New York County Supreme Court insolvency assignment records

Collection REC0021 - RG 065. New York State Supreme Court

Collection REC0021 - RG 065/RG 065.2. New York State Supreme Court, First Judicial District, New York County

Abstract

The New York County Supreme Court insolvency assignment records date from 1768-1908, with the majority dating from 1798-1886 and 1900. The material documents insolvent debtors and the legal actions taken against them in response to their insolvency; some of the debtors were well-known stockbrokers and merchants. Documents found in a typical insolvency assignment include: a petition to assign a trustee to manage the sale of property and assignment; a petition listing the insolvent debtor and his or her creditors; affidavits of each petitioning creditor stating the amount of debt; an inventory of the real estate and personal estate of the insolvent debtor; and order to advertise the sale of property and notify other creditors; affidavit of publication, including clippings of newspaper advertisements; order for assignment of the insolvent's property to trustees for sale for benefit of the creditors; discharge paper assignments; oath documents; and imprisoned debtor’s papers.

Extent

88 cubic feet (167 boxes)

Dates

1768-1908, bulk 1798-1886



Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to all researchers. The majority of the documents are tri-folded and must receive conservation treatment and be flattened before they can be accessed by researchers. Upon a request for research, if needed, the entire contents of a folder will receive conservation treatment and then be made available to the researcher as soon as possible. Conservation treatment will take approximately 5-10 days, depending on the condition and number of items to be treated. Please contact us to arrange access.

Physical Location

Materials are stored onsite at 31 Chambers St.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection was donated to the New York City Municipal Archives by William R. Asadorian, Archivist at the Queens Borough Public Library (Central Library), in 1991.

Related Materials

The New York City Municipal Archives also holds a two volume the index to the New York County Supreme Court insolvency assignment records, accession number 1991-055.

Processing Information

The collection was rehoused and a file-level inventory was completed by archives staff in 2015. In 2017, an additional one cubic foot of unprocessed insolvency assignment records were refoldered and intellectually integrated into the collection and the finding aid was updated and encoded in EAD 2002 by staff archivist Patricia Glowinski.

The New York County Supreme Court insolvency assignment records date from 1768-1908, with the majority dating from 1798-1886 and 1900. The material documents insolvent debtors and the legal actions taken against them in response to their insolvency. Actions included imprisonment (imprisonment for debt was abolished in the New York State Legislature in 1831) and/or selling off their real estate and personal property to pay off creditors.

Though most of the debtors are men, there are some women. Some of the debtors were more well-known New Yorkers such as Leonard Bleecker, Alexander Zuntz, and Benjamin Seixas who were members of the group of stockbrokers who started what is now the New York Stock Exchange. Some of the individuals repeatedly became insolvent debtors such as Alexander Zuntz and Leonard Bleecker. Though most of the debtors lived in New York County, some of the debtors resided in other counties in New York State. Some of the early records in the collection were petitioned in the courts of John Sloss Hobart, an American lawyer and politician; Richard Harison, a lawyer who practiced law in partnership with Alexander Hamilton and served as Recorder of New York City from 1798-1801; and Richard Morris who served as Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court from 1779 to 1790.

Documents found in a typical insolvency assignment include: a petition to assign a trustee to manage the sale of property and assignment; a petition listing the insolvent debtor and his or her creditors; affidavits of each petitioning creditor stating the amount of debt; an inventory of the real estate and personal estate of the insolvent debtor; and order to advertise the sale of property and notify other creditors; affidavit of publication, including clippings of newspaper advertisements; order for assignment of the insolvent's property to trustees for sale for benefit of the creditors; discharge paper assignments; oath documents; and imprisoned debtor’s papers. The earliest records are handwritten; later years are typescript forms and include the term “bankruptcy” within the form. Names have not all been verified for spelling accuracy so researchers should look for spelling variations.

The first European-based court system in what is now the City of New York was the Worshipful Court of the Schout, Burgomasters, and Schepens established by the Dutch in New Amsterdam in 1653. Following the Third Anglo-Dutch War and the signing of the Treaty of Westminster in 1674, the British established courts in New York based on the British common law model. The earliest courts established by the British in New York included the New York Court of Chancery (established 1683, abolished in 1846); the Court of General Sessions (established 1683, abolished in New York City in 1962); and the Court of Common Pleas (established 1686, abolished in 1894). The jurisdiction of all three of these courts was transferred to the New York State Supreme Court after they were abolished.

