Windows into the Past: Explore the Rich Content of the Session Papers

The Scottish Court of Session Digital Archive Project is an initiative to explore everyday life in early America and the British Atlantic world of eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries through Session Papers. These printed materials were submitted to Scotland's supreme civil court as part of the litigation process. As a court of appeal and of first instance, the Court of Session in this period held jurisdiction over contract and commercial cases, matters of succession and land ownership, divorce proceedings, intellectual property and copyright disputes, and contested political elections. Scottish women, Virginia merchants, aristocratic Highland proprietors, famous authors, enslaved laborers, soldiers, American Loyalists, and many more individuals sought justice before the Court of Session in this era.

The documents presented here date from the late 1750s to the late 1830s, a period encompassing the Seven Years' War in North America and the Great Reform Act in Scotland. They are held by the Arthur J. Morris Law Library at the University of Virginia School of Law and the Library of Congress. The combined digital collection will eventually include approximately 10,000 printed petitions, answers, replies, and case summaries, many of which have contemporary annotations. Supplemental case materials appended to these documents include maps, building plans, and printed copies of correspondence, wills, financial accounts, and census reports. These documents, along with the research-driven metadata included with the digital records, offers scholars and the public new ways to explore our transatlantic past.

Entry Points

Curated Themes offer researchers different thematic entry points into the Court of Session cases offered in SCOS. By bringing cases together under common headers often distinct from a case’s legal subject, these curated themes are designed to provoke new questions and new ways of thinking about Session Papers as a form of historical evidence.

The Edinburgh-based Court of Session heard legal disputes involving people and organizations who lived and worked in Edinburgh as well as far beyond Scotland's capital. The case map offers a spatial perspective on the law and its reach in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 

The Court of Session heard disputes involving people and organizations that traversed the British Atlantic world. Session Papers captured the words and deeds of women and men both ordinary and powerful as they defended their interests in the Edinburgh-court or became involved in a legal controversy. Many of the individuals in SCOS are well known; many others may make their only appearance in the historical record within these documents. Explore the lives of these individuals with SCOS's People and Organizations glossaries.  

SCOS’s mission is to encourage new Session Papers-based research into the history of the British Atlantic world. The scholarship page features blog posts by SCOS team members on recent research into Session Papers, project updates, and new insights into the people and places identified in the collection.

SCOS provides access to digital copies of Session Papers held by the UVA Law Library and the Library of Congress. Search through the holdings of each institution by archival box or bound volume.

The UVA Law Library acquired its Session Papers in the-mid 1980s. The collection guide provides a general overview of the documents in the library’s collection.