These original sources include law reports, statutes, digests, abridgments, dictionaries and contemporary commentaries on the pleas of the crown, nisi prius, criminal law and trials, and jury trials. There are just a few listed here. For more assistance on doing research using original materials, please consult the Legal History Guide on English and American Law, which goes into greater detail on these materials, or consult the Special Collections Librarian.
When researching contemporary original materials, please keep in mind that the language of the law changes over time, as does the language used, shifting from Latin to Norman French, including Law-French. Some materials may be in the original language of the time, and never translated.
Plea Rolls, Year Books & Nominatives (Law Reports)
Cases in England were reported in a variety of formats, plea rolls, then year books, and finally in nominatives, reports of cases created from the notes of individually named reporters. Plea rolls are still mostly only available in original manuscript format, but some have been published or digitally reproduced on the Internet. Year books have been printed and reprinted, and can be found under the year of the king, i.e., Richard II, Edward I, etc.
Nominatives have been printed, and though some remain in manuscript form, most are available in original editions, as part of the English Reports, also in a CD-ROM, or online through HeinOnline, orLLMC. A Guide to the Nominatives, the named reporters, their abbreviations, courts and years covered is available in Special Collections.
These are very early records, called rolls because they were sheets of vellum or paper ,rolledŠ up in scrolls. Short and scant in details, they are often the only records of any case. Many of the rolls are still in their original manuscript formats, many at the British Museum or the Public Records Office in London, but some have been printed and reprinted, and a few have been translated. A few are listed below. Some Parliamentary Rolls are now available on the Internet. For more information on getting access to some of these obscure but valuable sources of information, contact the Special Collections Librarian.
KD190 1196 .E54 1995r
Curia Regis Rolls... Preserved in the Public Record Office (19 vols. Holmes Beach, Fl.: William W. Gaunt & Sons, 1995-) (Reprint of the original 1922-1962 ed.).
Text in Latin. Covers the period 1196-1272.
The Great Rolls of the Pipe For the Second, Third, and Fourth Years of the Reign of King Henry the Second, A.D. 1155, 1156, 1157, 1158 (London: HMSO, 1930).
Facsimile of the original 1844 ed. Text in Latin. Original title is Magnus Rotulus Scaccarii.
KD300 .I53 1739 Octavo
An Index to the Records, With Directions to the Several Places Where They Are to Be Found. And Short Explanations of the Different Kinds of Rolls, Writs, etc.(London: Printed for G. Hawkins, 1739).
DA676 .T3 1929
Calendar of Plea and Memoranda Rolls Preserved Among the Archives of the Corporation of the City of London at the Guild-Hall (6 vols. A.H. Thomas ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1926-1961).
Covers the years 1323-1482. Not all volumes are available in the Library, check with the Special Collections Librarian.
INTL & SPECL
The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, 1275-1504. (17 vols. & 1 CD-ROM. London: Boydell & Brewer Ltd., 2005).
Transcriptions of early rolls, in Law French and translated into English. CD-ROM version is in SPECL.
These are the early law reports for medieval England, dating to around 1268 through 1535, overlapping the earliest Nominatives. Though many of the Year Books have been reprinted, and even translated, some remain in original manuscript formats. Some of the first printed editions have now become rare and difficult to find, or have themselves been reprinted. A few are listed below. The Selden Society and the Ames Foundation have reprinted a good number of them.
Boston College of Law Professor David J. Seipp has a terrific web site devoted to Legal History: The Year Books: An Index and Paraphrase of Printed Year Book Reports, 1268-1535
(Seipp's Abridgement). Supported by the Ames Foundation, this database ,indexes all year book reports printed in the chronological series for all years between 1268 and 1535, and many of the year book reports printed only in alphabetical abridgements. Of these reports, almost 6,000 from 1399 forward have been fully indexed and paraphrased in this database.Š (David Seipp) To access the web site, go to
Check with the Special Collections Librarian for additional help with these titles and the Year Books web site.
INTL & SPECL
KD194 1272 .H6 1863
Year Books of the Reign of King Edward the First [20-22 Edward I, 30-35 Edward I (5 vols. Alfred J.. Horwood ed. & transl., London: Longmans, Green, Reader & Dyker, 1863-1879).
Original title: Rerum Britannicarum Medii Ævi Scriptores, Or, Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland During the Middle Ages.
INTL & SPECL
KD194 1327 .P5 1883
Year Books of the Reign of King Edward the Third [11-20 Edward III] (15 vols. Luke Owen Pike ed. & transl., London: Longman, 1883-1911).
