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National Handwriting Day: John Adams Legal Complaint

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When I saw that National Handwriting Day was coming up, I decided to consult with the Law Library’s Rare Book Curator, Nathan Dorn. This felt like a great opportunity to highlight an item from our Rare Book Collection featuring handwritten script. With over 25,000 volumes of books and bound manuscripts, the Law Library’s collection of rare books consists of both major Anglo-American materials and foreign legal collections. For this occasion, Nathan selected American materials from the Law Library’s collection for me to photograph.

Since January 23rd was chosen for National Handwriting Day to mark the birthday of John Hancock, I thought it would be fitting to feature a manuscript that shows the handwriting of another signer of the Declaration of Independence—John Adams. Before John Adams assisted in drafting the Declaration, he was a notable lawyer. The item highlighted in today’s post is a legal document that was completed in the hand of John Adams.

Boston. April 5, 1774. Partially printed form, completed in manuscript and endorsed by John Adams [Photo by Kelly McKenna].
This 1774 partially printed form outlines a legal complaint against a Boston bookbinder, William McAlpine. The suit was brought against McAlpine by a Presbyterian church in Boston that had submitted several books for binding. When the books were never returned after several requests, William McAlpine was sued for the sum of £12,000 (about $15,675). In his outline of the case, John Adams noted that the unjustly detained books consisted of the Sessions Books, worth two thousand pounds (about $2,612), and the Books of Records of Marriages, Baptisms, and Deaths, worth ten thousand pounds (about $13,062).

The form is signed by John Adams on the verso [Photo by Kelly McKenna].

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