Minutes of the Courts of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, 1738-1868


County courts of pleas and quarter sessions evolved from precinct courts in 1738. The courts were composed of three or more justices of the peace and sat four times each year. The functions of county courts were categorized into three distinct areas: judicial, probate, and administrative. The courts exercised both civil and criminal jurisdiction, original and appellate (from magistrates' courts). Probate responsibilities included acknowledgment and probate of deeds; probate of wills; appointment and qualification of administrators, executors, and guardians, binding of apprentices; and inquisitions of lunacy. The court also served as the governing body of the county, responsible for the appointment and qualification of local officials, levying of local taxes, expenditure of public funds, granting of licenses (tavern keepers, ferry operators, and peddlers), registration of stock marks, paternity inquisitions, and emancipation and manumission of slaves. Courts of pleas and quarter sessions were abolished by the Constitution of 1868. The judicial functions then devolved to county superior courts and justices of the peace courts; the probate function was vested in the clerk of superior court; and administrative responsibilities were inherited by the newly created boards of county commissioners.

Descriptions of original minutes of the courts of pleas and quarter sessions held by the State Archives are summarized in the online MARS catalog. For a county summary of original minutes and microfilm held by the the State Archives of North Carolina, please see the Guide to County Records.

Court minutes and other related records may also be available on third party websites. The State Archives provides links to many of these collections in its Digital Collection.