English and French on opposing pages. Original title: Rerum Britannicarum Medii Ævi Scriptores, Or, Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland During the Middle Ages. Covers the years 11-20 Edward III.
The Nominatives, or named reports, are a large and eclectic collection of cases reported in various English courts, and have never been considered authoritative. They were reprinted several times as a collection, and microfilmed, and finally digitized by HeinOnline and LLMC. Special Collections recommends using the HeinOnline version, as it is far more user friendly, and searchable in a variety of ways.
KD270 1220 .E64 1980r
The English Reports. (178 vols. Renton, A.W., et al. eds., Abingdon: Professional Books, 1980) (Reprint ed. of London: Stevens & Sons, 1900-1930).
CD-ROM edition on a dedicated work station in the Special Collections in the Williams Library.
There still is no ,officialŠ publication for English statutes, such as found with the American Statutes at Large. For the earliest laws of England, The Statutes at Large by Ruffhead (to 1799) and The Statutes of the Realm (to 1713) are the best sources. Pickering‰s Statutes at Large go beyond, into the 19th century. Other sets of statutes cover the 19th century into the modern era. Some of the publications of statutes are listed below in order by period covered. English statutes are cited by the year of the reign of the sovereign (king or queen), followed by a chapter and/or section; thus: 10 W. & M. c.3 is the 10th year of the reign of William & Mary, chapter 3. A conversion for regnal years is available in Special Collections.
INTL & SPECL
KD571 1963 Rdg. Rm.
The Statutes of the Realm (12 vols. London: Dawsons of Pall Mall, 1963) (Reprint ed. of London: G. Eyre and A. Strahan, 1810-1822).
This set includes statutes from the Magna Charta to the end of the reign of Queen Anne (1713). It includes a chronological index and alphabetical index in volume 12. It is often considered the ,officialŠ publication of English statutes, but it is only good up to 1713. Statute cites do not always correspond to the same cites in other un-official statutes compilations.
KD130 1215 .R83 1761 Quarto
Owen Ruffhead, The Statutes at Large: from Magna Charta to the End of the [Reign of King George the Third] (18 vols. London: M. Basket, 1763-1800).
This is the most widely used compilation of statutes for the 17th and 18th centuries. It includes an index in volume 9 for the first 9 volumes of statutes, and thereafter an index at the end of each subsequent 9 volumes. Ruffhead ends the compilation in 1806, as does Pickering, listed below, though Pickering picks up with another series.
KD130 1215 .P5 1761 Quarto
Danby Pickering, The Statutes at Large From the Magna Charta to the End of the Eleventh Parliament of Great Britain, Anno 1761 [continued to 1806]. (46 vols. Cambridge: Charles Bathurst, 1762-1830).
KD130 1215 .R5 1807 Quarto
Continued by Danby Pickering under title Statutes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland [1807-1868/69]
SPECL has vols. 47-70 [1807-1830], INTL in Wolff Library has the rest.
A Collection of the Public General Statutes (45 vols. London: G. Eyre & A. Spottiswoode, 1834-1875).
Abridgments & Digests, Dictionaries & Legal Thesauri
These are useful tools in assisting the researching in analyzing and finding the statutes, cases, and often history of terms used in the law over time. Some of these materials are better than others, and organized the terms in a variety of ways. They should be used in tandem with the statutes and law reports.
Abridgments & Digests
There are numerous digests of the laws of England, and most organize the legal terms in alphabetical order by subject. The three most useful digests and abridgements are listed here. There are many editions to each of them and beware the changes in language use over time. One digest compiler may list ,family lawŠ under ,husband and wife,Š while another compiler will list it under ,baron and femme.Š Use a variety of synonyms and check for misspellings: The earlier the print, the further away from modern English you are, and there are always printing mistakes in early printed materials.
KD660 .V53 1742 Rdg. Rm.
Charles Viner, A General Abridgement of Law and Equity (37 vols. London: G.G.J. & J. Robinson, et al. 2d ed. 1792-1795).
The 2d edition is more useful than the first, as it has an index and a 7 volume supplement. They are both available on microfiche and in electronic format in Early English Books Online.
KD295 .B3 1793 Quarto
Matthew Bacon, A New Abridgement of the Law: Alphabetically Digested Under Proper Titles (5 vols. Dublin: Luke White, 6th ed.1793).
Other editions include 1798, 1807, 1811 and 1813. Several other editions are also available on microfiche.
KD295 .C6 1762 Quarto
John Comyns, A Digest of the Laws of England (5 vols. London: John Knapton, Thomas Longman & Robert Horsfield 1762-1767).
