The Touch-Stone of Common Assurances, or, A Plain and Familiar Treatise, Opening the Learning of the Common Assurances or Conveyances of the Kingdome

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by William Sheppard

The Touch-Stone of Common Assurances

Title page from The Touch-Stone of Common Assurances, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Author William Sheppard
Editor {{{editor}}}
Translator {{{trans}}}
Published London: Printed by M.F. for W. Lee, M. Walbancke, D. Pakeman, and G. Bedell
Date 1648
Edition First
Language English
Volumes {{{set}}} volume set
Pages 6 p. l., 529 (i.e. 525), [6]
Desc. 8vo (22 cm.)
Location Shelf F-3
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]

William Sheppard (1595 – 1674) was a highly influential legal and religious reformer in England during the early and middle part of the 17th century.[1] After being called to the bar in 1629, Sheppard became a very well-known lawyer in the rural part of England from 1631 until 1654. During this time period, Sheppard served as steward for several manors and was an attorney of Gloucester's local court. In addition to his practical work in the field of law, Sheppard published several legal texts. Many of these were based upon his own observations of the cases involved in his local practice. He also wrote several religious texts on a variety of topics.[2]

In 1653 Sheppard was called to London by Oliver Cromwell to assist him in the creation of a law reform program.[3] Some experts believe Sheppard’s religious publications, in addition to his legal works, were the ultimate reason for his selection by Cromwell.[4] Sheppard served in the administration for approximately three years, during which time he published nine texts in support of the administration’s agenda.[5] Some of Sheppard's best known works during this period included Precedent of Precedents, which contained standardized forms to register land, and An Epitome of All the Common and Statute Laws of the Nation, Now in Force, one of the earliest attempts at an abridged legal encyclopedia.[6]

The Touchstone of Common Assurances, Sheppard's "most enduring and best-known work"[7] was published as a collection of twenty-three essays focused on conveyancing.[8] Sheppard had developed an expertise in the subject during the time he spent serving as an attorney for several manors early in his career. In the work, Sheppard opened "[e]ach chapter... with a definition of one type of conveyance... followed by a description of the rules, principles and legal maxims that governed each conveyance."[9]

Headpiece, first page of text.

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Both Dean's Memo[10] and the Brown Bibliography[11] include the first edition (1648) of Sheppard's Touch-Stone based on Alan Smith's assertion that Jefferson cites the work in his commonplace book.[12] Brown lists the title as questionable. His study of Jefferson's commonplace books revealed no references to the Touch-Stone. Despite the inconclusive evidence, the Wolf Law Library added a copy of the first edition to the George Wythe Collection.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Bound in full calf, contemporary boards with triple blind rules rebacked in period style. Spine features gilt-ruled, raised bands and original black morocco label with gilt lettering. Purchased from Meyer Boswell.

Images of the library's copy of this book are available on Flickr. View the record for this book in William & Mary's online catalog.

Full text

See also


  1. Nancy L. Matthews, "Sheppard, William (bap. 1595, d. 1674)" in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed October 10, 2013.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Nancy L. Matthews, William Sheppard, Cromwell's Law Reformer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 31.
  4. Matthews, "Sheppard, William."
  5. Ibid.
  6. "Tarlton Law Library - Law Dictionary Collection - online exhibit," Tarlton Law Library, The University of Texas at Austin, accessed October 10, 2013.
  7. Matthews, William Sheppard, Cromwell's Law Reformer, 77.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Matthews, William Sheppard, Cromwell's Law Reformer, 78.
  10. Memorandum from Barbara C. Dean, Colonial Williamsburg Found., to Mrs. Stiverson, Colonial Williamsburg Found. (June 16, 1975), 14 (on file at Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary).
  11. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at:
  12. Alan McKinley Smith, "Virginia Lawyers, 1680-1776: The Birth of an American Profession" (PhD diss., The Johns Hopkins University, 1967), 263.