Race and Slavery Petitions Project

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PAR Number 11082504

State: Mississippi Year: 1825
Location: Warren Location Type: County

Abstract: Benjamin Bedford, administrator of the estate of the late Dr. Thomas K. McElrath, and Rebecca Cavens, McElrath's widow, and Rebecca's new husband, Elijah Cavens, seek permission to sell land rather than slaves to satisfy debts against the estate. This would better serve the six children who were heirs and "whose education, support, and maintenance depend alone on the proceeds of the labor of the negroes."

PAR Number 11278701

State: North Carolina Year: 1787
Location: Halifax Location Type: County

Abstract: Fanny McNeill, widow of James McNeill of Halifax County, states that his property "was confiscated and sold by the Commissioner of Halifax district which said property your said Petitioner claimed the third part of." McNeill reports that she "has since drawn the money out of the hands of Commissioner," except for ₤270 "in the hands of Joseph Clinch of Nash County, it being the amount of the Sales of three negroes, for which the said Clinch as not yet paid." The petitioner therefore prays that "she may be permitted to receive her proportion."

PAR Number 11281303

State: North Carolina Year: 1813
Location: Gates Location Type: County

Abstract: James Hoffler admits that his "Situation in Life is disagreeable." He reveals that he married his wife Deborah Duttons in September 1802 and that three months later she "deserted my bed and board without Cause on the part of your petitioner." Hoffler reports that his wife give birth to a child while at her father's house and then she "did take up with a man by the name of John Lowance, a person of Collow, by whom she the said Deborah had a child"; Lowance left her and Deborah moved to Charleston, South Carolina. He further discloses that the legislature favored him a few years ago "by passing a Law divesting her the Said Deborah of all right of Dower in my property." Hoffler now prays that a law be passed "Divorcing him ... from the said Deborah."

PAR Number 11484951

State: Tennessee Year: 1849
Location: Wayne Location Type: County

Abstract: One hundred three citizens of Wayne County ask that Susan Signer, the widow of Charles Signer, be given title to the property in his estate. They report that the said Charles died intestate in 1842, "seized and possessed of real estate situated in said County worth about two thousand dollars, some three slaves and some six hundred dollars after the payment of his debts." They further state that "by the laws of this state in force at the time of the death of said Charles the one half of the personal estate and the whole of the real estate owned by him at this death except the right of dower of said Susan in said lands escheated to the said state." Noting that "said property was mostly procured by the care and industry of said Susan," the petitioners pray "that your Honorable body pass a law ... as to vest in said Susan Signer the title and right to said estate both real and personal."

PAR Number 11678604

State: Virginia Year: 1786

Abstract: Robert Todd, the executor of John Todd, and Jane Todd, Todd's executrix and widow, state that "their Testator upon the opening of Land Office in the year 1779 vested the greatest part of his personal property in Land Warrants" that were located "in the District of Kentucky." They lament, however, that "before titles could be obtained for the Lands to which he was intitled he was killed by Indians in an engagement with them." The Todds assert that "a sale of part of the Lands" of said estate would provide support for Mary Owen Todd, the testator's five-year-old child, as well as enable the debts to be discharged; any surplus could "be applied to the purpose of purchasing Slaves," as Jane "would be Satisfied to take her Dower in the Slaves to be purchased, in Lieu of her Dower in the Lands." The petitioners therefore "Pray that an act may pass, appointing Trustees to Sell & convey as much of the Lands belonging to the Estate as will pay off the Demands thereupon and purchase two likely young Negro fellows and one Wench to be vested in the Said Mary Owen Todd & your Petitioner."

PAR Number 11680505

State: Virginia Year: 1805
Location: Middlesex Location Type: County

Abstract: On 29 April 1803, William Steptoe died, leaving a tract of land in Westmoreland County, personal property, and "Negroes." To pay the estate's debts it was necessary to sell the personal property and the slaves; but the land is still in the estate. His widow, Elizabeth Steptoe, is entitled to a portion of the land as her widow's dower and the rest is to be divided in "fee simple" among her eight children, only one of whom, her co-petitioner, Thomas Steptoe, is an adult. Elizabeth Steptoe and her son Thomas represent to the legislature that they have no means to work the land and its division "into so many parts" would be "of little or no value" to any of the heirs. They therefore ask permission to sell the land and invest the proceeds in some fund for the heir's future.

