Ephraim Kirby (1757-1804) is best remembered for compiling the first formal volume of law reports in America. However, Kirby fulfilled many more roles during his
47 years - he was also a farmer, patriot, soldier, attorney, state legislator, candidate for
Governor, and the first Superior Court Judge of the Mississippi Territory. He died at Fort Stoddert before learning that President Jefferson had
appointed him Governor of the Mississippi Territory.
Judge Kirby served in the Revolutionary War, volunteering for service after the Battle of Lexington. He was present at numerous battles from Bunker Hill to Germantown. After the war, Kirby studied law at Yale and was admitted to the bar. He he practiced in Litchfield, Connecticut. Following American independence, there was a clear need for a written record of state court decisions in order to distinguish the expanding body of United States common law from English common law. When the Connecticut legislature passed a law in 1785 requiring judges to prepare their decisions in writing, Kirby had already begun his own compilation of Connecticut decisions for private use. He was persuaded to expand his task for publication, and Kirby's Reports were born.
Published in 1789, Kirby's Reports or Reports of Cases Adjudged in the Superior Court of the State of Connecticut, from the year 1785, to May, 1788, with some Determinations in the Supreme Court of Errors is a fascinating record of the legal history of Connecticut's courts. Kirby wrote in his preface, "I have avoided technical terms and phrases as much as possible, that it might be intelligible to all classes of men."
Ephraim Kirby has the distinction of being the first Superior Court Judge in what is now Alabama and is so honored in the archives of that state. His life is chronicled at their web site. In addition, his correspondence with President Jefferson can be read in the Thomas Jefferson Papers from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress.
For other reading about the early Connecticut Reports, see 70 Conn. Bar J. 407.