The story of Jesse Evans does not end with his death but would continue in three separate sets of court cases about his property.
Provisions of the Will
He had nine children, all of whom married and all of whom—except Jesse Jr.—had children of their own.
The younger Jesse had died by the time his father executed his will in 1841, and his widow Joanna Reeder Evans had remarried to John Howell. (Note 1.) As described in Part X, the elder Jesse’s daughter Elizabeth “Betsy” Evans Robbins had also died some years before, leaving one son, Jesse Robbins. In his will, Jesse Evans, Sr., left the survivors of these two of his children the nominal amount of “one dollar,” signifying that they receive no inheritance. Neither Joanna Howell nor Jesse Robbins took part in any subsequent proceedings about the estate.
The will also reflects that Jesse Evans’s daughter Sally, wife of John Armstrong, had died by 1841 and had one or more children. Jesse Evans’s daughter Ann, wife of James McCampbell, apparently had also died by that time, leaving a number of children. Evans left to each of his Armstrong and McCampbell grandchildren “one dollar.” In sum, four lines of his descendants were to receive nothing of his property.
He divided his property among his other five children (or their surviving spouses and children) generally as follows.
- son John’s widow Sally or their children: a slave woman named Nancy; one quarter of the proceeds of the sale of the Missouri property not otherwise listed;
- daughter Jane “Jenny” Farmer or her children: a slave man named Godfrey; a colt; one quarter of the proceeds of the sale of the Missouri property not otherwise listed;
- daughter Nancy King or her children: Lot 51 in Jefferson City; one quarter of the proceeds of the sale of the Missouri property not otherwise listed;
- son George or his children: 40 acres in Section 12, Township 44N, Range 10W; 2 cows; one quarter of the proceeds of the sale of the Missouri property not otherwise listed;
- son Joseph or his children: the remaining 14 slaves; any property in Virginia.
Finally, Jesse Evans’s will freed three of his slaves, who were identified only by the names Peter, Charity, and Elizabeth. The will provided them various livestock and household furnishings and gave them jointly the lifetime right to use Evans’s southeast 40-acre parcel (SE quarter of NE quarter, Section 13, Township 44N, Range 10W). Under the terms of the will, however, Charity’s son George and Elizabeth’s son William would remain enslaved as the property of Joseph Evans.
The Suit To Establish the Will
The will named Joseph Evans as executor, and he accordingly submitted the will for probate in Osage County. At an initial court hearing on August 14, 1843, the validity of the will was contested by other heirs, and Joseph Evans was granted an opportunity to prove the will. At the same time, supervision of the property in the estate was given to George King (instead of to Joseph Evans as presumptive executor) by granting him letters of administration. (Note 2.)
Witnesses testified on August 29, and then, on August 31, 1843, the Osage County court determined that the will had not been proven and “refused to admit said instrument to probate” as Jesse Evans’s last will and testament. (Note 3.) Among other things, this meant no freedom for Peter, Charity, and Elizabeth, whose emancipation relied solely on that written document. George King’s role overseeing the estate’s property continued, and the court ordered him to hire out all of the slaves for an interim period.
One week later, on September 7, Joseph Evans and James S. Evans filed a petition in Osage County Circuit Court to establish the November 11, 1841 will that Jesse Evans had signed. (Note 4.) The petition names the following heirs-at-law as defendants, here grouped according to their estimated relationships to him.
- James McCampbell [widower or son of daughter Ann], Elizabeth Riggs, Mariah Wood, Sophrony (Sophronia) McCampbell, Martha McCampbell, Miriam (Manisa or Maniza) Conger, Thomas Conger;
- Sally Evans [widow of son John], James Evans, Thursday Evans, Erastus Evans, John Evans [Jr.], Sally (Sarah) Bell, Andrew Bell, William Evans.
- Jane Farmer [daughter];
- Letitia Armstrong [daughter of daughter Sally and John Armstrong];
- George Evans [son];
- George King and Nancy his wife [daughter].
Based on summonses served, George Evans and James McCampbell were living in Osage County. The remainder of the individuals listed were living in Callaway County, except for Letitia Armstrong, whose whereabouts are unknown.
In what may have been an uncommon procedure for the time, Joseph and James S. Evans then asked the court to have the case transferred to another county. In a request filed on March 5, 1844, they said that the other heirs had an “undue influence over the inhabitants of [Osage County], and that said inhabitants are prejudiced against your Petitioners.” (Note 5.) On March 7, the court granted the request and ordered a change of venue to Cole County. An official transcript of the record in the case was prepared and certified by the Osage County clerk on May 1, 1844, for transmitting to Cole County. (Note 6.) The case was filed in Cole County on May 13, 1844.
A jury would be selected about a year later to hear evidence about the will and Jesse Evans’s condition at the time it was executed. In the meantime, depositions were taken of several witnesses. The identity of only one deponent, Wesley Browning, is known. The transcript of his deposition remains in the case file. (Note 7.)
Browning, then living in St. Louis, was a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church who had stayed with Evans several times during the last year of his life. Evans had related to him the provisions of the will in general and the dissatisfaction expressed by some heirs. Browning believed Evans had been entirely capable of making a knowing disposition of his property.
The trial was held in Jefferson City beginning on April 25, 1845. It took several days to present the evidence and arguments, as the court was conducting other business during the same period. The case went to the jury on May 2, and the jury was excused at the end of the day without having reached a verdict. How long the jury may have deliberated isn’t known, but no subsequent entries appear in the court’s order book that month. Either the jury was unable to reach a verdict or some other irregularity occurred, because litigation activities recommenced the following autumn. (Note 8.)