PAR Number 11681011

State: Virginia Year: 1810
Location: King William Location Type: County

Abstract: Mary M. Catlett, the widow of Samuel Jones Catlett, represents that her husband took sundry slaves with him to Georgia on a visit his brother in 1802 with a view of possibly settling in that state. She further reports that he returned to Virginia in 1805, leaving said slaves in the possession and under the control of his said brother John. The petitioner notes that in the interim Virginia passed a law "prohibiting slaves from being brought into this state." Noting that said slaves "are all natives of this state which had been removed for a temporary purpose," the petitioner prays "that a Law may pass authorising her to bring the said slaves ... back into this State within a reasonable time."

PAR Number 11681203

State: Virginia Year: 1812
Location: Nansemond Location Type: County

Abstract: Hill Ballard, "emancipated by the will of Willis Ballard Deceased," asks to remain in Virginia. Ballard represents that he "has a wife, together with many young children in this county." Having "at all times demeaned himself well," the petitioner admits that "it would add greatly to his happiness to have around him those objects the most endearing and affectionate while now old and infirm." Ballard therefore prays "your Honorable Body to Pass a law allowing him in future to reside in this State."

PAR Number 11681523

State: Virginia Year: 1815
Location: Louisa Location Type: County

Abstract: In 1812, Frederick Harris, Esq. purchased a slave named Billey or Billey Eve from the estate of the late Robert Harris and set him up as "superintendent or overseer for a small farm." According to Frederick Harris, Robert Harris had intended to free Billey, but he had died suddenly and intestate. Billey was then allotted to Robert Harris's widow as part of her dower. While in the widow Harris's possession Billey collected some savings, which at the time of the widow's death amounted to $200. When Robert Harris's estate was auctioned off, after Mrs. Harris's death, Billey offered Frederick Harris his savings of $200 toward the price of his purchase and committed to pay $50 per year until the price was fully paid. This commitment he has now fulfilled and Frederick Harris seeks to free him and obtain permission for him to remain in Virginia.

PAR Number 11683209

State: Virginia Year: 1832
Location: Fauquier Location Type: County

Abstract: Six heirs and representatives of the late Turner Dixon represent that the said Dixon died in 1820, leaving his widow Maria and twelve children. The petitioners further state that "a large tract of Land containing between thirteen and fourteen hundred acres and more than fifty slaves which have since considerably increased were allotted to his widow as her dower." The heirs also note that "previous to the death of the said Turner Dixon their aforesaid Mother Maria Dixon was in a state of Lunacy; in which condition she hath ever since remained." Of the opinion that "the proffits of the dower of their Mother are greatly more than sufficient to maintain her in her present condition," the petitioners submit that "it would be greatly for the benefit of the family if the Land and slaves which have been allotted to her and the proffits which have accumulated could be divided amongst her children." They therefore "pray that a Law of the character above indicated may pass."

PAR Number 11683812

State: Virginia Year: 1838
Location: Dinwiddie Location Type: County

Abstract: Sarah W. Harper, the widow of William H. T. Harper and the guardian of her six minor children, represents that her late husband held fourteen slaves at the time of his death. She further states that "a division of the negroes has been lately made under a decree of the County Court of Dinwiddie, in which seven negroes to wit one man, two women and four children have been assigned to her as dower in said slaves ... and to her children one negro each.” Harper notes that her one married daughter "has removed to the State of Missouri, and her oldest son ... who is now nearly grown, has determined to emigrate to that state himself, and only awaits the result of the present Petition with the hope of carrying his mother and younger brothers and Sisters with him." The petitioner therefore prays "that your honourable body will pass a law authorizing her to remove the slaves which have been assigned to her as Dower in her Husbands Estate, and to carry with her her infant children and their negroes &c to the said State of Missouri without the forfeit of her Dower in said slaves: where situated in a more fertile and plentifull country, and in the vicinity of her elder children and friends, she hopes to be able materially to benefit her younger children, as well as to promote her own, and their happiness and comfort."

