One of my favorite wills, or rather the equity case surrounding it, is that of my 5x great-grandfather Ambrose Smith. He was born March 1, 1756 in Virginia and died March 25, 1839 at the age of 83 in Logan County, Kentucky. He served in the American Revolution and received a pension for his service.
Ambrose moved to Logan County between 1810 and 1811. At some point, he wrote a will and it was entered into probate and written into Logan County, Kentucky's Guardian Book B, on page 27:
|Will of Ambrose Smith as entered into Logan County, Kentucky Guardian Book B, p. 27|
Here is my transcription of the will (a little easier to read, my spacing added for clarity):
“To all whom their presents shall come: Greeting. Know ye that I, Ambers Smith of Logan County state of Kentucky, knowing that it is appointed for all unce? to die and being sound in mind and memory do make an ordin this my last will and testament holey revoking all former wills.
First, that my body decently buried in a Christian like manner and my funeral expenses to be discharged.
Fanny Brooks I give ten dollars of my estate for her portion.
James A. Smith to have my plantation tools. Mary Grinter, Nancy Buckannon, William Smith, Isabella Lee, J. A. Smith that is to have my estate to bee equally to bee divided between them. James A. Smith, Mary Grinter, Nancy Buckanon, William Smith, Isabella Lee except one hundred dollars of Izabella Lee’s portion is to come to Louisa A. Smith for her maintaine untill she comes of age or marry.
I do hereby constitute James A. Smith Robert Grinter to bee Executors of of my estate. This is my last will and testament.
At my death Peggy my black woman is to be free.
John H. Young
Logan County Court, March Term 1839 At a county court held for Logan County at the court house in Russellville on the 25th day of March 1839 the within last will and testament of Ambrose Smith decd. was produced in open court and proven by the oaths of Wm. Harkreadder and Wm. Young two subscribing therto to be the last will and testament of said Smith. Whereupon the same together with this certificate hath been duly admited to record in my office. Given under my hand the date above. M. B. Morton”
Oddly, there is no date on the will. There is also no wife mentioned so she probably died before Ambrose. There aren't any relationships explained either.
Thankfully, Fanny Brooks wasn't happy with her ten dollars.
Fanny, a daughter of Ambrose Smith, and her husband Allen Brooks filed a suit against all the others named in the will. They claimed many things, among them that Ambrose Smith was incompetent to make a will, that the will had been altered without Ambrose's knowledge, and that Ambrose had been forced to make the will. Her claim is this:
"...your oratrix had always been a dutiful and obedient child there is only left by said pretended will to your oratrix the sum of $10."Ambrose Smith named as one of his executors Robert Grinter, who happened to be his son-in-law (and my next ancestor in line). Robert married Ambrose's daughter Mary on March 22, 1813. As executor, Robert led the response to the charges laid down by Fanny. I have no idea what he was really like, but I picture a solid, reasonable man, quietly irritated by all of Fanny's outrageous claims. I think what really wound him up, though, was the "dutiful and obedient child" business. He let her have it in his response:
"He denies that said Fanny had always been a dutiful and obedient child, but on the contrary she had been a most undutiful and disobedient one so far as to become almost a common prostitute and give birth before she was married to said Brooks to two or three illegitimate children. Your respondent admits that there is only left said Fanny $10 by said will but denies most positively that the amount given to her was fraudulently torn out and altered to $10 and he denies that it ever was any other or larger sum."He also defends his father-in-law's state of mind:
"He denies the allegation in the Bill that it is not the last will of said Smith and says that it is his last will and Testament. He denies that as far as he possesses any knowledge said Smith was induced fraudulently to sign said will... He denies any knowledge that any influence was exercised to induce said Smith to disinherit said Fanny or that any person interested or not interested in the Estate possessed the unbounded confidence of said Smith so as to be able to induce any particular disposition of his property, your respt believes that he was influenced entirely by her bad conduct to take the course he did pursue. Your respt admits that said Smith was not one of the strongest minded men and that he sometimes dissipated to some extent but he denies that said decedent was incapable of disposing of his property by will or otherwise on account of old age, bodily infirmity dissipation or any other cause at any time within his recollection and he also denies that said Testator was wholly deranged at the signing of said paper or at any other time as far as he has any knowledge or belief..."The others named in the suit adopted Robert Grinter's response as their own. The case went up before the court.
There is a lot of legalese, coupled with very bad handwriting, but the bottom line is that Fanny and Allen Brooks didn't have a leg to stand on. They contested her father's will, and lost. The will stood as submitted and the Brookses were ordered to pay the defendants' court costs.
This will stands as one of my favorites because of all the details gleaned from the equity case file that followed. When Fanny challenged the will, everything was dissected. One paper in the file is what I call the "score sheet", outlining all the players in the will and case, who they married, if they died during the case and then who their heirs were. What I like even more are the character sketches laid out: Fanny's challenge to her father's capacity, Robert's defense of it; and whatever everyone thought of Fanny.
This case also taught me not to stop with the will book entry. There may be oh, so much more to find!