My Poor Inheritances

Got a call from a cousin over the weekend seeking information about our grandfather’s family. He thinks he has found a distant relative in England and wants to confirm it.

Anyway, it got me thinking about our ancestry so I got to climbing around the limbs of the family tree. One of the things that someone discovered a couple of years ago was the probate of Thomas Chapman’s estate. Thomas died in 1848 and he was my great, great, great-grandfather.

What I recall about Southern economic classes Thomas would have not been a member of the planter class but because he did own land and several slaves he was what my history text called a yeoman farmer. In other words, solidly middle-class.

He had a small herd of children and the one I evolved from was a younger son named Hewlett. The more valuable pieces of the estate went to the older sons and my great, great grandpa would up with the following:

1 Deed for Land 679.00
1 Bed 8.00
1 Sorrel Mare 30.00
1 Cow and Calf 8.00
1 Sow and pigs, 1 (can’t read) 3.50
1 Sheep, Ewe 1.00
1 Rifle Gun 3.00
Cash 10.00
1 Pork Hog 10.60

Total $753.10

I think it is interesting how each item is listed separately and in the list for other children it even list things as simple as a hoe or a shovel.

The most interesting part of the probate is the listing of the slaves. There were over twenty of them and they are mostly identified by a first name followed by their monetary worth. Coming to grips with this family reality is a little unnerving.

While Thomas Chapman had something to hand down to his heirs my father, Charles W. Chapman, not so much. My father passed in 1984 and whatever he had belonged to my mother. When she passed in 2003 what she had was divided between my brother and me.

Our parents never had much real property. They never owned a home, never owned a car, never saved or invested to any great amount, and because my mother lived into her mid 80s, what little she did have was long gone.

So, when we moved all her belongings into my garage I searched through the pockets of clothing, various boxes, and old purses just to make sure nothing of value got thrown away. I came up with her wedding rings, a JFK silver half-dollar, a Morgan silver dollar, an US $2 bill, a couple handfuls of pennies, and a $1 bill from Bermuda. After checking the collector value of the silver coins it came to a whopping $23.00. I offered my brother $12.50 but he graciously told me to take my wife out for a cheeseburger.

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