This week’s prompt is Where There’s a Will. Another challenge… I wish more of my ancestors had left wills. Far too many died intestate. In some of those cases, there was an inventory of possessions taken. Even without the bequests, inventories can be interesting, and provide insight into the daily lives of our ancestors.
There is so much that can be learned from wills. Previously unknown names of parents, children, and children’s spouses, locations our ancestors lived, etc. Often we can read between the lines and deduce relationships between the deceased and their heirs.
One of my ancestors was a widower with several sons and four married daughters. In his will, he spelled out what he bequeathed to each of his sons. Three of his daughters received 20 pounds each. The fourth daughter received 3 shillings. Why??? Did she marry better than her sisters and not need the money? Was he trying to make a point that she was not worthy of a bequest? Like someone leaving pennies for a tip to let the waitress know that her tip wasn’t forgotten; the service was just that lousy.
My 8th great grandfather, Caleb Arnold, was born in Rhode Island in 1725. He died 21 March 1799. His will was written on 1 October 1787.
Caleb first mentions his wife, Susannah. He leaves her his home for as long as she remains his widow. He also leaves her his ‘riding beast’, one ‘milch cow’, and his riding chair. All with the stipulation that she remain his widow, of course. He leaves the bulk of his estate to his three sons Joseph, Samuel, and William. Excepting the sloop built by Thomas Westcott. The will later says that his son-in-law Thomas Westcott “shall have liberty to remove his sloop off my land which he hath lately built”.
A mystery is created by the will. We learn that Caleb’s son Samuel hasn’t been heard from in years, and may be dead.
So, since Samuel is MIA, Joseph and William will split his share. But, I want to know what happened to Samuel! Did he just disappear one day, or did he strike out for another place, hoping to make his fortune elsewhere?
Caleb comes across as a fair man. He leaves his unmarried daughter “as much of my household furniture as to make her equal with what I have already given her other sisters.” He also states she has the privilege to live in his dwellings so long as she remains single.
After he died, an inventory was taken of Caleb’s possessions.
Everything owned by Caleb got listed. Fifteen pewter plates, a metal teapot, 1 old bedpan, 1 copper tea kettle, 2 small skillets, 3 curtain rods, 1 old coffee pot and mill, 7 coverlets, 1 bed quilt, and many more household items.
I noticed an interesting fact when writing this blog post. At the start of the inventory, it reads, “A true inventory of all and singular the personal estate of Caleb Arnold, innkeeper, late of Warwick…” Wait! Innkeeper? The start of the will states Caleb was a yeoman, so I assumed he was a farmer. A Google search of “Caleb Arnold” “innkeeper” generated a bunch of hits. It seems Caleb owned a tavern in the Knightsville section of Cranston, Rhode Island, and when Cranston incorporated in 1754. Caleb’s tavern was chosen by lottery to be the location of the first town council meeting. Fascinating! I’ll have to see what else I can discover about Caleb’s tavern.
Caleb’s will provided some interesting information, but, WHAT HAPPENED TO SAMUEL?? Did he ever return? Did he get his fair share? Wills can be a great source of information, but sometimes they leave you with more questions than answers.