Law and History Review


A Legal Tourist Visits Eighteenth-Century Britain: Henry Marchant's Observations on British Courts, 1771 to 1772

Sally Hadden c1 and Patricia Hagler Minter c1

At the Rhode Island Historical Society there is a copy of an amazing journal, kept by Henry Marchant (1741–1796) during his eleven-month sojourn in England and Scotland as a colonial agent for Rhode Island. He was a practicing lawyer who had the first-hand opportunity to observe law as it operated on both sides of the Atlantic in the eighteenth century. He was not the only lawyer to do so, but his background as a trial lawyer made his perceptions differ substantially from those of the many colonial law students who received their legal educations in England. Dozens of young colonists ventured from home to London for the legal training and social polish twelve terms at the Inns of Court could provide; their legal notebooks record activities at the Westminster courts as students saw them, learning the law one case at a time, before they returned to the colonies and went into practice. A few more experienced lawyers, such as John Adams, likewise had the opportunity to visit Westminster Hall, but they typically went once or twice, and did not return.

(Online publication February 14 2011)

Sally Hadden is an associate professor of history at Western Michigan University <>. Patricia Hagler Minter is an associate professor of history at Western Kentucky University <>. Previous versions of this article were presented to the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Biennial British Legal History Conferences (2003, 2005), the seminar on eighteenth-century history at the Institute for Historical Research, London (2003), and the Western Kentucky University History Colloquium (2004). Comments from the many audience members have enhanced the content, and the authors extend their thanks to the conveners of these gatherings for their assistance, as well as to the exceptionally helpful LHR anonymous readers, and David Tanenhaus.