Other editions include 1800, 1822 and 1824. Two other editions are also available on microfiche.
Dictionaries & Thesauri
Listed here are just a few dictionaries and legal thesauri, which may be useful when using antiquated materials, especially those before the 18th century. Modern dictionaries are helpful only if they give a root explanation to a particular term or if they trace the term‰s history. Other dictionaries listed here are especially useful for Law French or Latin translations. A list of legal dictionaries in the Library and in Special Collections is available from the Special Collections Librarian. Also check theOnline Guide for Legal History Research for additional Internet sites for legal dictionaries.
KF156 .B53 1891 Quarto
Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law, Containing Definitions of the Terms and Phrases of American and English Jurisprudence, Ancient and Modern (St. Paul, Minn.: West 1st ed.1891).
The 2d edition published in 1910 is also available in Special Collections.
William C. Burton, Burton‰s Legal Thesaurus (New York: Macmillian Library References 3ded.1999).
John Cowell, The Interpreter (New York: Da Capo Press, 1970) (Reprint of Cambridge: J. Legate, 1607).
This is a reprint of the 1607 edition, which is very useful for early obscure legal terms.
KD313.C6 1727 Folio John Cowell, A Law Dictionary: Or, The Interpreter of Words and Terms, Used Either in the Common or Statute Laws of Great Britain, and in Tenures and Jocular Customs (London: E. & R. Nutt & R. Gosling, 1727).
KD313 .T64 1797 Quarto
Giles Jacob, The Law-Dictionary : Explaining the Rise, Progress, and Present State of the English Law (2 vols. Thomas E. Tomlins ed., London: Printed by Andrew Strahan 1797).
KD313.C64 1811 Quarto
Giles Jacob, The Law Dictionary: Explaining the Rise, Progress, and Present State of the English Law (6 vols. Philadelphia: P. Byrne 1st American ed. from 2d London. 1811).
Contemporary Writings, Commentaries & Institutes on the Law
Contemporary commentaries, institutes, criticism and writings are a vast resource often overlooked in legal history research. A few specific to jury and criminal trials are listed here.
M-1238, M-1239 John F. Archbold, The Law of Nisi Prius (2 vols. Philadelphia: T. & J.W. Johnson, 3d American ed. from the 2d London ed.1853).
KD8371.A7 1986r Octavo
John F. Archbold, A Summary of the Law Relative to Pleading and Evidence in Criminal Cases. (London: Sweet and Maxwell, 1986) (Reprint ed. of London: R. Pheney, et al., 1822).
Special Collections also has the 1824 ed. There are more modern continuations of this title in International and Foreign Law, under the title: Archbold‰s Pleading, Evidence, and Practice in Criminal Cases.
KD7283 .C65 1794
Richard Burn, The Conductor Generalis: Or, the Office, Duty and Authority of Justices of the Peace, High-Sheriffs, Under-Sheriffs, Coroners, Constables, Gaolers, Jury-Men, and Overseers of the Poor, As Also, the Office of Assize and of the Peace, &c. (James Parker ed., Albany, N.Y.: Printed by Charles R. & George Webster, 1794).
Earliest ed. in Special Collections is 1788. Other editions are also available in microfilm and in digital format (Making of Modern Law).
KD7869 .C48 1978r
Joseph Chitty, A Practical Treatise on the Criminal Law (4 vols. in 5 New York: Garland Pub.1978) (Reprint of London: A. J. Valpy 1816).
William Cobbett, Cobbett's Parliamentary History of England From the Norman Conquest in 1066, to the Year 1803, From Which Last-Mentioned Epoch It is Continued Downwards in the Work Entitled, Cobbett's Parliamentary Debates [1066-1803] (36 vols. London: R. Bagshaw, 1806-1820).
KD6939 .G54 1758 Quarto
Geoffrey Gilbert, The History and Practice of the High Court of Chancery (London: J. Worall & W. Owen 1758).
KD7850.H3 P4 1716 Octavo
Matthew Hale, Pleas of the Crown: In Two Parts. Or, A Methodical Summary of the Principal Matters Relating to That Subject (London: for D. Brown, et al. 1716).
KD7850.H34 1736 Folio
Matthew Hale, Historia Placitorum Coronae. The History of the Pleas of the Crown 2 vols. (London: F. Gyles, et al., 1736).
Special Collections also has the 1847 edition.
William Hawkins, A Treatise of the Pleas of the Crown 2 vols. (New York: Garland, 1978) (Reprint of London: J. Walthoe, 1716-1721).
Special Collections also has the 1724, 1739, 1788, 1795 and 1824 editions.
