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Missouri State Archives
Supreme Court of Missouri Historical Records

The Supreme Court of Missouri Historical Database provides an index and abstract of the criminal and civil court cases that were appealed to the territorial Superior Court and state Supreme Court of Missouri up to 1874, and a partial listing of cases to 1889. This database is made possible by a partnership between the Missouri State Archives, the Supreme Court of Missouri, and the Supreme Court of Missouri Historical Society. Digital images are available for some case files dating from 1821 through 1865.

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The case files demonstrate the rich variety in Missouri history as cases evolve from French fur trappers to steamboat cases of the Mark Twain era to the rise of modern railroads. Court dockets feature the names of prominent Missourians, such as Thomas Hart Benton, William Clark, Sterling Price, and Frank Blair, alongside the infamous and notorious. Although litigants came from the entire range of Missouri society, the vast majority of cases involve relatively unknown citizens. These cases provide great insight into the lives of many common Missourians that were only sporadically documented during the first century of the state. The records also offer observations about historical development in the politics, economics, and social issues of 19th century Missouri. A wide range of topics is available for historical and legal research, including slavery and freedom suits, business and industry, local and state elections, dueling, agriculture and mining, morality issues, the role of women in society, and judicial precedent.

The case files include civil, criminal, and chancery (equity) cases. The majority of the cases are civil suits regarding debts or damages. Unredeemed promissory notes, breaches of contracts, and land disputes dominate the dockets. The criminal cases span the breadth of Missouri's laws. Cases range from horrific murder to petty theft. Chancery or equity cases are usually divorces, estate settlements, or other types of probate. A number of documents in the territorial Superior Court cases date from the 1780s and 1790s, under the rule of French and Spanish governments, and are written in the French language.

In 2010, the Missouri State Archives was awarded a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) that enabled the Missouri State Archives to scan the original Supreme Court case files from 1821 to 1865 and link those digital images to the existing database entries. Work on the project began April 1, 2010 and concluded September 30, 2012.

For more information about the Missouri Supreme Court Historical Database:

To request copies of records not available online, please email the citation for the record you want to the Missouri State Archives at [email protected]. The record will be located, the number of pages counted, and you will be notified by email of the cost of the copies. Upon receipt of payment, the copies will be made and mailed to you.

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Presented by:
Missouri State Archives

Publish Date:
September 22, 2010

Presentation Length:
4 minutes 18 seconds (4:18)

Missouri's historic Supreme Court cases hold countless details about our state's past. Tens of thousands of cases, dating back to 1783, examine topics such as slavery, agriculture, industry and education. These records provide insight into the day-to-day lives of Missourians, and they help reveal the values that shaped our state during its colorful history.