View all series for PROVINCIAL COURT
The exact date of the creation of the Provincial Court is unknown; it is likely that it dates from Leonard Calvert's commission as Lieutenant General of the colony in 1637, which gave him the authority to try all cases except those concerning life, member, or freehold. Originally called the County Court, the Provincial Court was modeled after the English county courts. The name change probably occurred sometime between 1640 and 1642, when St. Mary's and Kent counties were created, each with a county court.
The Provincial Court had concurrent jurisdiction with the county courts in most matters, served as an appellate court to the county courts, and had original jurisdiction in criminal cases involving life or member and in civil cases with value above a given sum or poundage of tobacco, which varied throughout the court's history. The Provincial Court also heard chancery, testamentary, and guardianship cases until the Chancery and Prerogative Courts were established and guardianship matters were transferred to the county courts. In addition, the Provincial Court had concurrent jurisdiction with the county courts in recording conveyances of land, which was compulsory after 1663.
No limit was placed on cases brought before the Provincial Court, which prompted the Assembly to pass an act in 1710 to limit the court's jurisdiction to cases where debt or damage was not less than 20 pounds sterling or 5,000 pounds of tobacco. The limit held until 1773 when county courts were given exclusive jurisdiction in civil cases with a value less than 100 pounds sterling or 30,000 pounds of tobacco.
The House of Delegates perennially complained about the fact that the judges of the Provincial Court were usually drawn from the Council of the province. This grievance was addressed in the Maryland Constitution of 1776, which forbade a person from holding more than one "office of profit." The constitution also renamed the Provincial Court as the General Court, which was divided geographically into the General Courts of the Eastern and Western Shores.