Friday, July 19, 2013
Two years ago, I wrote a column containing snippets of wills I read in a fascinating book, “Abstracts of Wills, Georgetown County, South Carolina.”
The book is in the Local History Room at the Georgetown County Library on Cleland Street.
Two local women, Elizabeth J. Ashford and Sarah P. Lumpkin, combed through early probated wills and collected them for this book.
The wills were transcribed by Dorothy O. Teel.
I’ve read many books about our local history, but reading these wills gives a more personal perspective on the thoughts and attitudes of those living here in the last two centuries.
Wills written by wealthy plantation owners prior to the Civil War often bequeathed slaves to the heirs. Some were named, others referred to as “my six negroes” or “all of the negroes on my plantation”.
I’m going to stop here to acknowledge that the Civil War is also known around these parts as the ‘War of Northern Aggression,’ the ‘War for Southern Independence’, and my favorite - the ‘Late Unpleasantness.’
Anyway, the interesting thing about the pre-war wills is that the wealthy planters wrote their wills as though their way of life would continue for generations.
On the one hand, slaves were bequeathed alongside plows and cattle and the family silver.
On the other hand, some slave owners showed their devotion to individual slaves, as in the following excerpt from one of our wealthiest planters. The will was written in 1854.
“Tom, my driver who during a long period to tried confidence in highly responsible positions has never to my knowledge betrayed his trust and to whose fidelity I attribute much of my success in life . . . Molly, his wife . . . Jacob my principle house servant, a feeble man who has exercised the uttermost of his ability to advance the comfort of my household and who has established among my friends and acquaintances an enviable reputation for politeness, capability and fidelity . . . the declining age of these three negroes I wish rendered as comfortable and happy as their sphere of life will admit.”
A post-war will, written in 1871, reveals how much things had changed: “To Maria Sparkman, a colored woman recently my slave now wife of Jerry Sparkman, a black man, former slave of Francis Green – the tract of land on which I now live 120 acres W. side of Black River road within 1 1/2 miles of said road.
Stock of Hogs, Cattle, Goats. To be vested in said Maria to be used by her, her children, brothers and sisters, not to be subject to control by her husband nor husbands of any named females.”
Wow! The woman who wrote that will not only showed her devotion to her former slave, she also let everyone know who was to ‘wear the pants’ in that family.
Another post-war will, written in 1881, leaves to “faithful servant” Minda Lance $200 and 100 acres of pineland on the Black River, “designed for Minda to have front on public road leading to Choppee.” She, along with other former slaves, was also to receive a cow and a calf.
These wills reveal so much about family relationships.
A will written by a woman in pre-war Georgetown County leaves everything to her grandson, should he return home. If not, he gets nothing from this sizeable estate which included houses, furniture, slaves, jewelry and a “cow with brass tipped horns.”
In 1879, a man leaves everything to his two younger children. The two older sons were to receive one dollar each “in consequence of their leaving me when quite young and not accumulating what property I now possess.”
The 1917 will of a prominent Georgetonian makes it clear how he feels about his wife.
“To my wife, I give nothing at all, that she shall have no part of my estate whatsoever.” Uh-oh, hope she squirreled away something during their marriage.
To the women who put this book together ... thanks for the memories.
I may be reached at (843) 446-4777 or email at email@example.com.