The Countrey Justice: Containing the Practice of the Justices of the Peace as well in and out of their Sessions

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by Michael Dalton

The Countrey Justice
DaltonCountreyJustice1666 TitlePage.jpg

Title page from The Countrey Justice, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Author Michael Dalton
Editor {{{editor}}}
Translator {{{trans}}}
Published London: Printed by John Streater, James Flesher, and Henry Twyford, assigns of Richard Atkyns, and Edward Atkyns, esquires
Date 1666
Language English
Volumes {{{set}}} volume set
Pages [14], 460 (i.e. 456), [10]
Desc. Folio (28 cm.)
Location Shelf L-5
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]

Michael Dalton (1564 – 1644) was a barrister and legal writer, a member of Lincoln's Inn, and a justice of the peace in the counties of Essex and, later, Cambridgeshire.[1] The Countrey Justice, a manual for justices of the peace and local magistrates, remains his best known work.[2]

Initial capital.

The office of justice of the peace originated during the Middle Ages, when their primary responsibility was to suppress riots and keep the peace.[3] By the sixteenth century, their power had increased and come to include various judicial and administrative tasks.[4] Most justices of the peace, however, had no legal training, and a number of justice of the peace manuals were published to provide guidance in the form of clear, comprehensive, and easy to understand instruction.[5]

The Countrey Justice was among the most popular manuals, and was published in at least twenty editions between 1618 and 1746.[6] It provided a summary of the current law on a diverse array of subjects, from robbery and murder, to cattle and sheep, and included a particularly detailed description of the proper procedure for prosecuting witches. One of the earliest manuals to be arranged in alphabetical order, Dalton’s book was popular both in England and New England, where it provided a ready and accessible summary of the English common law for the new colonies.[7]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

In her 1975 Colonial Williamsburg memo, Barbara Dean lists Dalton's Countrey Justice as a book Wythe could have had in his collection, citing "Virginia Lawyers, 1680-1776: The Birth of an American Profession" (1967), which lists it as a common title in Colonial lawyers' libraries.[8] Wythe definitely did own a copy of Dalton's Officium Vicecomitum, which appears in the inventory of books Wythe willed to Thomas Jefferson in 1806 as "Dalton's sheriff. fol." The Brown Bibliography[9] lists the 1666 edition of Countrey Justice and notes that "Virginia statutes required that each county justice have a copy ... as a primary reference work." Since Wythe was a justice of the peace in Elizabeth City County, he must have owned one. Brown selected the 1666 edition based on the copy Jefferson sold to the Library of Congress in 1815,[10] but notes that which copy Wythe owned is unknown. The Wolf Law Library moved an existing copy of the 1666 edition to the George Wythe Collection.

Manuscript notes, front fly-leaf.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Recent full blind calf, gold tooled edges; annotation [in Law French?] upside-down in brown/black ink on flyleaf.

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. D.A. Orr, "Dalton, Michael (1564-1644)" in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed May 21, 2015.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Mike Widener, "The Taussig Collection: Justice of the peace manuals," Yale Law School: Lillian Goldman Law Library, April 21, 2014.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Helen L. Hull, "'Lowe and lay ministers of the peace;' The Proliferation of Officeholding Manuals in Early Modern England," in Renaissance Papers 2009, ed. Christopher Cobb (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2010), 47.
  7. Edgar J. McManus, "Laws for Living Saints," in Law and Liberty in Early New England: Criminal Justice and Due Process, 1620-1692 (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993), 12.
  8. Alan Smith, "Virginia Lawyers, 1680-1776: The Birth of an American Profession" (Ph.D. dissertation, John Hopkins University, 1967).
  9. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at:
  10. E. Millicent Sowerby, Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson (Washington, D.C.: The Library of Congress, 1952-1959), 2:303 [no.1966].