THE COUNTY COURT
THE LEWISES were not truly first-generation pioneers. They came to west Kentucky twenty years too late for that.
In many places the forest was giving way to cleared fields. Food and clothing, which had earlier been supplied by the hunter's gun, were now obtained with a plow. Commerce was established and the flow of goods from farms and forests moved to distant markets over the miserable roads and mighty rivers. The finished goods returned carried in the backpacks of shrewd Yankee peddlers or in boats turned into floating stores; or they were distributed by the local banker-barter storekeepers. By 1808 the law was established throughout the state, with constitution, legislature, and courts having jurisdiction in every part of the commonwealth, operating as effectively as the citizens would permit, and as honestly as the officials were inclined.
In the early 1800s the most important governmental structure in the state was the county court system. It was the task of the county court and the justices of the peace, who composed the court, to manage and regulate most of the public affairs and business that took place in each county. The responsibilities and powers of the county court were impressive in scope. Estates and wills, guardianship and care of orphans, cases of poverty and bastardy, the appointment of local officials, franchising and setting rates for ferries and taverns, establishing roads and drafting labor for their maintenance, assessing and collecting taxes, overseeing apprentices, administering the slave patrol system, and sitting in judgment over minor crimes of whites and all crimes by negroes; all these were in the court's jurisdiction. Even clerical affairs were touched by the county courts, for ministers were required to register with the court.1
These powers and duties of the court, and many others not mentioned here, were so extensive that they included legislative and judicial functions as well as executive responsibilities, making the separation of powers practically nonexistent in Kentucky county government of that time. That, however, was not as notable as the fact that the county court, which wielded most of the
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Publication information: Book title: Jefferson's Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy. Contributors: Boynton Merrill Jr. - Author. Publisher: University of Nebraska Press. Place of publication: Lincoln, NE. Publication year: 2004. Page number: 151.
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