An informal contract, or “assumpsit,” governed many business dealings in Vermont throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. When parties disagreed, the courts decided whether contracted obligations had been met. Assumpsit agreements were often verbal, which could make it hard for the plaintiff to prove his case.
Business partners who wanted to wind up affairs might have disputes over distribution of assets and debts. In these cases chancery court was responsible for resolving and finalizing accounts. The chancellor had the power to appoint a receiver to run a business until all accounts were settled.
Assumpsit: Marble, Manure and Telephone Poles
An 1835 Franklin County lawsuit documents the Lake Champlain Canal era. Julius Rice and Thomas Clark shared ownership of the canal boat “President Washington.” Clark captained the boat. In a dispute over division of profits, plaintiff won $69.27 damages and $130.42 costs. Rice was also involved in the lumber and marble trade. He bought black Isle la Mott marble to saw at his Swanton Falls mill. During this era there was a brisk maritime trade with New York, especially for lumber and for Champlain marble slabs used for tombstones, hearths, and floors. The “President Washington” carried passengers as well as freight.
In 1861 George Chesley sued Benjamin Brockway over manure removed from his Sheffield farm. Brockway claimed he had made a deal with the previous property owner to take the manure, but Chesley claimed sole rights to all of it. The county court agreed, and awarded him $5.72 for the manure and $42.24 for court costs. Brockway appealed to the Caledonia supreme court, which affirmed the decision for plaintiff.
Harry Carr brought suit against Citizens’ Telephone & Telegraph Exchange of St. Johnsbury in a 1904 stock dispute. Caledonia County Sheriff Lorenzo Sulloway served a writ attaching all of Citizens’ telephone poles, wire, switchboards and telephone instruments in the towns of St. Johnsbury, Lyndon, Burke, Concord, and Barnet – and he listed every single one. The case was settled out of court.
Closing the Sawmill
In 1908 Franklin County chancery court made final settlement of the accounts of Shepley & Stevens sawmill at Stevens’ Mills, Richford. The mill had been in existence since 1876. Court-appointed receiver WB Locklin took charge of operations in 1905. Locklin had existing logs sawn into lumber, inventoried all of the property, and then sold it to paid off the company’s debts.
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