed, that an accurate image of Lockhart’s case came to light, including the names of some of the slaves in question – Ben, Poleman, Humphrey, Lac, Letty, and Charity.
By revealing details such as these in Lockhart vs. Sawyer, the State Archives’ Supreme Court records preservation project is adding to the state’s historical record. The current issue of Texas Heritage, the official magazine of the Texas Historical Foundation, features an in-depth article on the project. Access the article here.
As the THF grant awarded in 2012 has been expended, the State Archives is seeking assistance to support continuation of the work. Donations may be sent to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Archives and Information Services Division Gift Fund, P.O. Box 12927, Austin, Texas 78711-2927, with a notation that the funds are to be used for the Supreme Court records project.
Caption 1: Thanks to a generous donation from the Texas Historical Foundation, the Texas State Archives has begun a long-term project to preserve and improve access to the early case files of the Texas Supreme Court. This photo shows a handful of the fragile 19th century files in their original folded condition.
Caption 2: The THF grant enabled the State Archives to hire a temporary intern (pictured) to perform basic preservation treatment on the case files. Treatment includes flattening the documents between the heavy press boards of a standing book press for several days.
Caption 3: After being flattened, the case files are indexed and placed in archival folders for storage.