The Official Story
Chapter 15

The verdict of the Supreme Judicial Court

The Supreme Judicial Court justices heard the case of Joseph North vs. the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on July 10, 1790. The all-male jury's verdict two days later was "not guilty." (The cases against the other two men were continued to the next session and then dropped.)

(Why was there an all-male jury? According to 18th century American law, only male property owners could vote, and only those who voted could serve on juries.)

The official record tells us nothing about what was said in court.

Most probably it came down to a case of his word versus her word. Since Judge North was a prominent member of the community and Rebecca Foster was the wife of a discredited minister, one could argue that the verdict was predictable, no matter what evidence was presented.

What was Martha's reaction to the verdict?

The Supreme Judicial Court hears the case in Pownalboro
How did this case get recorded in the official town history?

Table of Contents

The Perpetual Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Massachusetts General Court
May 1789
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Page 117

  Courts and Forms of Process  

PART III. Choice and Services of Petit Jurors. 117

sons in their respective towns as are of good moral character and qualified as the constitution directs, to vote in the choice of Representatives, and not expempted by this act, and such as the Selectmen shall judge well qualified to serve as Jurors, and the town shall select out of the lift one quarter part of the number laid before them, and such as they shall judge best qualified to serve at the Supreme Judicial Court, and have their names written by the town Clerk on separate pieces of paper and put into one of the boxes, to be liable to be drawn out as is herein hereafter directed, to serve on the Petit Jury, at the Supreme Judicial Court, and the town shall direct that such of the remainder of such list as the town shall think proper, shall have their names written on separate pieces of paper and put into the other box, to be drawn, as is herein hereafter directed, to serve on the Petit Jury at the Courts of Common Pleas and General Sessions of the Peace, and if any person whose name shall be put into either box, shall be convicted of any scandalous crime, or be guilty of any gross immorality, his name shall be withdrawn from the box by the selectmen of his town. Provided nevertheless, If he can obtain a vote of the town to have his name restored to the box again, it shall be restored, and such boxes shall be locked by the Selectmen, and delivered to the town Clerks.

Jurors how to be chosen.

Any person whose name shall be put into either box, being convicted of any scandalouscrime his name to be withdrawn.

III. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if the Selectmen of any or either of the towns in this Commonwealth, for the time being, shall neglect or refuse to prepare and lay before their respective towns a list of Jurors, as is required in and by this act, every Selectman so neglecting his duty, shall forfeit and pay the sum of three pounds, for the use of the county in which he or they dwelt at the time of such neglect, to be recovered by action or information, brought by the Treasurer of such county, before any Court proper to try the same, provided that the action be brought within twelve months after the offence shall be committed.

Selectmen neglecting their duty.


IV. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That when any venire facias shall be issued as by this act is provided, and the inhabitants of any town shall be assembled for that purpose, the town Clerk, or in his absence one of the Selectmen, shall carry into the meeting the box wherein the names of those persons are put who are designed to serve at the Court from whence the venire facias issued, which shall be unlocked in the meeting and by the major part of the Selectmen, who are to be present (and the constable who shall warn the meeting shall particularly notify them and the town Clerk for that purpose) and the town Clerk, or in his absence one of the Selectmen, shall draw out so many tickets as there are Jurymen required by the venire, who shall be the persons that shall be returned to serve as Jurors; saving that if any whose names are so drawn, are sick, or otherwise unable to attend at that time, in the judgment of the town, their names shall be returned into the box and others be drawn in their stead; and to the intent that the same persons may not be obliged to serve too often, the Clerk or selectmen who shall draw the ticket or name of any person returned to serve as aforesaid, shall enter upon the back thereof the date of the

Duty of town Clerk or Selectment when any venire facias shall be issued.





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