The Law and the County Archives

CCCHS_logoThe story you are about to enjoy was written by the Hon. A. F. Bray, who was a force of nature in Contra Costa County. The county was privileged to have his love of history to guide us. During the late 1930s and early ‘40s, Justice Bray gave a series of weekly radio addresses. These essays were given to the Contra Costa County Historical Society’s History Center (CCCHC) by Lorraine Bray, wife of Judge Bray’s son, A. F. Bray Jr.

The dialogues mainly dealt with the early legal questions that arose on the raw California frontier. Some, however, gave insights into the early life and attitudes of our Contra Costa pioneers.

Justice Bray and his friend, Louis Stein, were the founding fathers of the Contra Costa County Historical Society. Because Bray was an attorney, he naturally favored the history of law as it progressed in our county. The thousands of pages of original court cases that now reside in the archives of the CCCHC were saved by the efforts of Bray and Stein. Approximately 70 percent of the papers and ledgers in the archives are legal documents of some sort.

The CCCHC is the official repository for the historic records generated by the Contra Costa Superior Court in Martinez. The CCCHC urges you to visit the archives at 724 Escobar Street, and become members to help support this important work. Members have research access to all of the records. The Society is self-supporting, receiving a stipend from the county annually, but funding the remainder of its expenses from memberships.

The annual membership for a Sponsor is $75. Members have access to Naturalization and Immigration records (1850-1980), early property Assessment records (1850-1912), early hospital records and court case files (for the most part hand-written from 1850-1910). The R.R. Veale Papers, chronicling the work and daily life of a sheriff who served for 40 years, are also available.

We hope you enjoy these essays about a county that is a linchpin in California history and give your support to protect that history. The History Center is open 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and the third Saturday from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

The Law and Moraga Women

By Hon. A. F. Bray
Contra Costa County, California Broadcast Station
KLX, Oakland, California Number 93
Broadcast March 7, 1938

Children and married women received great protection under the early California law. On some occasions, this protection went to such limits as to constitute a great injustice to persons dealing with them. Take the following case.

In Contra Costa County, that territory upon which is now located St. Mary’s College was a part of the grant made by the Mexican Government to Joaquin Moraga, and which upon his death descended to his heirs, one of whom was his daughter Guadalupe Moraga, who received a one-tenth of the Moraga Ranch. She died in 1856, leaving her tenth interest to her two daughters, Merced and Francisca.

This interest was subject to a long-existing mortgage, and after the death of Guadalupe, the mortgage holder threatened to foreclose, as he wanted his money. The amount due was $600, but the girls, who now owned the property, were having difficulty in raising the money. They both had married although they were still under 18 years of age, and their husbands suggested to them that possibly they could find someone willing to loan them the money on a new mortgage with which to pay the old mortgage.

A chap named Villar came along about this time and agreed to give them the $600, provided they executed a mortgage to him. So with all the formalities required by the law, Merced and her husband and Francisca and her husband executed a mortgage to Villar and cleared the property of the old mortgage.

A little later, Francisca and her husband, being short of money, went to a man named Granada, and in exchange for $200, gave him a properly executed mortgage on Francisca’s share of the Moraga Ranch. Merced followed the example of her sister, and she and her husband executed a mortgage upon her share of the property to a man named Brown, likewise for $200. So there were then three mortgages upon the property aggregating $1000 and all executed by the married Moraga girls, both of whom were still under 18 years of age.

In those days, a girl became of age when she reached her 18th year. That is, a girl arrived at her majority at 18, although a boy did not become of age until he was 21. When Merced and Francisca became of age, they evidently had consulted an attorney well-versed in the law, for each of them immediately disaffirmed and refused to be bound by their mortgages, upon the grounds that they were underage at the time they signed them.

The respective mortgage holders immediately commenced foreclosure suits, saying to the court that they had given these girls an aggregate of $1000, in good faith upon the security of the mortgages signed by the girls and respective husbands, and they could see no reason why the mortgages should not be paid, or the property foreclosed against.

The girls answered saying, “We were minors at the time you gave us the $1000, and therefore you should have known better than to do it and so it is just your hard luck. You will have to kiss the $1000 goodbye.” The mortgagees said, “It is true, you were under 18, but you were married and that made you considered as of age in the eyes of the law.”

But the eyes of the law were rather dim or else well blindfolded because the court said, “A girl under 18 is a minor even though she be a married minor, and the law says a contract with a minor is void. Therefore, mortgage holders, your mortgages with these two minors, Merced and Francisca, are void, no good and of no value, and you have no interest in the Moraga Ranch whatsoever. For your $1000, you get nothing but experience, plus the fact that you were lucky that you didn’t loan these two young Moragans any more than $1000.”

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