Document boxes such as these, at one time hidden away in desks and cupboards, once contained the gold for which genealogists and family historians go in search of today in court house vaults and on the Internet: Letters, Inventories, Deeds of Property, Last Wills and Testaments, tangible proof of lifetimes lived and recorded. Now the boxes turn up in antique stores, their once precious contents long lost to those of us who would read them with the savor of discovery.
In 2000 and 2001, when I first started using the Internet to research family history, I was surprised at what I could unearth with some persistent searching and sleuthing and bookmarking for future reference. Resources have greatly improved in the last 12 years as I have continued with my prospecting in fits and starts. I still regard myself as a beginner in this endeavor, so I am inspired by what I see other people have accomplished and displayed through their blogs and websites. We used to think only “important people” would be worthy of such close scrutiny into their daily lives, or be the subject of “biography”; but today any American ancestor can have his or her day–if we descendants are persistent in our hunts and imaginative in our presentation. When I discovered the Wills of my ancestors John Hart, Sr., his son Caleb Hart, and Caleb’s son Nowel Alfred Hart, I will admit I was surprised to learn of the social and economic history these documents divulged through the names of slaves bequeathed as inheritable property. James Hart
The Last Will and Testament for Three of My Earliest Ancestors:
John Hart, Sr., Caleb Hart, and Nowel Alfred Hart
~ the first three currently known generations of my ancestry ~
John Hart’s will, book 2 Page 34 (2 June 1793) Charlotte Co. VA
JOHN HART SEN Will Charlotte County Virginia
Last Will and Testament of John Hart sen.
Charlotte Co., Virginia, Will Book 2, Page 34-34a
In the name of God amen I John Hart sen. being apprehensive of the uncertainty of life and afflicted at this time by a disorder which may prove mortal do in my sound mind and memory, constitute and ordain this to be my last will and testament. Imprimis I do give To my son Caleb Hart and his heirs a negro boy named Ned & a girl named Jude, Item I do give to my son William Hart and to his heirs two negro boys named London and James, Item I do give to my son John Hart and to his heirs two negro boys Shadrack & Harry. Item I do give to my son Israel Hart and to his heirs two negroes a boy named Limon & a girl named Kate. Item I do give to Beasley Hart and his heirs two negroes named Tally & Nancy. Item I do give to Thomas Hart & to his heirs a girl named Eve and a boy named Emanuel, and a negro boy named Lewis in consideration of his being overseer for me several years. Item I do give to my daughter Elizabeth the wife of Gabriel Beasley a negro girl named Milly with all her increase as well those already born as those to be born and no more. Item I do confirm unto the estate of William Beasley dec. a negro girl named Fan and all her children as well as those born and those to be born, whom I gave to William Beasley in his life time and desire that the said slaves shall go to the legal representatives of the said William Beasley as if he had died having a full legal title to her. Item I do give to my Grand Daughter Mary the daughter of Cornelius Hart Dec. a negro named Isaac and no more to her & to her heirs. Item I do give to my wife during her natural life all the residue of my estate real and personal and of every nature and kind whatsoever subject to the payment if of my debts, and after the death of my dear wife I do authorize and desire my executors or the survivors of them to sell the whole of my land and all my slaves not before specifically given to there increases at a public sale to the highest bidder for the best price that can be obtained at twelve months credit taking of the purchaser or purchasers bonds with good security for the payment of the consideration money, and when such bond or bonds shall be taken. I do authorize my executors or the survivors of them to make to the purchaser or purchases a lawful title in fee simple to the land by deed and a title to the slaves. It is my desire and request to my executors to sell my land & slaves to any of my children rather then to any other person, provided they or any of them will give as much for the property as the executor shall think the property is worth, and will give sufficient security for payment of the considered money, otherwise they will devised to sell the land and slaves to any other persons. Item, It is my desire that if all the debts are not paid at the death of my wife my executors shall first pay the debt which may then be due by part of the proceeds of the sales of the aforesaid land and slaves. Item, After the death of my wife I do desire that the value of the whole estate both real and personal above given to her for life shall be equally divided with the increase amongst my following children, Caleb, William, John, Israel, Beasley, Thomas, and my daughter Nancy Beasley and their heirs, share and share alike, I do appoint Robert Bedford & John Spencer & William Hart Executors of this my last Will & Testament in Testimony whereof I do hereto set my hand and affix my seal this second day of June 1793.
Signed sealed and acknowledged in the presence of Paul
Carrington, Jr., Robert Bedford, John Hart John Hart (SS)
At a court held for Charlotte County the 2nd day of September 1793 –
This Last Will and Testament of John Hart dec. was exhibited in court by John Spencer, Robert Bedford and William Hart the executor herein named and the same was proved by the oath of Robert Bedford and John Hart and ordered to be recorded. On the motion of William Hart who made the Oath According to the Law certificate is granted to him for obtaining a probate of the said will in due form he giving security whereupon he together with Phillip King and Obediah Brumfield his securities ?? entered into and acknowledged their bond according to the law for that purpose reserving liberty to the other executors or fores to join in the probate there of when they shall think fit.
