Litchfield Law School Sources

 

This resource brings together text, images, interpretive material and bibliography about Litchfield Law School and the law notebooks kept by its students.  During the school’s years of operation, 1774 to 1833, nearly 1,000 young men traveled to Litchfield to study with Tapping Reeve, the founder, and James Gould, his assistant and sole proprietor after Reeve’s death. More than 270 notebooks have survived, representing the efforts of 90 students as they recorded law lectures delivered by their teachers and copied charts and essays on particular points of  law. At a time when the usual method of legal training in this country was an apprenticeship with a solo practioner, these notebooks are evidence of the beginning of professional legal education, based on a comprehensive curriculum which relied heavily on the content and structure of  William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England. These manuscript notes are housed in 36 academic law libraries, historical societies, and state repositories, concentrated in New England, but also found in New Jersey, Maryland, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Iowa, Ohio and Michigan. Gathering, describing and scanning these notebooks in a single location enables further study without additional travel. This website is a portal for research, description, and comparison of those volumes which have been digitally scanned.  Readers can also consult the Litchfield Historical Society website, where the Litchfield Ledger provides biographical information and a list of students both at the law school and at Miss Pierce’s Female Academy in Litchfield, where many law students met their future wives.

The William Nelson Cromwell Foundation has generously underwritten research for this resource.


List of surviving Litchfield student notebooks studied for this project.

 

Tapping Reeve

Tapping Reeve (1744-1823), founder of the Litchfield Law School.

Engraving by Peter Maverick, 1820, based on a portrait by George Catlin. Reproduced courtesy of the Litchfield Historical Society.