Aspinwall Notarial Records, Boston, 1644-1651

Aspinwall Notarial Records, Boston, 1644-1651

On November 13, 1644, William Aspinwall was appointed by the General Court as the first notary of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  The Aspinwall Notarial Records, published in Boston in 1903, include entries for the years 1644-1651, and are some of the oldest surviving records ofABC Legal Docs logo Colonial notaries.

The records provide a fascinating glimpse into notarial acts during the Colonial period and into the daily life of the English colonists, trading, maritime shipping, and legal transactions.

Entries in the Aspinwall Notarial Records include transactions involving shipments of tobacco, corn, Indian corn, wheat, rye, barley, peas, sugar, Indigo, horses, cattle, hogs, fish, strong water (alcohol), beer, cotton, wool, linen, shoes, deer skins, moose skins, beaver skins, otter skins, gun powder, shot, clapboard, pipestaves, and more.

Documents listed include letters of attorney, wills, notary protests, affidavits, deeds, bills of sale, bills of health for vessels, copies, court judgments, and indentures of servants.  Documents were signed and sealed by parties using a personal seal.

Olde English spelling is used, with such words as booke, shipp, dayes, houres, seale, as well as abbreviations.  Some entries are in Latin.  In some places, Aspinwall wrote his title as Notarius Publicus.

Amounts paid or due are listed in British currency: pounds, shillings and pence, but many transactions were also settled by paying in the form of barter with goods, fish, corn, cattle, or beaver.  Trades with the Dutch in New Netherlands and New Amsterdam (now New York) were in Dutch guilders and stivers.

Units of measure mentioned include barrels, Kintalls (quintals) (British hundredweight) of fish, and firkins (quarter barrels) of Sope (soap).

Notary Duties

Among his duties as a Notary Public and Tabellion, Aspinwall visited homes to serve protests for the collection of debts.

For Colonial maritime historians, names of many ships and captains are included, with frequent mentions of London, West Indies, Caribbean, and Barbados.  For genealogists, many names, occupations, and relationships are listed, allowing researchers to find family ancestors.  One entry mentions several Mayflower passengers, Captain Miles Standish, military commander of the Plymouth Colony, and William Bradford and Edward Winslow, Governors of Plymouth Colony.  Some entries mention local Indians.

Since the laws of most states, except Louisiana, are based on English common law, the Aspinwall Notarial Records provide a resource for legal research and notary history.

Notary with Christopher Columbus

The first notary in North America, Rodrigo Escobedo, accompanied Christopher Columbus in 1492.  Long before Columbus, Leif Erikson (Ericson) is believed to have explored the area of Newfoundland.  The Aspinwall Notarial Records, almost 500 pages, are a rare record of colonial-era notaries in New England.

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