Icon Agency History for admiralty court

View all series for ADMIRALTY COURT

The colonial charter of 1632 gave the Lord Proprietor the right to set up any courts for land or sea that he deemed necessary. However, at that time no specific courts were established to hear cases in maritime law. The Provincial Court sat in admiralty to hear such cases. A bill was proposed by The Proprietor in 1639 to establish an Admiralty Court but was unsuccessful. Not until the royal period (1692-1717) was any serious effort devoted to the establishment of an admiralty court in the colony. Every Royal Governor was commissioned a Vice Admiral and Admiralty Courts appear to have sat on each shore. Following the restoration of the Proprietary government, no Admiralty Court sat in Maryland until a Vice Admiral was commissioned in 1756. The court's jurisdiction included contracts, accounts, wages, treason, piracy, felonies, fugitives, mayhem, and bottomry (cases in which a shipowner put the ship up as security for a loan). The Constitution of 1776 established an Admiralty Court to try capture and seizures made and brought into Maryland ports. The court functioned until 1789, when the U.S. Constitution assigned admiralty jurisdiction to the federal courts, thus ending the Admiralty Court in Maryland. The Federal Court in Baltimore heard many admiralty cases. Among the earliest of these Special Collections at the Maryland State Archives are from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. An example of some can be found here in Special Collection MSA SC 5463 under Series 1 and 4.

For an overview of the Courts of Admiralty in Maryland and a listing of Maryland case summaries, see David R. Owen and Michael C. Tolley’s book Courts of Admiralty in Colonial America: The Maryland Experience, 1634-1776 available in the MSA Library.

There is a brief time period from 1671-1676 during which no admiralty cases were known to have been heard in Maryland. A discovery in 2010 of court papers in the National Archives of Sweden shows that this was indeed not the case.

See also:
Provincial Court. MSA SH5
Chancery Court. MSA SH7

Related Special Collections
Port of Entry Collection MSA SC 2910
Admiralty Court Collection MSA SC 2911
Keith Mason' s Analysis of Oxford Port of Entry books MSA SC 5906-5-1035
Calendar of Naval Office records MSA SC 5906-5-1040
Coded list of ports cited in Naval Office records, and index to commodities MSA SC 5906-5-1041