KD6939 .A59 L54 1719 Folio
John Lilly, The Practical Register: Or, A General Abridgment of the Law (2 vols. London: Tho. Ward et al. 1719).
Lilly‰s Register continues Style‰s Practical Register from the 17th century.
KD7885.C3R6 1770 Quarto vol. 1
Samuel Romilly, Observations on the Criminal Law of England, As it Relates to Capital Punishment, and On the Mode in Which It is Administered. [Tracts and Opinions on the Punishment of Death. Vol. 1] (London: T. Cadell & W. Davies, 1810).
Part of a 2-volume set on Tracts and Opinions on the Punishment of Death.
Blackstone‰s Commentaries on the Laws of England
There are over 80 editions of Blackstone‰s Commentaries in the law library. Most often, it is the first English edition, the first American edition, or Tucker‰s edition (see below) that is needed. Some American editions are important to use for the annotations from commentators. Pre-1900 Commentaries are housed in Special Collections; post-1901 Commentaries are housed in INTL or Williams stacks, according to their call numbers. There is a finding aid to all the editions (reprints, microfiche or original) of Blackstone‰s Commentaries available in Special Collections. A few editions are available in full print and keyword searchable on the web, such as
KD660.B52 1765 1979
William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (4 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979) (Facsimile reprint ed. of the 1st ed. of 1765-1769).
KD660.B4 1786 Quarto
William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (4 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 3d ed. 1768.
KD660.B4 1771 Quarto Rdg. Rm.
William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England. 5 vols. 1st American ed. Philadelphia: Robert Bell, 1771.
William Blackstone, Blackstone‰s Commentaries, With Notes of Reference to the Constitution and Laws of the Federal Government of the United States and of the Commonwealth of Virginia (5 vols. St. George Tucker ed., Buffalo, N.Y.: Dennis 1965) (Reprint of Philadelphia: William Young Birch & Abraham Small, 1st ed. 1803).
Original edition available in Special Collections: SPECL KD660 .B4 T8 1803 Quarto Rdg Rm
Cokes‰ Institutes of the Laws of England
Coke‰s Institutes are in four parts, and known equally well as ,Coke‰s InstitutesŠ or ,First Part of the Institutes, Second Part of the Institutes,Š etc. Cites to Coke‰s Institutes are usually in the following form: 2 Inst., 1 Inst., etc. The First part of Coke‰s Institutes is also known as Coke on Littleton, or Littleton‰s Tenures. Listed here are some reprints and original editions available in the Library and Special Collections. Microfiche editions are also available in Media.
Edward Coke, Institutes of the Laws of England (3 vols. New York: Garland, 1979. (Parts 1, 3 & 4 only) (Reprint of London: Society of Stationers, 1628).
KD600.C64 1670 Folio Rdg. Rm.
Edward Coke, The First Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England, or a Commentarie Upon Littleton (London: Society of Stationers, 8th ed.1670).
Early Federal Law Reports & Digests
Some of these materials researchers will be very familiar with; others you will not have seen since your first year in law school, f at all. They are all important primar resources that should not be overlooked. Most are now available on the Internet, through Lexis-Nexis, Westlaw, HeinOnline or THOMAS. As with the English reports, the early law reports of cases in the United States were often known by the name of the reporter. These reports were later reprinted in the official U.S. Reports, but they are often cited in the old way. Researchers need to know both.
United States Reports: Cases Adjudged in the Supreme Court. (1-90 vols. Various publishers, 1790-1874).
The title varies, especially with the first 4 volumes by Dallas:
Reports of Cases Ruled and Adjudged in the Courts of Pennsylvania Before and Since the Revolution (1 Dallas) covers cases from 1754 to 1789.
Reports of Cases Ruled and Adjudged in the Several Courts of the United States and of Pennsylvania held at the Seat of the Federal Government (2-4 Dallas) cover cases from 1781 to 1806.
The U.S. Supreme Court was created in 1789 by the Judiciary Act of September 24, 1789 (1 Stat.73), and organized in 1790. The first U.S. Reports, however, were reports of cases in the courts of Pennsylvania and ,the several courts of the U.S.,Š and did not become the reports of the Supreme Court until 1804. The first 90 volumes are named reports, from 1790 to 1874; they were reported by specific individuals, and are often called by the name of the reporter: 1 Cranch, or 4 Dallas. Here is a list of the first 90 volumes and their corresponding named reports:
1-4 Dallas 1-4 U.S. Reports
1-9 Cranch 5-13 U.S. Reports
1-12 Wheaton 14-25 U.S. Reports
1-41 Peters 26-41 U.S. Reports
1-24 Howard 42-65 U.S. Reports
1-2 Black 66-67 U.S. Reports
1-23 Wallace 68-90 U.S. Reports
The Federal Cases, Comprising Cases Argued and Determined in the Circuit and District Courts of the United States From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Federal reporter [1789-1880] (31 vols. St. Paul: West, 1894-1897).
