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Bar News - January 19, 2007

Books, Papers of Chief Justice Doe Found in Shed Are Priceless Resource


One of the best records of a man’s life and times is his library: his history can be found there, reflected in his book choices. Chief Justice Charles Doe’s library is just such a history, discovered in a shed at the former Doe home in Rollinsford. The books he treasured, reading them again and again, making notes in the margins and tucking letters from friends among the pages, reveal Doe’s most private thoughts and opinions, giving insight into both the man and the jurist.


When the Lewis Janetos family purchased the property several years ago, they had no idea that the old books and papers they recently found would create such a stir, but deciding that the collection might be of interest to the justice system, they called Judge Stephen Roberts at the Dover District Court. Roberts called Laura Kiernan, special assistant to Chief Justice John Broderick and communications director for the Supreme Court. She asked Mary Searles, director of the New Hampshire Law Library, to visit the home to take a look.


Searles was excited by what she found. There were 88 boxes containing law books, histories, concordances, monographs, works of literature, textbooks, financial records—and 403 dockets from Doe’s years on the bench, many with his personal notations. It took two vans to transport the library to the Supreme Court.


Doe’s Notes


Doe became an Associate Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court in 1859, serving in that capacity until 1874. From 1876 until 1896 he was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. His notes, written in the beautiful but difficult to decipher penmanship of the day, crowd the margins of both books and court dockets. With patience, and perhaps a magnifying glass, readers will be able to follow his thinking on many subjects.


The initial sorting is being shared by a small group of volunteers, including law clerks Jason Surdukowski, Mary Beth Kula and Keriann Noonan, who are assisting Searles. The earliest book copyright date discovered so far is that of the English Reporter, 1741, but the works are still being catalogued.


There are about 1,700 volumes, including the court dockets. Many of the books have been stored for the time being at the Court’s archive building on Hills Avenue in Concord. One whole shelf there consists of books from the Civil War era, with several works on the slavery question. These books, too, carry Doe’s written comments and letters from friends and acquaintances in the legal world.


There are also family financial records now at the law library, two large volumes in Mrs. Edith Doe’s neat handwriting recording the family’s investments. There are some business letters—and even press clippings, one of which reads: “The S. J. [Supreme Judicial] Court will rise on Wednesday. Judge Doe has had a tedious session, but has acquitted himself with ability second to no other jurist in the state.”


Current Justices Value Find


“I was particularly interested in the find,” says Supreme Court Justice Gary Hicks, “because the names of a couple of my relatives came up in court records.” Hicks’ ancestors, Levi and Alba Hicks, were sawyers (builders) in Colebrook in the mid-1800s. “Their names are mentioned in case dockets from Grafton County,” Hicks continued. “Actually, the company is still in existence today, run by an uncle and a cousin.”


“I gained a special respect for Judge Doe through Joe Millimet when I worked at Devine Millimet many years ago,” says Chief Justice John T. Broderick, Jr. “Joe held him in such high esteem that I began to pay more attention to his influence. It seemed to me that Doe focused on substance as opposed to process. He was a man of courage, with a true reverence for the law and that came across in his writings.”


Broderick says that the Doe library has brought Charles Doe to life for the legal community. “I believe that what Frank Kenison was to the 20th century justice system in our state, Charles Doe was to the 19th.”


“I have been an avid fan of Chief Justice Doe for many years. He was a ‘no nonsense’ judge; a pioneer of judicial rule-making, a thoughtful scholar and an insightful person,” says retired Supreme Court Justice Joseph Nadeau. “To hold a document he held as he prepared to preside and read in it words he wrote in his own hand nearly 150 years ago is an experience beyond description. What a powerful indication of the importance of historical preservation.”


Doe Name in Earliest State Records


As historian John Phillip Reid puts it in his book, Chief Justice: the Judicial World of Charles Doe, the Doe family was in New Hampshire “from the beginning.” While there is no account of the first Doe’s arrival or where he came from, Nicholas Doe’s name appears in the very earliest records—around 1663. In his time, Dover and Exeter were the frontier. One boundary of the province was formed by the Salmon Falls River, near which, two centuries later, Charles Doe lived for most of his life.


Joseph Doe (Charles’s Grandfather) signed the Colonies’ loyalty oath in 1776, “promising with 163 others, including nine members of the Doe family,” to support the Colonies against the British. After the Revolution, Joseph called all voters together in 1782 to adopt a constitution for the state of New Hampshire—a constitution which “Charles Doe would remold,” says Reid.


At its January meeting, the Supreme Court Historical Society, founded in late 2006, and formed in part to help fund the preservation of just such materials, discussed the disposition of the Doe library and how to make it most accessible to those interested in researching it.


The influence of Doe’s reading on his thinking and on his in-court decisions cannot be over-estimated—and soon this valuable source material will be available to students of both history and the law.

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