History of The Bucks Bar
The first courts held in Bucks County were
those established by William Penn. In March, 1683, the first Provincial
Assembly divided the state into Philadelphia, Bucks, and Chester counties. On
August 16, 1683, Penn, whose dwelling at Pennsbury Manor in lower Bucks County
was under construction, wrote: "Courts of justice are established in every
county with proper officers, as justices, sheriffs, clerks, constables, etc.,
which courts are held every two months. But to prevent lawsuits, there are
three peacemakers chosen by every court, in the nature of common arbitrators,
to hear and end differences betwixt man and man. And in spring and fall there
is an orphans' court in each county to inspect and regulate the affairs of
orphans and widows.”
An orphans' court was the first court of justice held in Bucks County on March
4, 1683. The next session was a year later, March 4, 1684, "in the courthouse
for the said county.” The site of the first courthouse is a matter of
conjecture, but the belief is that it was in Falls Township, a short distance
In the eleventh month of 1684, is the first
record of a court of quarter sessions. Quarter sessions, orphans' court and
common pleas courts were all held by the county court, composed of Justices of
the Peace, commissioned by the governor. These "JPs” were laymen who
administered justice in accordance principally with their conception of what
was right, unhampered by technical forms of procedure and established
precedents. It was not until later that men "learned in the law” were chosen to
preside in the courts.
Twenty-five years later, June 8, 1708, the first
Deputy Attorney General and prosecuting officer was appointed for the county.
Though there was Quaker opposition, lawyers had by now gained a secure footing
in the courts of Bucks County; now there were oyers, imparlances, continuances,
etc., in approved form. Thus, technicalities were resorted to and insisted upon
in spite of impotent protests. In 1701, the courts had been authorized to make
their own rules of practice.
Bristol was the site of the first county seat,
laid out in 1697 and established as a "seat of justice” in 1705. The county
seat moved to Newtown in 1725; efforts were made in 1784 to move it to
Doylestown. Controversy now began as to where to place the county seat; in
1812, the first "old” courthouse was built and in 1877 the second "old”
courthouse was built. See an old Bucks County map here. In 1960-62, the present courthouse was constructed on the same site and the rustic second "old” courthouse was
Space does not permit the chronicling here of
the accomplishments of even a few of the most celebrated individuals and
families of attorneys and judges. It is sufficient to note that the early
tradition of having excellence on the bench continues to this day.
One of the Oldest Bar Associations in America
1853 was a landmark year because, for the first time, the attorneys of the county
formed an organization of legal practitioners. Seventeen members of the Bucks
County bar met in 1853 to form the Association of the Bar of Bucks County.
Incorporated in 1883 with 40 charter members,
the Bucks County Bar Association initially and to the present has concerned
itself with the welfare of the judicial system, the courts, the administration
of justice, service to the public and the betterment of the profession.
Significant changes began to occur in the 1940's and 1950's.
As the population of the county grew at a dramatic rate, the number of members
in the Association also grew as did the number and kinds of activities of the
Association. Membership now stands at 800. Over the last 50 years the Bar
Association has accomplished the establishment of a legal journal, The Bucks County Law Reporter, the commencement of a
lawyer referral program; the sponsorship of the Legal Aid Society;
implementation of mock trials and Law Day programs. At present, the association
has over 30 different committees, sections and divisions each actively working
to further the purposes of the bar association.
The Bar Association of Bucks County has come a long way since the 40 members incorporated over 100 years ago.