Territorial Courts, 1803-1813

Before Louisiana was admitted to the Union as a state, it was governed by the U.S. government as the Territory of Orleans. Even at that early date, the city was so advanced economically that it needed a fairly complex court system right away.

The Governor's Court (1803) and the Court of Pleas (1803-1804) were temporary courts set up to take care of matters that had been pending under Spanish rule. We have only one document from the Governor's Court and but one volume has survived from the Court of Pleas.

County Court (1804-1807) and its successor, the City Court (1807-1813), were courts of original civil jurisdiction in Orleans Parish. At least in part due to its name (the City Court was not a municipal court but rather was equivalent to parish courts elsewhere in Louisiana), we suspect that the City Court's records have been disregarded by researchers who have not realized the Court's true significance. Unfortunate filing errors of the past also have served to make it difficult for interested researchers to get into the City Court records.

The Superior Court (1804-1813) was the predecessor of the Louisiana Supreme Court. Use of the Superior Court records also has been hampered by several factors. Historian George Dargo in his Jefferson's Louisiana claims that the records of the court are "missing." We do have the suit records of the Superior Court, but any minute books, docket books, and indexes that might have existed have not survived, or at least have not been deposited in our collection. The Supreme Court records, by the way, are housed at the University of New Orleans.

The Court of Probates (1805-1846) is the most important court in this period (and the next) for genealogical purposes and we will treat it separately later in this presentation.