History of the Grafton County Bar Association
In 1770, while still under English rule, a census report was issued by the clerk of Grafton County to King George III stating the following:
Your Royal Majesty, Grafton County, New Hampshire, consists of 1,212 square miles. It contains 6,489 souls . . . including 69 wheelwrights, 8 doctors, 29 blacksmiths, 87 preachers, 20 slaves, and 90 students at the new college. There is not one lawyer, for which fact we take no personal credit but thank an Almighty and Merciful God. [FN 1]
It is ironic that less than thirty five years later the GCBA would come to play a prominent role in establishing an organized bar for both Grafton County and the State of New Hampshire and in overseeing and recommending new lawyers for admission to the bar!
According to BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY, revised 5th Edition (West Publishing Co., 1968), the Grafton County Bar Association [the “GCBA”] is the oldest continuously meeting bar association in the western world. It predates the New Hampshire State Bar Association which is the oldest, statewide bar organization in the United States. For a time, the Grafton and Coos County Bars combined to meet as a single bar association.
The first recorded minutes of the Grafton County Bar date to 1793. The earliest minutes of the GCBA deal almost exclusively with the admission of attorneys to the practice of law before the Grafton County courts. In 1804 delegates from several county bars, no doubt led by the GCBA, met to promulgate regulations for “the gentlemen of the Bar in the state of New Hampshire” which included requirements for admission to the New Hampshire Bar. One of the requirements was that “no person shall be admitted as a student or recommended for practice unless . . . he be duly qualified to be admitted to the first class of students at Dartmouth College.” [FN 2]
Although there is no record of it, it is almost certain that Daniel Webster was a member of the GCBA. He was admitted to practice in 1805. In 1806 he argued a death penalty case involving a murder committed by one Josiah Burnham while a prisoner in the Grafton County jail. Even Webster’s great oratory could not save Burnham and he was executed later that same year. Webster later described his representation of Burnham as “my first and only solitary argument of my whole life against capital punishment.” Webster’s most famous case, Trustees of Dartmouth College v. New Hampshire, was decided in 1817. Both cases were tried in the Grafton County Courthouse in Plymouth, which became known as the Webster courthouse.
The GCBA remained a small county bar association whose membership waxed and waned until an increase in law school enrollments in the 1970’s drove Bar admissions higher. For the first time, membership in the GCBA swelled to over 100. GCBA meetings moved from members’ homes to larger quarters, including the Ammonoosuc Fish and Game Club and George’s Barge Inn.
In September 1993, the GCBA held a bicentennial celebration at the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College in Hanover. The meeting was MC’d by S. John “Jack” Stebbins. Speakers included New Hampshire Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice William F. Batchelder, Attorney General Jeffrey R. Howard (now Chief Judge, First Circuit Court of Appeals), and Susan B. Carbon, then President of the New Hampshire Bar Association.
The GCBA is proud of its history and prides itself on being a leader in county and state bar activities. Membership is voluntary. All who practice in Grafton and surrounding counties are encouraged to join and take part in GCBA meetings. In an age when many attorneys spend much of their day in front of a computer screen, the GCBA provides an opportunity to meet and network with other attorneys in a social setting. GCBA meetings are held twice per year with speakers whose topics typically are only tangentially related to legal matters.
For questions about this history or to obtain further information about the GCBA, please contact the GCBA historian or any officer of the Association.
Eric W. Janson,
Member, Executive Board
Update to the History of the Grafton County Bar Association – October, 2020
The GCBA is the oldest, continuously meeting bar association in the western world. See, BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 5th Edition (West Publishing Co., 1968) (“Blacks”). This update is being provided to ensure that the organization satisfies the “continuously meeting” criteria set forth by BLACK’S.
As of December, 2019 an outbreak of respiratory illness due to a novel coronavirus (now known as COVID-19) had impacted more than 117 countries. On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization and the United States Department of Health and Human Services declared a Public Health Emergency related to COVID-19. All non-essential businesses were ordered closed and indoor, in-person gatherings of more than 10 people were prohibited until further order of the Governor. See State of New Hampshire Executive Order 2020-04 of his Excellency, Christopher T. Sununu.
The GCBA typically meets twice per year – once in the Spring and once in the Fall. The GCBA Executive Board met on September 16, 2020, at the law office of Jason Crance and the law office of David Cole on Route 10 in Lyme, New Hampshire to attend to the business of the GCBA and to ensure that the GCBA continues to meet the “continuously meeting” provision set forth in BLACK’S. Present were the following:
Cara Albert President
James Laffan Treasurer
Kristin Ross Immediate Past President
Eric Janson GCBA Historian
Ora Schwartzburg Member Executive Board
Jason Crance Vice President
Jack Kauders Member Executive Board
Until restrictions on meetings are lifted by the Governor, the Executive Board will continue to meet as necessary to attend to GCBA business and to ensure that we meet “continuously” as contemplated by BLACK’S.
Wikipedia, New Hampshire Bar Association, (March, 2016)
www.martindale.com. The New Hampshire Bar Association (Martindale-Hubbell, 2016)
Deachman, Ross V., A Brief History of the Grafton County Bar 1793 – 1993, distributed as part the Bicentennial Celebration of the Grafton County Bar Association (September 11, 1993) and sources referenced therein.
1 – Brallier, The Appeal, in Lawyers And Other Reptiles II, 22 (1966), (quoted by Charles A. DeGrandpre, Esq., in his column Lex Loci (NH Bar Journal, June 2003)
2 – Deachman, Ross V., A Brief History of the Grafton County Bar 1793- 1993, distributed as part the Bicentennial Celebration of the Grafton County Bar Association, (September 11, 1993).