PAR Number 11684205

State: Virginia Year: 1842
Location: Albemarle Location Type: County

Abstract: The petitioners, sixteen residents of Albemarle County, request a revision of inheritance laws to protect widows. When a man marries, his wife's slaves immediately become his own. When he dies, however, "those very slaves do not revert to the widow as land would." She receives only a life estate in the slaves, meaning she cannot sell them except with the consent of "the reversioners"--the people to whom the slaves will revert at her death. Slaves are "in their nature personal estate, and the law declares them such in every case except that of Dower." The small value of slaves held for life "is evidenced by the fact that most widows die insolvent or nearly so." Dower slaves should be held in fee simple rather than in life estate. Petitioners ask that widows be given the children's reversion which is "worth little to the children at the time the dower is laid off." This would give the wife and widow "an interest in rearing the young negroes."

PAR Number 11684704

State: Virginia Year: 1847
Location: Halifax Location Type: County

Abstract: Sarah Farmer, the widow of Pleasant Farmer, asks to transport a group of slaves out of the state. When her husband died, she explains, she was left with eight small children, seven slaves, and a tract to land. She now asks to sell the land, and take the slaves "and their increase" to Louisiana, where she has relatives who are "able and willing to afford her any assistance that her circumstances may require." The 1839 last will and testament of the late Pleasant Farmer reveals that he had several other children, supposedly from a previous marriage, to whom he did not leave anything in his will, arguing that he already had given them their share of the inheritance. Another related document reveals that the will was contested by the husband of one of the daughters from the first marriage, but that it was ruled to be valid.

PAR Number 11684705

State: Virginia Year: 1847
Location: Jefferson Location Type: County

Abstract: The petitioners seek an amendment to the law regulating the widow's dower rights to law. They represent that, as the law stands, it unjustly forces the husband and children of a remarried widow to raise and provide for the support of slaves inherited by dower only to see those slaves, upon the widow's death, devised by inheritance to her children from the first marriage. This is especially onerous, the petitioners notes, if, as in their case, the inherited slaves are young and will not be ready to generate income for many years, perhaps not until the widow's death when the slaves would be "wrested from them." This situation would mean that the widow's second family would incur all the expenses and the benefits reaped by the children of her first marriage. The petitioners deem this situation extremely unfair and want redress. A letter written by the widow's second husband, Samuel Ruckle, a related document, provides details on the petitioners' case. Ruckle explains that his wife received two old slaves in dower, for whom he had to pay $500 in doctor's bills. Later, when the estate of his wife's first husband, W. A. Butler, was divided, she also received, as her third of the inheritance, two women with fourteen children between them. Samuel Ruckle complains that he does not even know when the two slave women "are going to stop" having more children. He fears that all the money he is pouring into the raising of these two slave families will be for the sole benefit of his wife's child from her first marriage, not for his family.

PAR Number 20184216

State: Alabama Year: 1842
Location: Lowndes Location Type: County

Abstract: Margaret Selina Oliver seeks to divorce her husband, Creed T. Oliver, and petitions for her dower's portion out of the estate of her late first husband, John McGill. During her widowhood, Margaret was the co-administrator of John McGill's "large real and personal estate consisting of lands and slaves and other personal property to a large amount." She reports that when she married Creed Oliver, he took over administration of McGill's estate and that he has made no accounting of the estate since that time. She further claims that Creed "became cruel and barbarous in his treatment to your Oratrix withdrawing all protection and affection from her...that he has with great force and violence thrown at your Oratrix open knives and Table forks that he has loaded his pistol with the intent as he said to shoot your Oratrix." For these reasons, she asks the court for a divorce and her share of her first husband's estate, maintaining that "she is entitled to her dower in all his real estate and to the one fifth part of all the personalty which remain over and above the payment of all his just debts."

PAR Number 20184610

State: Alabama Year: 1846
Location: Montgomery Location Type: County

Abstract: In a marriage contract, Jordan Peters acquired interest "in certain negro slaves" and some town lots. Now Joseph Williams is suing Peters and his wife to force them to pay their debts, with the expectation that they will be able to generate income from the hire of the slaves or sale of the lots.

