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Courts of Admiralty in Colonial America book jacket
ISBN978-0-89089-856-7

Courts of Admiralty in Colonial America

The Maryland Experience, 1634-1776

by David R. Owen, Michael C. Tolley

1995 $45.00 458 pp hardback

Tags: Admiralty Law, History, Legal History

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After conducting extensive manuscript research on both sides of the Atlantic, David Owen and Michael Tolley have written a book that examines the admiralty law system as it was transmitted from England to America. Though the emphasis is on the Maryland experience, the authors make comparisons with developments in England and in other colonies. The result is an interpretation of an area of law and authority in early America which is relevant to a national history of law.

The references in the literature to colonial courts of admiralty are often made in connection with the mounting struggle with the Crown which followed the Stamp Act controversy of 1765. This emphasis, the authors argue, results in an incomplete picture of the role played by these 17th-18th century institutions. By expanding the inquiry to include developments well before and even after the Revolution, the importance of these institutions can be appreciated more fully.

The format of this book makes it attractive to both the general reader, interested in the bearing of the colonial period on the development of American law in the early years of the Republic, and to the specialist, interested in how these courts worked, who used them and with what results.

Courts of Admiralty in Colonial America is the product of a collaborative effort between an admiralty law specialist and a political scientist interested in American constitutional development. Owen and Tolley trace the development of the unique principles of the admiralty from their origin in Europe through England to the colonies — and ultimately to the United States — and place the Maryland case study within a broader context by making comparison with developments in other colonies and integrating legal history with the general history of colonial America. The book also provides insight into the trials of maritime cases in the 17th and 18th centuries and explains how the colonial vice admiralty courts became the source and model for the subsequent development of federal admiralty jurisdiction and procedure.

“The research into the documents and records done by Messrs. Owen and Tolley is both extensive and meticulous.” — From the Foreword by Frank L. Wiswall, Jr., J.D., Ph.D. jur. (Cantab.)

“The extensive use of primary documents from both sides of the Atlantic is particularly noteworthy as is the focus on the first two centuries of our history — providing insights not only into the labyrinthine halls of admiralty law, but also into the day-to-day realities of shipping practices.” — Sea History

“The authors display a staggering command of not only the law, much of it archaic, but also the historiography. Owen and Tolley’s book will be a required reference work for scholars interested in colonial admiralty law, as well as its transition — and surprising continuity — under the new federal Constitution.” — Journal of Maritime Law and Commerce

“This handsome, beautifully written book should be in the library of every American admiralty practitioner... and of every teacher of admiralty as well as every Judge, Magistrate and Arbitrator who may be called upon to adjudicate maritime cases.” — The Maritime Law Association Report

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