The Baltimore Sun


On Friday, Aug. 17, 1832, William Riley "aged about thirty seven years a native of Ireland," appeared in Circuit Court and was admitted "to become a citizen of the United States." The court did considerably more than administer justice. Naturalization was one of many of its functions, which included licensing taverns, shopkeepers and firearms.

Between 1830 and 1838, the court approved the naturalization of 53 people in Harford County. Almost half were from Ireland, possibly the result of conflict between Ireland and England.

A Historical Society of Harford County survey of Circuit Court minutes for that decade suggests that such records provide a way for us to contrast our lives with those of our ancestors.

The dominant issues of the time are familiar to us today: crime and punishment, taxes, debt, property issues and business. But the documents reveal important differences. Court was routinely canceled because there were no cases; the grand jury's duty was to inspect and report on the condition of the county jail and the County Alms House; and for several years the tax collector had to petition the court's indulgence for not completing all of his collections because of the "hardness of the times."

[Source: "Harford County Circuit Court Minutes 1830-1839" by Charles Lee Robbins in Harford Historical Bulletin. Number 81, Summer 1999. Research by Harford County Public Library.]

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