Before there were police forces, early Ohio towns relied on justices of the peace to maintain law and order. Our June exhibit explores some of these early representatives of the law.
From Worthington’s founding in 1803 until 1955, justices of the peace were the prevailing local authority. According to an article by author and historian Virginia E. McCormick, "Local justice as it was practiced in frontier communities was the essence of self government. Within the five mile square area of Sharon Township, each justice of the peace represented the law."
Elected for three-year terms, JPs operated under a commission from Ohio's governor to perform duties ranging from officiating marriages to certifying notes of credit and debt. One responsibility that frequently fell to JPs was auctioning off the many stray animals found roaming Worthington and the surrounding countryside. Early newspapers were full of notices for "estray" cows and horses.
Some of the numerous JPs that served Sharon Township through the decades include Worthington’s founder, James Kilbourne, as well as Worthington Franklin Griswold, Worthington Columbus Lewis and Edward L. Robinson. Considering that JPs were called upon to settle disputes between their own neighbors, including matters of debt and credit, the weight and significance of the office becomes apparent.