27 September 2023

Book Review: The Law of the Hills

The Law of the Hills-A Judicial History of Vermont by Paul S. Gillies. Published by Vermont Historical Society, Barre, VT, 2019

Vermont research has left me exasperated at times. My Fenn and Rowley families settled in Vermont before it became a state, during the time of the New York and New Hampshire land grant disputes. Periodically, I lay everything aside and work on resources that will help me understand the time they were living.

While I am on 'sabbatical' from my Fenn and Rowley research, I use the time to study Vermont History. I have looked at atlases, biographies, historical accounts, and more. I decided it was time to check into the judicial history of Vermont. I heard about "The Law of the Hills-A Judicial History of Vermont" by Paul S. Gillies as a member of the Vermont Historical Society, who publishes the book. I figured this would be a good addition to my Vermont historical journey.

The back cover states, "it is the first general history of the judicial branch in Vermont..." I hoped it would explain the court system during the land grant dispute era and probate courts.

One whole chapter titled; "New York Courts in the New Hampshire Grants" helped me understand this time in Vermont. This professionally researched chapter provides the reader with thirty-seven footnotes. Gillies doesn't gloss over the events or brutal attacks because of these disputes. 

I think authors that include extensive footnotes, and a bibliography, should be commended. It leads the reader to other resources. In my case, I appreciate seeing what else is available to help in my research. There were many court cases involving land grant disputes and Gillies covers the early history of those.

Gillies starts the book with judicial and courthouse history, explaining the history and formation of both from a historical perspective. Once the court system has been explained Gillies separates his writing by the century, covering the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. These chapters build on Vermont laws and include case law to explain the changes. Changes in the courts throughout the years are addressed. The last chapter describes the future of Vermont law. Adherence to the Vermont Constitution is stressed. Efficiency and specialization are the key to the future. These chapters cover about half of the book.

The other half of the book includes Appendixes A and B. Appendix A covers the Vermont Supreme Court. Appendix B is about the judges and justices of the Supreme Court with biographical sketches and images when available. Footnotes, photo credits, extensive bibliography, and an index completes the book.

"The Law of the Hills" is essential reading for anyone who does Vermont genealogical research. I was able to analyze my research and see where the law affected my research, or lack of research. It helped explain why I couldn't find what I was looking for in some cases. One may wonder why studying the laws of the time is important. The law touches almost everything our ancestors did. It explains the why, when, and where of our ancestors events.

Anyone with an interest in Vermont, its history, and specifically judicial history will enjoy this book. Thank you, Paul S. Gillies for giving me another tool to use in my research.

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