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James Patriot Wilson docket book


Held at: University of Delaware Library Special Collections [Contact Us]181 South College Avenue, Newark, DE 19717-5267

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Delaware Library Special Collections. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

James Patriot Wilson was born in Lewes, Delaware, in 1769. His father, Matthew Wilson, was a Presbyterian minister and physician. Wilson graduated with honors from the University of Pennsylvania, declining an invitation to join the faculty and returning instead to Lewes to teach and read for the law. Wilson began practicing law in 1790 in Sussex County, and in 1793 was admitted to practice in Delaware's Supreme Court.

Wilson continued practicing law in Delaware until 1806, when he ceased his law practice and studied to become a minister. He was licensed as a Presbyterian minister to preach in 1804, and served multiple congregations in Delaware until 1806, when he accepted a call to the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. His move to Philadelphia was encouraged in part by his friend Benjamin Rush. Wilson continued preaching until his death in 1830.

Dawson, John M. "Wilson's Red Book." University of Delaware News, Winter 1971-1972, page 9.

The James Patriot Wilson docket book, also known as Wilson's Red Book, is a small, red leather notebook of approximately 430 handwritten pages recording Delaware court cases from 1792 to 1801, argued before the Court of Common Pleas, Court of Quarter Sessions, Delaware Supreme Court, Court of Oyer and Terminer, Court of Chancery, and the High Court of Errors and Appeals. At the end of the book, there appears to be a topical index and an alphabetical list of cases. The flyleaf reads "James P. Wilson's Notes of Cases, Written without revision or correction from 1793 to 1800."

The Red Book represents a handwritten summary of court cases tried in Delaware in the last decade of the eighteenth century. At the time, courts did not, as a rule, create written reports on the proceedings of various courts. Instead, lawyers and judges would record the proceedings in their own hand and make such personal records available to others in the legal community. Volumes such as Wilson's Red Book thus became the record for Delaware legal precedent for the common lawyer until 1837, when the first volume of legal reports for Delaware was printed. There is evidence that the Red Book was copied, in its entirety, by at least one other lawyer.

The Red Book was used by Professor Daniel J. Boorstin of Harvard Law School in 1943 for a two-volume work,

Delaware Cases, 1792-1830, in which he published numerous cases documented by Wilson. Boorstin noted that Wilson's Red Book "suffers in legibility and fullness from the apparent desire of the author to provide himself with a pocket-size volume."

Items from the collection were cited in Boorstin, Daniel J.

Delaware Cases, 1792-1830. St. Paul, Minn.: West Pub, 1943.

Item 0034: Shelved in SPEC MSS 0096

Gift of Miss Elizabeth Wiltbank Houston and Mrs. Mary Houston Robinson, 1961.

Processed and encoded by John D. M. Caldwell, December 2020.

University of Delaware Library Special Collections
Finding Aid Author
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
Finding Aid Date
2020 December 11
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections Department, University of Delaware Library,

Collection Inventory

James Patriot Wilson docket book, 1792-1800.
Item 0034

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