Litchfield Law School collection, 1773-1990
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Brief Description:

In 1773, the newly married Tapping Reeve and Sally Burr Reeve settled in Litchfield where Reeve promptly established a legal practice. The following year, Sally's brother Aaron Burr came to live with them and Reeve began to instruct him in the law. Several prominent residents of Litchfield also sent their sons to Reeve for legal training, establishing his reputation as a teacher and forming the nucleus of what was to become America's first formal school of law.

As the number of students increased, Reeve began to develop a series of formal lectures that prepared students to take the bar exam and practice law. In the years following the Revolution most lawyers taught through the apprenticeship system because there were no schools that offered law degrees. Reeve’s decision to pass on his legal knowledge through formal organized classes distinguished him from others who were training new lawyers. By 1784 the number of students enrolling outgrew the space in Reeve's parlor office, prompting Reeve to construct a one-room school building next to his house.

Through his lectures, Tapping Reeve sought to train his students in legal principles and their application to any legal situation. Reeve and his eventual partner James Gould, developed a detailed eighteen month course of lectures, covering every aspect of legal practice. Students took copious lecture notes that they then carefully re-copied and had bound into leather volumes. These volumes provided the Litchfield Law School graduates with the basis of their office law libraries. The students then used their bound notes as reference manuals for the rest of their careers.

Alumni of the Litchfield Law School had a tremendous impact on the development of the new nation, shaping the creation of the American legal and judicial systems, and profoundly influencing subsequent developments in legal education. Reeve's emphasis on a system of legal principles rather than local laws and statutes, his use of legal cases in teaching, his establishment of student moot courts, and his division of lectures into subjects, all shaped legal education as we know it today.

The Law School attracted over 1,200 students from 13 states and territories to study in Litchfield. Graduates formed a network of leadership and influence that encompassed public service, business, and other areas of American life. Ultimately, the small law school would educate two US vice-presidents (Aaron Burr and John C. Calhoun), as well as 14 governors, 14 members of the federal cabinet, 28 U.S. Senators, 100 members of the House of Representatives, three Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, and many other state and local public officials.

This collection includes materials pertaining to Tapping Reeve, James Gould, the Litchfield Law School, and alumni of the school.  It was assembled by the Historical Society over a period of years.  The student images were originally collected for display on the walls of the Tapping Reeve House.  When the house was reinterpreted in 1998, the photos were relocated to the Litchfield Law School Collection.

Many of the published law books used by Reeve and his students are also held by the Society and can be found through the book catalog.  The Society's institutional records document the history of the Tapping Reeve House and Litchfield Law School building.  There is no known comprehensive collection of Tapping Reeve's personal or business papers though collections such as this contain examples of his correspondence and legal work.

Held at:
Litchfield Historical Society
7 South Street, P.O. Box 385
Litchfield, CT 6759
Phone: 860-567-4501
Fax: 860-567-3565
Email: archivist [at]
Created by: Litchfield Historical Society, Gould, James (1770-1838), Reeve, Tapping (1744-1823)
Volume: 1.67 Linear Feet
Acquired: 01/01/1890. Gifts of Mrs. Nathan Rochester Child (1902); Jeannie Gould Lincoln (1908); Mrs. Emily N. Vanderpoel and Capt. Edgar Van Winkle (1915); George Gould Lincoln (1916); John D. Champlain, Jr. (1919); Grace Bigelow (1925); Esther Thompson (1931); Samuel Fisher (1932); Samuel A. Herman (1932); George Dudley Seymour (1932); Augustus N. Hand (1933-18-0); Katharine P. Loring (1933); Mary Floyd Williams (1942); Floyd R. DuBois (1946); Dorothy Telfair Mills Parker (1946); Floyd R. DuBois and Frank DuBois; Mrs. Mendenhall (1950); Epaphroditus Peck (1950); Mrs. G. Glen Gould (1955); Floyd L. Thoms (1968); Mrs. Lamar M. Fearing (1972); John D. Taylor (1979); Jane Endicott (1986); Mariam Greenberg (1988); Oliver Wolcott Library (1991); Museum purchase (2002); Malcolm and Carol Bramley (2004).
More information is available at

The collection is arranged in three series.

1: Period documents, 1785-1835

2: Research materials, 1773-1978

3: Printed materials, 1828-1990

Access Restrictions: The collection is open for research.
Subject Index
Gould, James, 1770-1838
Law - Study and teaching - Connecticut
Law--United States--Study and teaching
Law students - Connecticut - Litchfield
Lecture notes - Connecticut - Litchfield
Litchfield Law School
Reeve, Tapping, 1744-1823
Genres/Forms of Material
Circulars (fliers)
Judicial records
Lecture notes
Languages of Materials
English [eng]
Rights/Use Restrictions: Unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on use. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.
Acquisition Notes: Various  Gift and purchase
Related Materials:

Related to Series 1: Lecture notes: George Catlin Woodruff's student law lecture notes (5 volumes) are in the Woodruff Family Collection, Litchfield Historical Society. Reeve Collection, Litchfield Historical Society. Student law lecture notebooks are located in many repositories including: the Lillian Goldman law Library, Yale Law School,; Harvard law Library,; Columbia Law School Library,; and the Connecticut State Library,

The Samuel Fisher collection contains research notes and correspondence from Fisher's effort to create a comprehensive catalog of Litchfield Law School students.  His catalog is also held by the Society.

Many other collections contain personal and business records of Litchfield Law School students.  Some collections related to Tapping Reeve can be found at:

Reeve Family Papers at Yale University Manuscript and Archives

Related Publications: Many of the law books used by Reeve and his students are in the Society's collection.  Find them by searching the online book catalog.
PreferredCitation: Litchfield Law School collection, Litchfield Historical Society, Helga J. Ingraham Memorial Library, 7 South Street, P.O. Box 385, Litchfield, Connecticut, 06759.
Finding Aid Revisions: A finding aid for the Student Lecture notes was created in 2005.