Zephaniah Swift was one of the most accomplished early American jurists. A resident of Windham, he served many years in the Connecticut legislature, served two terms in Congress, and spent 18 years as a judge in the Connecticut Superior and Supreme Courts. But perhaps his most significant historical contribution was his authorship of the System of the Laws of the State of Connecticut (1795-1796), the first American legal treatise.
The System of the Laws of the State of Connecticut articulated the common law of Connecticut based on the practices of local judges, but it also provided a comprehensive view of the English common law, presented in a straightforward and systematic manner. The work became a standard treatise for lawyers, judges, and students in Connecticut and was highly regarded throughout the nation. It was issued on a subscription basis, with a subscriber list that included George Washington, John Adams, Aaron Burr, and other notables, representing all the states of the union.
Swift’s contributions to the legal field did not end there. In 1797, he was chosen to compile the first official set of U. S. statutes, which became known as "Folwell’s Statutes." In 1810, Swift wrote A Digest of the Law of Evidence, the first American treatise on that subject. And in 1822, he authored his most well-known work, the Digest of the Laws of the State of Connecticut. Modeled after Blackstone’s Commentaries, it referred to Connecticut law but covered American law generally and was used throughout the U. S. It had significant influence at the time and is still being cited today.
For more, see:
An Unpublished Letter of Zephaniah Swift, Elizabeth Forgeus 11 New Eng. Quarterly 180 (1938)
The Development of a Common Law System in Connecticut, Leon P. Lewis 27 Conn. Bar J. 419 (1953)
Biographies of Connecticut Judges: Zephaniah Swift, Hon. Patrick B. O’Sullivan 19 Conn. Bar J. 181 (1945)