The origins of the New York State Supreme Court for New York County can be traced back to 1691 during British colonial rule in the Province of New York, when the New York Assembly established the New York Supreme Court of Judicature. Prior to 1691, the Court of Common Pleas, a civil court, was granted jurisdiction only in the City of New York. In 1691, the jurisdiction of both the Court of General Sessions and the Court of Common Pleas was changed. Originally having both civil and criminal jurisdiction, the jurisdiction of the Court of General Sessions was restricted to all felony cases not punishable by death or life imprisonment, while jurisdiction of the Court of Common Pleas was extended to all counties in the Province of New York. The expansion of the jurisdiction of the Court of Common Pleas, alternatively called the Mayor’s Court from circa 1784 to 1821, continued until 1846 when it was again restricted to New York City only. In 1894, the Court of Common Pleas was abolished under the newly adopted New York State constitution and its jurisdiction was transferred to the New York State Supreme Court.

At the end of the 18th century, the United States began to shift from a British model of dealing with debt and debtors to a uniquely American model. The first financial credit crisis in the United States occurred in 1792. In 1797, another financial panic led to the imprisonment of thousands of debtors in the United States. In response, the United States Congress passed the first federal bankruptcy act in 1800, but it primarily applied to and favored stockbrokers, bankers, and merchants. It was repealed in 1803. During the early to mid-1800s, bankruptcy laws were passed and quickly repealed as the laws still favored stockbrokers, bankers, and merchants. In 1841, Congress passed a federal bankruptcy law that offered protection to everyone but that too was repealed in 1843. Another bankruptcy law was passed in 1867 and repealed in 1878, setting forth a pattern of passing, amending, and repealing bankruptcy laws in the United States that continues into the present day.

With each financial crisis, the number of insolvent debtors steadily rose in the United States in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Along with federal bankruptcy laws, states passed their own laws regarding insolvency and often the debtors were imprisoned. In New York, cases of insolvent debtors were petitioned in civil court. In New York City, insolvency cases were petitioned in the Court of Common Pleas until 1894 when it was abolished and the Court’s jurisdiction was transferred to the New York State Supreme Court, New York County.

The Legislature of the State of New York passed numerous laws pertaining to insolvent debtors including in 1786, 1788, 1801, 1811, 1813, 1817, 1818, and 1829. As these laws passed were passed, those empowered to receive the petitions changed over the years. The laws were intended to give “relief in cases of insolvency” and allowed for a creditor of an insolvent debtor to be assigned by the court to serve as a trustee. The trustee would manage the sale of the debtor’s real estate and personal property to pay off the debt. The petitioning process included gathering affidavits from creditors; inventorying the debtor’s property; advertising the sale of the property; assigning payments and gathering affidavits that the property had been delivered; and submitting an affidavit of assignment that discharged the insolvent debtor of any further liability for debts incurred prior to the date of his or her petition.

Though most insolvent debtors were men, women were also imprisoned for insolvency; both men and women filed insolvency petitions. There could also be both voluntary and involuntary assignments and the files that accumulated during the petitioning process reflected the different kinds of assignments. Depending on the various laws passed in New York State regarding insolvent debtors, those empowered to receive the petitions changed over the years.

Up to 1831, insolvent debtors could be imprisoned in the Province and later the State of New York. During the British colonial period in New York City, insolvent debtors were imprisoned in rooms of City Hall that was located in lower Manhattan near Wall Street. In 1759, a new jail was built on what is now City Hall Park and insolvent debtors were imprisoned there through the American Revolution and until 1832. Prior to the Stillwell Act of 1831 that abolished the imprisonment of debtors unless a creditor could claim fraudulence on the part of the debtor (such as the concealment of property) ,the State of New York began passing laws as early as 1809 that restricted the imprisonment of debtors, generally those that held small debts. Despite of the 1831 law, there were still cases of debtors being imprisoned in New York even into the late 1880s.

Sources

  1. Coleman, Peter J. (1991). Debtors and Creditors in America: Insolvency, Imprisonment for Debt, and Bankruptcy, 1607-1900. Washington, D.C.: Beard Books.
  2. Lepore, Jill. (April 13, 2009). I.O.U.: How we used to treat debtors. The New Yorker. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/04/13/i-o-u
  3. Tabb, Charles Jordan. (1995). The history of bankruptcy laws in the United States. American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review, Vol. 3. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2316255
  4. The Historical Society of the New York Courts. New York Legal History; Courts of New York. Retrieved from http://www.courts.state.ny.us/history/legal-history-new-york/history-new-york-courts.html
  5. The Historical Society of the New York Courts. New York Legal History; Legal History by Era; New York State Court Histories; New York Supreme Court. “Duely and Constantly Kept:” A History of the New York Supreme Court, 1691-1847 and An Inventory of its Records, 1797-1847. Retrieved from http://www.courts.state.ny.us/history/legal-history-new-york/documents/History_Supreme-Court-Duely-Constantly-Kept.pdf
The New York County Supreme Court insolvency assignment records are arranged chronologically by year and thereunder alphabetically by surname of the insolvent debtor.
Title
Guide to the New York County Supreme Court insolvency assignment records
Status
Completed
Author
Patricia Glowinski
Date
2017
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
eng