In the last post we visited Hanover County Courthouse and looked at how its design was influenced by the decision of the Virginia General Assembly to move the capital from Jamestown to Williamsburg. Today and in the next post we will see how this small brick structure has played a role in some of the key moments of American history.
Probably Hanover County’s most famous son was Patrick Henry. He was born in 1736 to John and Sarah Winston Henry. John Henry was an immigrant from Scotland. He had attended King’s College in Aberdeen. The majority of Patrick Henry’s education, though, was from home schooling. His knowledge of the law came from studying on his own. He passed his attorney’s exam in Williamsburg in 1760.
Patrick Henry returned to Hanover County to practice law. Only three years after passing his attorney’s exam he argued the Parson’s Case in Hanover County Courthouse. This 1763 case was an action for back wages resulting from decisions in the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1755 and 1758 which became known as the Two Penny Acts. These acts came about after droughts had caused the value of tobacco to rise considerably. For well over a century the Anglican Clergy had been paid in tobacco. The decisions by the House of Burgesses permitted the payment of ministers’ salaries at two pence per pound instead of tobacco.
The Parson’s Case was brought by Reverend James Maury against the collectors of the parish levies. By this time after a direct appeal by the clergy to the king. George II disallowed both acts rebuking the Governor and the Burgesses. The case was a claim for the lost wages since the creation of the now disallowed acts. Patrick Henry’s part in this case did not occur until after liability had been determined and the trial had reached the damages stage. He represented the defendants. In his argument, Henry proclaimed that a king who would veto a good and necessary law made by the locally elected representative body was not “the father to his people” but “a tyrant, and forfeits the allegiance of his subjects.” Even at this early date of 1763, a murmur of “treason” filled the air. The court assessed damages in the case of only one penny. The result of this case is almost irrelevant to the proceeding themselves.
In the next post we will continue the history of Hanover County Courthouse.