Russell County, Virginia Wills To 1821, From WIll Books 2, 3, 4 AND 4A
Russell County, Virginia Wills To 1821, From WIll Books 2, 3, 4 AND 4A.
[Containing bonds, certificates, choses, deeds of emancipation and enfranchisement, delinquent taxpayers, inquisitions ad quod damnum, inventories, powers of attorney, vendues, wills and sundry other unexpected matters of record].
From the Introduction:
Many of the surviving county records for Russell County VA are available in print or on line, in various forms. I have tried to assemble the testamentary and probate material of Russell County up through 1821.
Several courthouse volumes contained early wills; the common practice was to record something in the most convenient place. There is accordingly much overlap and disorder of dates. The lost Will Book 1 covered the period to 1803. Will Book 2, here in its entirety, covered 1803 to 1812 in 276 pages. Will Book 3, also complete here, covered 1812 to 1821 in 362 pages. Will Book 4, 1809-1898, with 96 pages included material from the Superior Court of Law, the Circuit Superior Court of Law and Chancery and Circuit Courts. I have transcribed only the material to 1821 to coincide with the end of Will book 3. Will Book 4a was the successor to Will Book 3, covering 1821 to 1835 in 708 pages. I add here pages 19-41, ending with the estate of James Osbourn who died in December 1821. I have not included any wills recorded in deed or minute books.
Since Will Book 1 and Marriage Book 1 were unfortunately destroyed by fire, we pick up, as it were, in the middle of the story told by the Deed Books and Law Order books. In this collection may be found something of interest to almost any researcher of the period. Students of the treatment of slaves will find sales, emancipations, certificates of importation, requests that families not be separated (4a:35), and instructions that they be given a horse and money to transport themselves to their new owner and that they be allowed to choose their masters (3:208). In contrast, 2:196 bequeaths slaves on condition they be kept in servitude. Environmental concerns are addressed in the inquisitions ad quod damnum and the arrangements for timber and stone to build the new courthouse town. Economic historians will observe the retention of British alongside American currency. Those watching the emerging status of women will note Rhoda Horton could serve as security for Mary Black, executrix, in 1816. Old Mrs Powers appears in the same list as Old Mr Powers. Women were identified as senior and junior in the same fashion as men: remembering that in this era the terms only distinguished older from younger, not necessarily a parental/child relationship.
An unusual deed (3:203) has a father enfranchising his 15 year old son, releasing him from further service to his parent and allowing him to enter contracts, choose his occupation, and buy and sell, all at his own risk. James Osbourn and William Tiller appear to leave legacies for non-legitimate members of the family. There is much of human interest in these ledger pages: my favorite is the late night discussion of a codicil forestalled by the overnight death of the testator, although the defense of a reputed widow on the grounds of bigamy in 3:270 is also quite good.
Wills and inventories can flesh out inferred relationships, can show parent/child interactions, can educate us on what a well equipped farmer had at his death and what was the minimum a newly starting farmer needed to purchase. Next to a horse, the most expensive item commonly inventoried was a bed, its bedstead, and furniture. Wagons and stills were also high dollar property. Items people made for themselves (tables, chairs) had a low value, but metal work mattered, since even broken shovels and cracked pots were listed. Looms and items of textile production were ubiquitous. The tools in the inventories show that most men could turn their hands to many trades. Only if a man was specifically identified as being a smith, for example, did I index him so under occupations, since many had smithing tools for home use. I did not index people who practiced as attornies or who held military titles.
A treatise could be written on the orthography of the period, particularly on recording numbers. The clerk for the majority of the text, James Carrell, didn’t see the use of leading zeros. He would record a value as $1 6, instead of 1.06. He didn’t believe in trailing zeros either, and wasn’t entirely certain about the value of a decimal point. When used, the decimal point may be written as a single or a double dot, or even a colon. I have edited columns of numbers to line up vertically and used a single decimal in the columns for ease of modern users, although elsewhere I usually tried to observe the variegated examples. Math errors were common. I expect I have added to some of them by the difficulties of transcription. A study of the prices for items at the vendues make it clear that throughout the period some items were sold at pence and translated to cents, and the dollar was commonly broken into 8 bits: notice the frequency of prices in multiples of 12½ cents. Perhaps the auctioneer cryed the prices in bits or equivalents. Even sixteenths of a dollar appeared regularly: 6¼ cents was a common sum. Dividing a dollar into thirds occurred rarely. By the end of the period the tendency was to round items to uniform prices in quarter dollars.
Although an Indian presence was not the daily threat it was a generation ago, tomahawks appear in several inventories between 1801 and 1816, and a deed in 1805 mentions a Chickasaw horse. Military accoutrements (epaulets) and professional (usually surveying) articles appear. What medical items were listed generally apply to horses, although some ‘remnants of medicine’ were included in inventories. Chemicals associated with dying and gunpowder were not uncommon. No toys, cradles or infant paraphernalia appeared. Domestic animals and birds were listed but no dogs or cats: the bylaws of the town of Evansham (now Wythevilled) at that time (1812) regulated dogs and cat carcases.
There are several lists in this volume. Of course, there are lists of buyers at many of the major estates, but the long list of lands sold for taxes in 1815 (3:155) gives clues to absentee landlords. The list of debtors to Colbird Fugate’s account book (Blacksmith shop?) will introduce us to small holders who may not otherwise appear in the legal record. The list of signatories to the endorsement of Rev Thomas Burch (3:204) shows the other end of the social spectrum, those who expected their names to carry weight.
Religion is low key in this volume. There are 2 named pastors, several of the books identified in inventories are bibles, hymn books, or other religious material, and the preambles to wills and emancipations often include some statement of belief. Curiously, those statements are frequently worded in near-identical terms: Were there several pious testators, or one pious legal scribe? Why was the man in Timothy Burgess’s will called ‘Methodist William Wright’ Stephen Fuller made an oath on the Holy Evangelist instead of by the more usual so ’help me God’. Document 4:3
was validated by two witnesses: one by oath and the other by affirmation, indicating a Quaker influence.
Fascinating and unexpected items appear in the inventories. A few items can be followed from sale to sale. What is the story behind the conch shell, so many miles from the sea? What use did Andrew Hebourn have for a Lectrifying Machine in 1820, and what did it do? Consider what did not appear in the inventories: for the most part the only clothing listed was that of the deceased, although James Ervin was credited with a silk dress. The first clock appeared in 1821. Unless the small items collectively known as ‘cupboard furniture’ contained fancy pieces, there were only a few unnecessary fripperies included as trumpery and only one painting (of St Paul). Household furniture in exhaustive detail was itemized, but very seldom were the houses themselves; the first improvements sold at vendue were in 1815 (3:176, 179). Watches appear, but not jewelry, stored food but not victuals in the pantry, tanned leather but rarely animal furs, candle molds but not candles (although fat and tallow were listed!). The schema in the minds of the appraisers was clear to them, but nebulous to us.
Consider a widow buying back her household furniture: was there a courtesy to step back and let her bid on things first? A quick scan of sale vs appraisal prices where the buyers have the same surname as the decedent does not seem to suggest that family members purchased at an advantage, although someone with more socio-economic training may be able to detect a pattern. Sadly, the conch shell, appraised at 75 cents, and probably of sentimental value only to George Powers’ widow, was bid up to $2.50 and acquired by Jacob Lambert.