PAR Number 20185203

State: Alabama Year: 1852
Location: Greene Location Type: County

Abstract: In 1838, George Hays, owner of several plantations and about 180 slaves, died leaving a wife and three small children. In his will he appointed William P. Gould and four other men as executors. In 1839, the other four men having declined the executorship, Gould qualified as such and took possession of the property as administrator of the estate. In 1844, Gould's administratorship was revoked but he continued to work the estate until January 1845. In 1852, when Gould tries to render a final account of his administratorship, the children and heirs, Charles, Mary, and George Ann, by their next friend Robert Leachman, sue. They charge Gould with waste and mismanagement, and specify a number of misdeeds committed by Gould during the years of his administratorship. They point out in particular that he hired an overseer who had a "cruel, brutish and inhuman disposition." The petitioners recount several examples of the overseer's abuse. He abused "a negro man by the name of George, by cruelly whipping him and putting out his right eye;" he abused "another negro man by the name of Claiborne by getting him down and jumping upon his back with the heels of his shoes;" and he beat a third slave so brutally that he later died. Moreover, Gould failed to provide slaves with "blankets or other bed clothing," pushed women to labor long hours in bad weather, and forced slaves to live in "miserable Hovels not fit for horse stables." Most of the "breeding women on said Plantations were rendered almost entirely barren, and worthless as such" and "are subject to continual miscarriages," the petitioners lament, while a large number of children have died. The heirs estimate that the maltreatment and malnourishment of the female slaves have cost them the loss of some forty children through either barrenness of the females or abortions. They also estimate that they lost another fifteen children due to neglect in their tender years. The Hays children, two of them still minors, seek an injunction to prevent Gould from settling the estate and to get compensation for the financial cost of his mismanagement.

PAR Number 20185809

State: Alabama Year: 1858
Location: Lauderdale Location Type: County

Abstract: William Koonce, executor of the estate of George Roach, deceased, explains that after several specific bequests to Roach's widow and children it is necessary to distribute the residue of the property, including eleven slaves, among the children. Koonce requests that the court appoint "five discreet persons" to make the distribution "fairly & impartially." It will also be necessary to appoint a guardian for Riley G. Roach, a minor heir.

PAR Number 20185831

State: Alabama Year: 1858
Location: Henry Location Type: County

Abstract: Susan E. Walker, a feme sole and widow of James T. Walker, prays that the court will restore her distributive share in her husband's estate. James T. Walker died in 1857 "seized & possessed of a large Estate," worth at least fifteen thousand dollars. The estate included several valuable tracts of land and eighteen slaves. Shortly after her husband's death, Susan was invited to visit the home of William Mount, a relative and heir of her late husband, and his family in Georgia. While enjoying "the apparent hospitality & Kindness" of Mount she was asked if she would be willing to sell her dower's interest in the lands of her late husband for twenty four hundred dollars. She accepted the offer, but now realizes that in the contract she later signed to seal the deal she actually bargained away not only her dower's interest but her distributive interest for the previously agreed upon sale price. Being "unable to read or write, & reposing the utmost confidence in the said Mount as a man of truth, good faith & honesty," she did not suspect that he would be capable of fraud and deceit. If it is necessary to rescind the whole contract in order to effect the restoration of her distributive interest, Susan Walker informs the court, she is prepared to do so. But if not necessary, she would prefer that the contract remain in place as regard her dower's interest provided she is able to recover her rights to her distributive share.

PAR Number 20186024

State: Alabama Year: 1860
Location: Pickens Location Type: County

Abstract: In 1852, Jesse Stapp Sr. wrote a will bequeathing his wife Winifred Jane two slaves, Tilda and Amanda. To his child soon-to-be born he bequeathed seven other slaves. Jesse Stapp Sr. died shortly thereafter. A son named Jesse Jr. was born a few months following his father's death. He died two years later in 1854. The widow Winifred filed a written dissent from her late husband's will, claiming a dower in lands and slaves as if her husband had died intestate. Charles M. Fort, the administrator of Jesse Jr.'s estate, now argues that, since the widow has contested the will, Jesse Sr. should be considered as having died intestate, and thus, "under the Statute of descents and distribution of the state of Alabama," Jesse Jr., as the only surviving child, was entitled to the slaves Tilda and Matilda. The slaves should therefore pass to his estate. Fort also argues that one of the clauses in the will, whereby the late Jesse Sr. bequeathed other slaves to several members of his extended family in case he soon-to-be-born child would not survive, should be "void for uncertainty," and the slaves should also revert to Jesse Jr.'s estate. Charles M. Fort sues the executor of Jesse Stapp Sr.'s estate to gain control of the slaves; he sues members of the extended family as well. He also asks for an accounting of the slaves' "reasonable hire." The case was still open in June 1864 when Fort rendered an account of the sale of three estate slaves, to be paid in confederate money.

