BIDDEFORD — Back in colonial America, many laws were based more upon the authority that established them rather than an overall merit to society, and lawyers were widely regarded as tradesmen who earned questionable livings through cleverness and trickery.

With Biddeford and much of York County existing on the edge of the British colonies, early legal proceedings prior to the Revolutionary War and the eventual adoption of the U.S. Constitution are fascinating studies in what was to evolve into the American legal system we use today.

With that in mind, the Biddeford Historical Society will explore “The Dawn of the Biddeford and York Court System” in a fireside chat open to the public at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13, at the historic Biddeford Meetinghouse on Meetinghouse Road.

“It is fitting that this discussion is held at the historic Biddeford Meetinghouse,” said Denis Letellier, Biddeford Historical Society president. “It is the earliest meetinghouse in Maine and the very place that one of our Biddeford greats, Jeremiah Hill, was tried for heresy.

Letellier said that although Hill’s trial was a religious event and not a formal legal trial, it nonetheless shook the fabric of early Biddeford society.

And according to Letellier, Hill is remembered in the city to this day and Hill Street in Biddeford is actually named after him.

York County Superior Court Judge Michael Cantara has studied colonial-era law extensively and will be the presenter at the fireside chat.

“Judge Cantara will lead us 300 years back in time to explore how the early court system worked, not only in Biddeford, but also in York County,” Letellier said.

Cantara will give participants invaluable insight into the early Biddeford court system and the venue in which it took place.

“He will provide a window into court cases that were significant and their implications for even today’s litigation,” Letellier said.    

Admission to the fireside chat is free and desserts and refreshments will be provided to participants. 

Letellier said that the Biddeford Historical Society is a window into Biddeford’s rich and vibrant history dating back to the early 1600s.

“Through concerts, lectures and reenactments, the society shows the community the treasures that are still with us today from the oldest meetinghouse in Maine to early maps and Indian trading posts,” Letellier said. “The society draws its wealth of information from thousands of sources such as early diaries, church records, maps, legal records, vital statistics and letters.”

For more details, call 468-9305 or 282-1000.

— Executive Editor Ed Pierce can be reached at 282-1535 ext. 326 or by email at [email protected] 


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