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The Circuit Circuit Court Case Files
The case files series consists of civil, criminal and chancery (equity) actions filed in the St. Louis Circuit court, its predecessors and subsidiary courts.
*Total Current Volume
126 cubic feet processed
552 cubic feet unprocessed
*Processed Records
1804-1835, 86 cubic feet
Selected cases, post 1835, 39 cubic feet
* As of February 17, 2006.
St. Louis Circuit Court, Office of the Circuit Clerk

All records were created in the course of business by the Circuit Court, its inferior courts, and predecessors as provided for by federal and state law. Upon the separation of St. Louis City and St. Louis County in 1875, the city retained custody of all court records previously produced. These records have remained in the custody of the St. Louis Circuit Court since that time, both in the historic Old Courthouse constructed in 1839-1852 and the Civil Courts Building constructed in 1930. The records are now housed at the Missouri State Archives-St. Louis.
Historical/Biographical Note
The St. Louis Circuit Court case files possess exceptional evidential, informational, and intrinsic value. They document the legal basis of the early court system, profile local individuals of national prominence, and illustrate broad themes of American intellectual and social history.

The bulk of the case files involve civil suits brought by ordinary men and women pursuing justice in disputes over debts, damages and broken promises. Criminal case files dealing with theft, destruction of property, slander, and murder are also well represented. Chancery cases are less numerous, but deal with the equitable distribution of property such as in divorce and land partition cases.

Prominent historical figures featured in these records include Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and Moses and Stephen F. Austin. Other cases involve Missouri's most important nineteenth century U.S. Senator, Thomas Hart Benton, St. Louis's founder Auguste Chouteau, and fur-trade entrepreneur Manual Lisa. The original Dred Scott case (view additional resources) is just one of over 280 freedom suits.

The case files also contain many thousands of pages related to the early fur trade, steamboats, western travel, territorial militia, Indian relations, divorce, immigration, business, commerce, and the Civil War and Reconstruction.
Scope and Content
This series consists of civil, criminal and chancery (equity) action filed in the St. Louis Circuit court, its predecessors and subsidiary courts. Some of the oldest documents in the case files date from as early as 1787.

Case files often include originals or copies of documents from inferior courts such as justices of the peace. These documents pertain to cases in the St. Louis Circuit Court or its predecessors and were transferred by Justices of the Peace on appeal or writ of certiorari from the higher court.

Many of the cases do not include the verdict, judgment, or final resolution of the case, however this information can be found in the corresponding indexed record books.
Physical Description
Case files may consist of the following: hand-written documents or document fragments; preprinted summonses with handwritten entries; and newspaper clippings or advertisements. A small quantity of documents is written in French or Spanish.
Processing Information
Of those records processed thus far, each tri-folded case file has been flattened and cleaned of dirt and coal dust that had accumulated through the years. Items used to attach documents, such as straight pins, ribbons, wax, thread and starch wafers have been removed to allow for filming and scanning. Due to age, environment, use, and paper type, many of the documents have sustained damage over the years and are very fragile. These documents have been placed in protective polyester sleeves. Selected documents will receive additional conservation treatment. All case files have been housed in archival folders and boxes.

As each cubic foot of tri-folded unprocessed case files undergoes processing and re-housing it will expand to approximately 3 cubic feet.
All circuit court case files are arranged in chronological order by Year, Term of Court, and Case Number, as assigned by the clerk of court. Documents within each case file are arranged chronologically by date filed with the court.
Separated Material
Oversized records have been removed from the case files to permit flattening, provide proper safe storage and handling, and access. References to the separated material have been placed in each folder from which documents have been removed.

The Missouri Historical Society has in its collection case files and other records from the St. Louis Circuit Court which date from 1804 to 1967 (Box list, Saint Louis (Mo.). Circuit Court Records, 1804-1967, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis).

Any additional gaps that occur in the records series are due to misfile, loss or damage.
Finding Aids
The original court indexes provide direct access to plaintiffs, defendants, year, term and case file number.

The Missouri State Archives and the American Culture Studies Program at Washington University in St. Louis have worked to produce an on-line, keyword searchable database of all processed Circuit Court cases to facilitate locating specific cases or subjects.
Related Materials
Researchers should also consult other related records for complementary information.
Access Conditions
Original records remain in the legal custody of the St. Louis Circuit Court. Researchers may apply for access by contacting:

Missouri State Archives-St. Louis
Globe Building
710 North Tucker, Room 213
St. Louis MO 63101
(314) 588-1746
Fax (314) 588-9788

The Missouri State Archives-St. Louis determines policies and prices for copies of original documents.
Preferred Citation
The Missouri State Archives, the St. Louis Circuit Court Clerk's Office, and the American Culture Studies Program in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis have created this digital collection for noncommercial, educational, and research purposes.  All references to the materials on this website should be cited as follows:

Plaintiff v. Defendant
Term of Court, Year
Case File Number
(Cite specific document if required)
Circuit Court Case Files
Office of the Circuit Clerk-St. Louis
Missouri State Archives-St. Louis
Office of the Secretary of State
[(Date Accessed),]
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