PAR Number 20186330

State: Alabama Year: 1863
Location: Perry Location Type: County

Abstract: In 1856, an elderly widow, Elendor Price, put her mark on a deed transferring her slave Little Ike to her son Silas Price; the next year, she signed away two more of her slaves, Isaac and Henry. She had no education, could not read or write, and was not informed of what she was signing. Elendor stated that she was "infirm in mind and body from old age and disease and uneducated and ignorant was wholly unable to attend to her farm and the business appertaining thereto." She trusted her two sons, Silas and James Price, to manage her business affairs. Later, she was "astonished" to discover that she had been "deprived of all right and title in the three slaves," and saddened because she was "deceived and defrauded in her old age by her own son." Elendor believes that the slaves "are of great value," worth three times as much as her other property, and that Silas, along with co-conspirator Johnson McCauley, plans to take the slaves away. She wishes to distribute the slaves among her six children and asks that the transfer deeds be "set aside and annulled."

PAR Number 20186434

State: Alabama Year: 1864
Location: Limestone Location Type: County

Abstract: William H. Walker, administrator of the estate of Tennessee resident William Brown, states that there is not enough personal property to satisfy the debts of the estate, and he asks the court's permission to sell real estate belonging to the estate. Brown died in 1862 possessed of one hundred forty-seven slaves, of which "65 or 70 [were] children not old enough to work -- There were 45 or 50 field hands," and considerable property, primarily agricultural products. However, most of the property was destroyed, run off, or consumed by either the Confederate forces which occupied the deceased's land and conscripted some of his slaves to be teamsters, or the Federal forces, accompanied by "contraband negroes," former slaves who followed the Union army, which occupied the lands for a period of time.

PAR Number 20186609

State: Alabama Year: 1866
Location: Limestone Location Type: County

Abstract: Thomas J. Brown, heir of the late William Brown, seeks an injunction to prevent William H. Walker, administrator of the estate of William Brown, from selling the estate's real property to settle debts. Brown states that when the deceased's widow, Mary Brown, was appointed administratrix in 1862, shortly after the death of William Brown, there was enough personal property, excepting slaves, approximately $60,000, to settle all the outstanding debts. Around 1864 or 1865, William H. Walker replaced Mary Brown as administrator and asked the court's permission to sell the real estate. In January 1866, the petitioner purchased Mary Brown's and William L. Brown's interest in the real estate. As owner of the interest in the lands, Thomas Brown seeks to prevent the sale of the land.

PAR Number 20284603

State: Arkansas Year: 1846
Location: Clark Location Type: County

Abstract: The petitioners are the widow and nine of the fourteen children of the late Benjamin Dickinson of Clark County. They are suing the other five children of the deceased. They claim that, during his lifetime, Benjamin Dickinson gave each of his children, upon his or her marriage, some slaves as advancement on his or her future inheritance. The petitioners assert that they and their spouses are now ready and willing to settle the estate, but that their co-heirs refuse to do so. In 1848, when the court finally orders that commissioners proceed to the settlement and distribution of the property among the heirs, the estate contained approximately seventy slaves, adults and children, some of whom had been allocated to the widow as her dower share of the inheritance. This is in addition to the twenty slaves that had been given to the children at the time of their marriage in prior years.

PAR Number 20284604

State: Arkansas Year: 1846
Location: Clark Location Type: County

Abstract: The heirs of the late Isaac Cates Sr. dispute the distribution of his estate and ask the court to intervene. Following Cates's death, John Blakeley and Peter Johnson and Isaac Cates, administrators of the estate, recklessly sold off portions of the estate, including slaves, in order to pay debts, say the heirs. All debts and claims against the estate have been settled and the petitioners ask the court to sell the rest of the estate and divide the proceeds.

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