Teste Thomas Read cc
(2 Sept. 1793)
(1) Son Caleb Hart Negro, Ned, Jude
(2) Son William Hart Negro, London, James
(3) Son John Hart Negro, Shadrack, Harry
(4) Son Isreal Hart Negro, Limon, Kate
(5) Son Beasley Hart Negro, Tally, Nancy
(6) Son Thomas Hart Negro, Eva, Emanuel, Lewis
(7) Dau. Elizabeth wife of Gabriel Beasley Negro, Milly
I give to the Estate of William Beasley “Dec.” Negro, Tan
Grand Dau. Mary Dau. of Cornelius Hart “Dec.” Negro Isaac
Wife Rest of Estate during her life.
Inventory 3 Feb 1794 (Will Book 2, Page 40)
Note of explanation by Jerry Hart of North Carolina, July 20, 2001
The way I looked at the will, John had eight children. First part of will lists Elizabeth wife of Gabriel Beasley. Last part of will calls her Nancy Beasley. I think Elizabeth and Nancy are the same person. If not why would Elizabeth receive Milly in first part and not be listed in the last part. Also why was Nancy not listed in first part, but listed in last part to share in the estate after her mother’s death and Elizabeth not listed?
Caleb Hart Private, Virginia Revolutionary War.
Caleb Hart’s Will Halifax County, Virginia
14 June 1810 Book 8 Page 318 23 July 1810
I give to my beloved wife Mary Hart, during her natural life, live stock, have a good house built on my land.
(1) I give to my son John E. Hart that part of land lying on Hico River above the Spring Branch.
(2) I give to my son Nowel A. Hart, land on Hico River below the Spring Branch.
(3) I give to my son Reuben one hundred pounds & no more. John & Nowel to pay this one hundred pounds. (1/4 part of estate)
(4) John & Nowel to pay seven hundred pounds to my daughter Jinsey Davenport & her children.
John E. Hart & Nowel A. Hart my executors.
Last Will & Testament of Caleb Hart (ca 1754 – bef 14 June 1810)
Filed: Halifax Co. VA 14 June 1810 Book 8 Page 318
Will dated June 11, 1810
Condemn by the time of aquodaunum it is my desire that my two sons John E. and Nowel A. shall have all the profit that shall arise from my mill jointly to them their heirs and assigns forever.
ITEM – I give and bequeath to my son Reuben Hart one hundred pounds and no more. It is my will that my two sons John E. and Nowel A. shall pay the said one hundred pounds which I suppose to be one fourth part of the profit coming from the mill until the hundred pounds is paid off; to him his heirs and assigns forever.
ITEM – It is my will and desire that my two sons John E. Hart and Nowel A. Hart should arise out of my Estate seven hundred pounds for the benefit of my daughter Jincey Davenport and her children and out of the seven hundred pounds they are to purchase a tract of land to the amount of eight hundred dollars more or less for the benefit of my daughter Jincy and children after the purchase of the land she is to have one third part of the profit arising from the mill until the seven hundred pounds is paid off.
ITEM – I do appoint my two sons John E. Hart and Nowel A. Hart my executors revoking and annulling all other mill gifts or bequeath by me heretofore made.
Notifying this and no other to be my last will and testament, in witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and affixed my seal this 11 day of June 1810 my executors lived before signed.
Signed Caleb Hart SS
Signed, sealed and delivered in presence of William Chandler, Sam Eastes, Obadiah (?)
From file of Sharon Catlin Coleman, 7 June 2000
Last Will and Testament of Nowel A. Hart (ca 1776 – 24 May 1837)
Filed in Callaway Co., MO 21 May 1838
Will Dated October 21, 1830
In the name of God Amen, I Nowel A. Hart of Halifax County, Virginia do make and constitute this my last will and testament in manner and form as follows: Item – it is my wish and desire that as soon after my death as my executrix herein after named may think proper she may sell the land whereon I now reside or so much thereof as she may think proper and pay all my just debts, and if she think proper to sell the whole it is my will and desire that the purchase with the residue of the money after paying my debts such as a tract of land as she may think proper either in this county or the west and that she have the whole management and control of my Estate both real and personal during her natural life, under the following conditions, Si_?_ that she raise and support my younger children and further that she make such advances to my children as the situation of my Estate will admit on their marriage or coming to the age of twenty-one years so as that they shall not receive more than an equal proportion of my estate and finally it is my will and desire that after the death of my wife the whole of my Estate then remaining be equally divided among all my children, having reference to what may have been advanced to any of them previously. Item – I hereby constitute my loving, wife Elizabeth Hart Executrix of this my last will and testament and will that she be permitted to qualify to the same ___ the management of my Estate without being required to give security. Given under my hand and seal this 21st day of October 1830.
Nowel A. Hart
Elijah Linden (Lindau?)
From file of Sharon Catlin Coleman, 7 June 2000
Ancestry details for these men can be seen at an earlier post of February 27, 2013: