Sunday, March 11, 2012

Elias James' Will Part 3 of 3 or "Dude, where did all the money go?!?"

8th Item. I give and bequeath onto my two youngest sons, James James and Elias James, all that I shall hereafter in anywisesoever possess, equal share and share alike, only James to have three pounds the most.  I also will that their legacies be placed out on interest for their benefit ‘til they come of age and then to be bound out to good trades [with] sufficient schooling ‘til the age of twenty. 

          This is the part of the will that pertains particularly to my ancestor, twelve-year-old James James (named after his grandfather, in a stunning show of a lack of imagination).  Here Elias gives his two youngest sons four very valuable items:  cash, the preservation of that cash, a career, and an education.
          All of the rest of Elias’ goods and money were to be divided between the two youngest boys, with the elder son receiving the 2012 equivalent of $5325 more than his brother.  Not an enormous amount more, but apparently an effort to equalize the values of their respective inheritances when each boy comes of age.  We don’t know how much additional cash and good Elias has, but based on the final paragraph of the document, in which the will is proved and other legal matters are handled, it would be fair to say that the two little ones received cash worth something similar to their two older brothers’ farms and outbuildings.
          Elias next works to ensure that no one messes about with the boys’ money, directing it be “put out at interest” until they come of age.  In other words, the money was safely in a bank or some other institution designed to invest money, and would remain there until each boy was old enough to handle the money.
          To ensure that they were able to properly deal with their money, Elias required them to both be educated in a trade.  James became a tanner, the smelly, but very profitable, task of turning animal hides into leather.  As a tanner James would find himself always needed for boots, shoes, horse gear, military gear, belts, books, and many household goods which were made of leather.  Leather, together with wool, wood, and iron, were the most necessary items in the early 19th century.

9th.  I also nominate constitute and appoint my son, Thomas James, and my trusty friends Abner Osburn and Owen Thomas to be my whole and sole executors of this my last will and testament and revoke, disannul, utterly make void all former wills by me in anywise made, ratifying and confirming this and no other to be my last will and testament.

In Witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this 29th date of May 1789.

Elias James

Signed, sealed, published, and declared by the said Elias James, the testator, as and for his last will and testament in the presence of us who have subscribed our names and at the request of the said testator:

James Currell
Thomas Humphrey, Junior
Thomas Humphrey

Elias appointed his eldest son and two old friends to be the executors of his estate, signaling his trust in his son and providing Thomas with two trusted advisors who would also be able to declare, should questions arise, that Elias had done all according to his father’s wishes and had not cheated or in any way illegally profited from his position as executor.

At a court held for Loudoun County, October the 12th 1789, this will was proved by the witnesses thereto and ordered to be recorded and on the motion of Thomas James one of the executors therein named who made oath according to law, the other executors having refused to qualify.  Certificate is granted him for obtaining a probate thereof in due form giving security, whereupon he with Abner Osborne and Owen Thomas, entered into acknowledged their bond in the penalty of five hundred pounds conditioned as the law directs of Ann James, widow and relict of this decedent. Personally appeared in court and relinquished any benefit she may have in the said will.

          Elias died five months after executing his will.  As per the law in Virginia at the time, Thomas appeared before the court to prove Elias’ will.  To prove the will Thomas had to provide evidence that his father was dead, produce the will, provide evidence that this father had signed it (thus the witnesses were needed to verify they was Elias sign the will and had, in turn signed it), and then verify that he was the executor and was willing to take on the responsibility of executing his father’s wishes.
          The statement that the “other executors refused to qualify” simply means that, as a courtesy to Thomas, they were deferring to him to carry out the wishes of Elias’ will.  In addition, Anne made her appearance and agreed to accept the will.  (when Anne was referred to as a “relict” that meant literally “a person who has survived from another time” but had come to mean simply “a widow or widower”) 
Then Thomas was required to post a bond of 500 pounds which were to be payable to Anne if required.  (Even today there are instances when an executor must post a bond, basically insurance, so that if the estate is devalued because of any action on the part of the executor, the legatees do not suffer.)  While today a bond may be purchased for $100 - $500, in 1789 the bond had to be sufficient to cover the value of the estate, or 500 pounds in the case of Elias James’ will. 
          And this is why I make the claim that Elias was a successful business man.  Five hundred pounds in 1879 Virginia currency is the equivalent of nearly $900,000 in 2012 currency, and if we are talking pounds sterling, it would have been over one million dollars.   Elias’ estate, consisting to the best of our knowledge of no real estate, and only two leases, various household goods, and cash, was worth close to one million dollars.
          Of course when you divide this between the five surviving children and his wife that means each person received something along the lines of $145,000 worth of cash, goods, and leases.  Not bad for a guy who makes barrels, is it?
          At a later date I will continue with the James family story and see what happened to James’ share of the inheritance and attempt to answer the burning question:  “If Elias was so loaded, then why the heck I am not rich?!?”

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