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Hartford Courant (Sept. 16, 1966) at 1, 4


LITCHFIELD -- Irascible, 72- year-old Navy Capt. Herbert S. Jones, curator of the Litchfield Law School, learned Thursday the government no longer considers his school the nation's first.

The National Park Service, under pressure from the College of William and Mary at Williamsburg, Va., said it will amend a citation naming the Litchfield school "America's first law school."

The new citation will designate the site as ". . . the first in the United States not associated with a college or university."

What this means, in diplomatic language, is that the Litchfield school, officially, is now the second oldest law school in the nation.

Won't Return Plaque

But Capt. Jones hasn't heard anything "officially" and until he does, he said Thursday, he's going to "ignore all this talk."

When the National Park Service asks for its old plaque back, Capt. Jones said he won't give it to them.

"I'm not even putting up their damn plaque," he said.

The plaque was given to the school in June when then National Park Service decided the school in Litchfield was the oldest. But Capt. Jones hasn't put up the plaque because "it looks more like an advertisement for the Interior Department than for the school."

Jones said that when he hears from the Park Service, which is part of the Interior Department, we will ask for a hearing to present the facts.

"William and Mary doesn't stand a chance," he said. "We're going to get our facts together, and then we're going to blast. I'm not a bit worried."

But the Park Service is.

"They're starting the Civil War all over again," one official said.

The war between the schools started more than 50 years ago. It simmered for years, occasionally exploding for a few months, and then subsiding. But all through the years, the question remained unanswered: Was Litchfield or William and Mary the nation's oldest law school? There were no other contenders.

Capt. Jones took over as curator two years ago and decided to settle the matter He studied available documents for months before uncovering evidence he said proved Litchfield was fully five years older.

The evidence was presented to the Interior Department and the National Park Service selected the Litchfield school last June.

Word of the dedication reached the William and Mary campus several weeks later and, according to the National Park Service, the faculty "was up in arms."

An inquiry was begun and U.S. Rep. Thomas N. Downing of Newport News, Va. asked the government to reconsider.

The government agreed, and Wednesday announced it was changing its mind in favor of William and Mary.

"I was amazed." was all Capt. Jones could say immediately. Later, he thought plenty.

The Litchfield Law School was founded by Tapping Reeve in 1774, when he began teaching students in his home. Ten years later a school was built next to his home. The students did not "graduate" or receive diplomas, but they learned the law and when they were ready, they took the bar exams.

William and Mary claims the students were reading the law, not studying it. They claim that the school didn't actually start until 1784, when Reeve moved into the small school room.

The Marshall Wythe School of Law at William and Mary, however, started in 1779 when the Board of Visitors established a professorship of law and police and named Colonial attorney George Wythe as the first chairman. Wythe had been Thomas Jefferson's first law tutor.

Capt. Jones says he has biographies of 12 students who studied at Litchfield before 1779, the year William and Mary's school was founded. And what is more, he says, there is ample evidence Tapping Reeve graduated 100 students before he even built the little school house.

And, if that isn't enough, Jones asks, why did so many southerners come north to study at Litchfield? "All our early students were from the South, but why in Hell did they pass William and Mary to get here?" The answer, Capt. Jones says, is because there was no William and Mary.

"John C. Calhoun studied at Tapping Reeve's School," Capt. Jones said. "And he had to drive through William and Mary to get here."


Legal Education, Law Schools, History