This set includes an index, tables and a digest.
The American Decisions, Containing All the Cases of General Value and Authority Decided in the Courts of the Several States, From the Earliest Issue of the State Reports  to the Year 1869 (103 vols. San Francisco: A. L. Bancroft & Company, 1870).
Each volume is actually 2 volumes in 1. Includes a 3 volume index.
The American Reports Containing All Decisions of General Interest Decided in the Courts of Last Resort of the Several States, With Notes and References ... [1869-1887] (102 vols. San Francisco: Bancroft-Whitney, 1871-1888).
Includes an index.
Early American Federal Statutes
The Statutes at Large is the official source of laws and resolutions passed by the U.S. Congress since 1789. It is a compilation of statutes, by date of passage; these statutes are later codified in the United States Code. It also includes the text of amendments to the Constitution, and of presidential proclamations, and all treaties and international agreements approved by the U.S. Senate, up to 1948.
United States Statutes at Large (Buffalo, N.Y.: Dennis, 1961-; Washington, D.C.: GPO. Vol. 1 [1789 to March 3, 1845]-).
Dennis has reprinted volumes for 1789-1918. The U.S. Government Printing Office. publishes the volumes after 1918. Early titles include Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (vols. 1-8), and Statutes at Large of the United States of America (vols. 9-49).
The volumes for the first 42 congresses (1789-1873) are also available online through the Library of Congress web site:
Colonial & Early State Law Reports & Digests
The original 13 American colonies reported court cases unofficially in a variety of ways, depending on the time period and the colonial governments of each area. For original colonial cases, early newspapers are often the only available sources. Some colonies established early case reporting, but none of it is official or printed in any consistent fashion. After the American Revolution, each state published its reports of cases individually, and often reprinted earlier case reports. Many of the early ,reportersŠ were also reporters for the early Federal reports. For a list of the earliest colonial and state case reports, consult the Finding Aid to Early American Court Reporters, available in Special Collections. The library has almost all the early state reports, either reprinted or in original form, in Special Collections.
The digest listed below is a good tool for researching early cases across more than 1 state.
Century Edition of The American Digest; a Complete Digest of All Reported American Cases From the Earliest Times  to 1896 (50 vols. St. Paul: West, 1897-1904).
Until the American Revolution, the original 13 American colonies were governed by the laws of England. Consult the English statutes for more information. There were colonial laws enacted by some of the local legislatures, more and more so with the approach of the American Revolution. Many were not printed or published officially, but they were often announced in the local newspapers, such as the Maryland Gazette, or the Virginia Gazette. Debates surrounding these local laws were also printed in the local newspapers, so colonial newspapers are often excellent sources of information regarding colonial laws in the making.
Session laws were published more regularly, but each colony and then state varied how and when it issued them. After the Revolution, each state continued this sporadic printing of state statutes, and many states did not start to codify their laws until well into the 19th century.
All early printed state statutes published before 1840 are housed in Special Collections, and must be used there. State statutes published after 1840 and are superseded, are housed in the Historic Code Collection, in closed compact stacks. Check the library catalog for call numbers and locations. Contact a staff member at the Circulation Desk, in Access Services for access to the historic statutes in the compact stacks. The law library does have some early American newspapers on microfilm in the Media section of the Library, but it is an incomplete set. Complete sets of early American newspapers on microfilm, often with indexes are available for research at the Library of Congress Periodical Reading Room in the Madison Building, and also at local universities and state archives.
All printed state and colonial ,statutes at largeŠ are available on microfilm in Media Services on the third floor of the Library, East side. There are generally no indexes to these state statutes and the quality of the film is uneven.
Early Congressional Records
Most early congressional records have been made available online at the Century of Lawmaking in the American Memory section of the Library of Congress‰ web site. The library has original and reprint sets of these as well. Check them out at:
There are over 40 different editions of Kent‰s Commentaries, many of them available in microfiche. The first edition and its reprint are listed below.
James Kent, Commentaries on American Law (4 vols. New York: Da Capo Press 1971) (reprint of 1826-1830 ed.).
KF385.K418 1826 Quarto
James Kent, Commentaries on American Law (4 vols. New York: O. Halsted 1826-1830).