Fore Note: As we debate whether we need hundreds of thousands of dollars of judges, below is a story of a time before we had any judges. I think we got the general sessions judge around 1960. Likely, Ted Wampler is the last living Justice Of The Peace to have judicial powers.
Remembering when there were justices
Herb Linginfelter-News Herald
If you remember back almost three years ago, I wrote about Ted Wampler and his years as being the last Justice of the Peace for Loudon County. He called a few days ago and said he had some more to tell and show me, so we got together and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute.
He told me of himself and Mose Waller Jr. being elected as the Justices of Peace in May 1959, in a special election held because of the creation of the new fifth civil district. Ted was only 29 years old and he was surely the youngest person to ever be elected to the office of Justice of the Peace in Tennessee.
The justices were known as squires and were elected for a six-year term of office. When the justices sat together as a governing body of the county, they were called the County Court or Quarterly Court. This power continued for the justices until sometime later when they became know as county commissioners.
Ted says this procedure lasted until it became time for people to have a more dignified trial than to be brought into some private home or a business for a court hearing. He never went to the jail to hold hearings as the other justices took turns doing. He was “always too busy making sausage.”
The justices heard both criminal and small civil matters. Certain fees, called “costs,” were collected with the justice receiving $4, the arresting officer $7 and the remaining “costs” being given to the Loudon County Circuit Court.
In case of serious crimes such as felonies, the squire had to decide, based on the hearing, if the accused person should be bound over to a grand jury. That group would determine if the accused should stand trial in criminal court.
The justices also had great power in all the county’s business and made important appointments such as the school board. They also held the county’s purse strings by approving the budgets and the property tax rate. They were often called upon to administer the oath of office for public officials. Ted recalls such a duty in the swearing in of Lenoir City Council members Erskine Foshee, Arnold “Buddy” Jenkins, Don “Red” Kelly, Fred “Butter” Nelson, Nathan Tinder and Harry Wampler.
Another power of the squires was to perform wedding ceremonies. Ted believes there were 150-200 weddings performed in his home. During this period of time, his wife was appointed deputy county court clerk and sold marriage licenses in their home. She received a fee of $1. Their children would often furnish the music for the wedding, and Ted adds John Edd was known to take his thumb out of his mouth long enough to ask, “Do you’ins eat Wampler sausage?”
The groom would always ask what he owed Ted for performing the wedding and Ted would say, “Whatever you think she’s worth.” He said this brought in some pretty big fees and as soon as the groom handed him the money, Ted would give it all to the bride as a wedding present and tell her to “raise a big family and feed them plenty of Wampler’s sausage.”
Ted says the Justice of the Peace has certainly been a colorful figure in Tennessee history and politics. They were a strong political body in our county. In his home, warrants were issued and trials were heard concerning peace warrants, selling mortgaged property, public drunkenness, passing a school bus, assault, appearance bonds, replevin warrants, parents for violation of school attendance, a subpoena to testify, attempted murder, assault with intent to commit a felony, bad checks, search warrants, car stealing and others.
He said there are many stories to be told about the squire’s office and he is thankful to have had the opportunity to be a part of an important era of Tennessee history.
Maybe one day I can tell you about his sausage farm being totally independent of all electric power from a utility board by their use of hundreds of solar panels plus the three huge Caterpillar electric generators fueled by hydrogen gas fermented from switch grass. It will take your breath away just seeing all this.
Just one more thing — we talked about the fact of how close he and I are to being related. His aunt, Texanna Phillips, married one of my uncles, Hodge Linginfelter, making her my aunt. They had seven kids and lived in Tellico Plains, owning businesses there including a big tourist home and a grocery store. Ted agreed to keep this a secret if I would, so don’t tell him I told you.
Herb Linginfelter is a Lenoir City native who often writes of his years growing up here. Contact him at 865-986-7248.