Introduction: The Accuracy of the Lists

It can usually be assumed that inclusion on the lists represents genuine jury qualification. However, there is evidence that some of those named were not eligible for service. Men were included who were too old or too infirm to serve, or who held insufficient property. The quarter sessions order books contain regular entries identifying individuals who had been called upon to serve on either grand or petty juries, and subsequently discharged on the grounds that they were not qualified. At the Michaelmas sessions in 1726 Edward Arthur, a mason of Ide, was returned to serve on the petty jury, but discharged for having insufficient property. Similar orders were made against William Freindship of Hatherleigh, Richard Harris of Ilfracombe, Richard Ball and Israel Abell.28 On the following page of the order book Richard Harris is named again, this time as a 'Seafareing man & not able to Travell'. Richard Wish of Broadclyst, a yeoman, was discharged from serving on the petty jury having previously served on the grand jury, while William Moorman of North Molton and Ralph Thorn and Henry Dawbney of Hayridge hundred were also discharged.29

The eighteenth century quarter sessions order books have been indexed by subject from 1734, making it possible to assess how often jurors were excused from serving, and the most common reasons for this. Between 1734 and 1770 121 individuals called to serve on either grand or petty juries are named in the order books as having been discharged. At the Michaelmas sessions in 1737 Thomas King, Thomas Finnimore and Leonard Blagdon of Tiverton were excused from serving on the grand jury having been summoned to attend the Tiverton sessions at the same time.30 At Midsummer 1749 15 men were discharged with the comment that they had,

appeared prayed Severally to be Discharged from such Attendance And whereas a Sufficient number having appeared besides to make a full Jury This Court doth Order the Clerk of the peace of this county to Excuse them accordingly and they are hereby severally Excused.31
However, the more usual explanations given were old age, infirmity and having insufficient estate to serve. 72 of the 121 jurors discharged between 1734 and 1770 were excused on the grounds that they exceeded the age limit, or were physically incapable of serving owing to infirmity. 31 were deemed to have insufficient property to serve. Since only those who were actually included on jury panels were specifically identified as being unqualified, it can be assumed that other individuals appear in the freeholders books who for reasons of age, infirmity, or insufficient estate should not have been included.

Where ineligible individuals were identified, they were usually excluded from future books of freeholders. Sometimes, the fact that someone has been discharged at sessions is indicated in the freeholders book. Ralph Selleck, a yeoman of Whimple, was discharged at Michaelmas 1743 for having insufficient estates to qualify.32 His name has been underlined in the freeholders book for that year, and the words 'Struck out' written alongside.33 He is then omitted from subsequent books. Similarly, Peter Stabback of Woodbury was excused at the Christmas sessions, 1744-45 on the grounds of old age and infirmity, and the words 'struck out by order of Court' entered beside his name in the freeholders book for 1744 after which he is omitted.34 Other similar cases occur throughout the century of individuals named in the order books as disqualified, and subsequently being removed from the freeholders lists. This indicates that those included in the original parish lists, and subsequently copied into the books, were not necessarily qualified to serve according to law. However, that the names of unqualified individuals subsequently cease to appear suggests that an effort was made by the justices to ensure that the freeholders books were kept as accurately as possible. Since the parish lists were sworn before one or more justices of the peace, it seems likely that regular contact between magistrates and parish officers would have served to remind the constables of their responsibility to provide accurate information.

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  1. DHC, QS1/17, Quarter Sessions Order Book, 1725-34, 61. [back]
  2. DHC, QS1/17,62. [back]
  3. DHC, QS1/18, 63. [back]
  4. DHC, QS1/19, 92. [back]
  5. DHC, QS1/18, 272. [back]
  6. QS7/22 (1743). [back]
  7. QS1/18, 292; QS7/23 (1744). [back]