“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” —Benjamin Franklin
Where There’s a Will
By Betsy Cross Thorpe
When I first saw the words Where There’s a Will on the 52 Ancestors in 52 Week’s list of prompts my initial impulse was to alter the prompt and write a piece titled Where There’s a Will There’s a William.
My thoughts were that it would be fun to give a nod to all the Williams who populate the various branches of the Roe and Isaacs family tree. My maternal family tree.
I also found it a topic that most can relate to. For whom among us does not have a Uncle Billy or Cousin Bill to love?
With that thought in mind I looked at the tree. I searched the name William. Perched near the top sat the name of my four times great grandfather—William Dawson. He was born in 1772.
I privately dubbed him William the First.
Starting with him I followed the name William all the way down to my generation. I searched both my grandfather and grandmother’s sides of the tree. From the first William Dawson down to my own first cousin William Gregory Roe who was born in 1964, I found nine direct line relatives with the given name William. All born over a span of one hundred and ninety-two years.
Another twenty-six males named William are scattered among different branches of the tree.
As far as I can tell William R Fowler lived longer than any other William that I am related to. He died in 1936 at the age of ninety-two. Sadly, baby William Gordon Combs was the youngest of the Williams to die. He passed away in 1930. He was only fourteen months old.
I lost my nerve for the project. Grandparents, uncles, cousins, and in-laws. Past and present. There are just too many Williams on this side of my family to write about in one weekly blog post.
I realized it would be much easier for me if I simply conformed with the prompt and wrote a piece based on how it was originally written.
The following passageis my belated attempt at conformity. It is my anlysis of a Last Will that one of my ancestors made and signed one hundred and thirty-six years ago—almost to this day.
On May 13, 1884, at a time when the estimated life span for a man living in the American South was forty-one years, at the age of sixty-four, my third-great grandfather, Daniel Franklin Manus, of the County of Lyon, of the state of Kentucky, made and signed a will.
It was the only will ever made by him.
There is really nothing unusual about Daniel Manus making a will. People have been making wills to dictate what happens to their estate after they die since the time of the Ancient Greeks. However, while most of his instructions are just what one would expect to find in a simple will, I did find some of his statements and instructions to be somewhat out of the ordinary.
His first request was that his funeral expenses and any just debts that he may owe be paid out of any money he might leave.
That is a standard instruction, nothing unusual there.
The will then went on to say that if Daniel Manus left no money, then those expenses were to be paid out of his interest in a crop of tobacco that he stated was now being grown on land he owned. A woman named Mrs. Beck was growing the tobacco.
I snapped to attention. The words now being grown jumped off the page.
This will was signed on May 13. Tobacco grown in Western Kentucky is usually cut and harvested sometime in August. Did he expect to be dead before then? Did he have reason to believe that he would die before Mrs. Beck harvested the tobacco she was growing on his land? Did my third great grandfather dictate this will from his deathbed?
The will did not say.
It simply stated that after his just debts were paid out of the proceeds from the tobacco being grown on his land, that his small amount of personal property and his eighty acres of land was to be held and kept in the possession of his widow until her death. It also contained a directive stating that considering the smallness of his effects that his funeral expenses ought to be very moderate.
At this time Daniel Manus was married to a woman named Elizabeth Terrell Manus. She was his second wife, thirteen years his junior. He married her on December 31, 1876 shortly after the death of his first wife Susannah Elkins Manus. Susannah is my third great grandmother. Daniel and Susannah had several children together, five of which were still living in 1884 when he made this will. All five were daughters, all married. The youngest, Emily Manus Isaacs is my second great grandmother.
The will stated that after the death of his widow, he desired that his second eldest surviving daughter Susan C.T. Hall receive one bed and fifty dollars before any division of property. That the rest of the estate be divided equally between his five daughters.
How unusual. To show preference to one child over all the others seems odd. Why Susan? Why one bed? Was she a favorite? Did she have a special need? Was she more impoverished than her sisters, or did she simply just ask that he leave her a bed?
Once again—the will did not say.
While the motives for his unusual bequest will continue to fuel my imagination, I must accept that the truth of why he favored the one daughter over four others in his Last Will shall forever remain hidden in the past.