Both sides took more depositions to support their contentions about Evans’s mental and physical condition in 1841 when he wrote his will. (Full transcriptions of all the depositions are included on the page “1845 – Testimony about Last Years of Jesse Evans.”) On October 2 at the Boone County courthouse in Columbia, Joseph and James Evans had depositions taken of three more Methodist Episcopal ministers: George Smith, James M. Jameson, and Thomas Ashby. The testimony of these witnesses echoed that of their colleague, Wesley Browning. (Note 9.)
On October 7, 1845, the defendants took the deposition of Dr. Appleton Allen, a neighbor of George and Nancy King, at his house in Callaway County. The following day, they took the deposition of James Allcorn (Alcorn), also at Dr. Allen’s house. (Note 10.)
Allcorn himself was from southwestern Virginia and had known (or known of) Jesse Evans in the area that would become Wythe County. Allcorn may have been Evans’s nephew. Some sources state that he was the son of John Allcorn and Jane Breckenridge, Evans’s sister-in-law. Born about 1770, Allcorn had moved west from Virginia in 1788 and was himself about 75 years old at the time of his deposition. Based on the re-acquaintance of the two men after Evans moved to Missouri, Allcorn judged that Evans’s mind in his last years was “considerably impaired” and that Jesse was “controlled by his servants.” Allcorn is one contemporary who had the impression that Evans was older—“about 91 years old”—when he died.
Of perhaps even more interest is what Allcorn related about Evans from the 1780s:
Jesse Evans during that time was a man of a strong mind all most superior to any other man in that section of the country. [H]e was elected to the Legislature of that district and the people of that country had utmost confidence in his abilities to fill that station and could be promoted almost to any office he wished to fill. He acted as High Sheriff of that county and his abilities for trading was not excelled by no man.
On October 31, 1845, the defendants also took the deposition of James H. Relfe at the post office in Caledonia in Washington County where he lived. (Note 11.) Relfe represented Missouri in the U.S. House of Representatives for two terms, from 1843 to 1847, and gave his testimony in the middle of his congressional service.
Relfe’s testimony does not indicate that he knew Evans but was acquainted with Joseph Evans in Caledonia. Relfe testified about what Joseph had said about his decision to live with his father at the end of his father’s life:
[O]wing to the frailty of the old gentleman [Joseph] had been compelled to remain with him, and that he the said Joseph with his wife would have to return and remain with his father as long as he lived for he had become so frail and childish that he could not take care of his property but would soon give it all away if there was not someone there to prevent it.
In early 1846, the case was once again headed for jury trial.
Then, on February 21, most of the defendants represented by Leonard and Jameson abandoned their objections to the November 11, 1841 will. (Note 12.) Shortly after, on February 26, the McCampbell defendants, represented by Benjamin F. Stringfellow, also withdrew their objections. (Note 13.) (Stringfellow served as the Missouri attorney general from 1845 to 1849 and later moved further west where he participated in the founding of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.)
That left Jesse Evans’s youngest son, George W. Evans, as perhaps the only remaining holdout. He was not prepared to mount any further defense, however. This may have been due to the fact that George died about this time. (Note 14.) When the case came before the court for trial on February 27, the order book reflects that no remaining defendants or their attorneys said “anything in bar or preclusion of the said action of the said petitioners.”
A 12-man jury was impaneled and evidence presented, after which the jury found that the November 11, 1841 document was genuinely Jesse Evans’s last will and testament. (Note 15.)
On March 28, the Cole County court accordingly transmitted a copy of its order and the will back to Osage County, and the will was filed there on March 30, 1846. (Note 16.)
The Lawsuits by Jesse Evans’s Freed Slaves
Distribution of the assets of the estate could now begin under the supervision of the probate court. Although Joseph Evans was named in the will as executor, he declined that duty, and on May 13, 1846, George King was reappointed by the court to continue to serve as administrator of the estate. (Note 17.)
Shortly after, on October 6, 1846, Joseph died and was buried in the Methodist Cemetery in Caledonia. His son James S. Evans would represent the interests of his father’s estate.
In September 1847, King filed his first annual settlement, accounting for all property distributed or other amounts received or paid on behalf of the estate of Jesse Evans. (Note 18.) In addition to money, the settlement lists the names and destinations of Evans’s slaves, 22 in total. Peter, Charity, and Elizabeth were given their freedom, which had been delayed about three years due to the challenge to the will.
Generally in accordance with provisions of the will, Peter had received:
- 3 horses, appraised at $78.00;
- 3 head of cattle and 1 rifle, appraised at $22.00;
- 2 feather beds with bedding, appraised at $25.00; and
- household furnishings, appraised at $3.00.
Similarly, Charity had received:
- 30 hogs appraised at $20.00;
- 2 feather beds with bedding, appraised at $35.00;
- household furnishings, appraised at $3.00; and
- apparently $20 in cash in lieu of a cow and mare (Minerva).
Elizabeth had received:
- 2 cows and about 30 head of hogs, appraised at $32.00;
- 2 feather beds with bedding, appraised at $35.00;
- household furnishings, appraised at $4.00; and
- a mare called Blaze and 2 calves, appraised at $19.00.
The other 19 slaves were delivered to Joseph and James S. Evans and probably were relocated to Washington County, except that Godfrey went to Jane Evans Farmer:
- Lila (Lilah) and her family of children: Mariah, Marina, Charity, Rachael, Louis, Elizabeth;
- Rachel and her family of children: Peter, John, Lorenzo, James, Charity, Violet;
- George (son of freed slave Charity);
- William (son of freed slave Elizabeth);
- Lorenzo Don;
- Godfrey; and
No mention is made in the settlement of the slave named Nancy who was described in the will six years earlier as living with John Evans’s widow, Sally Evans.
The will granted to Peter, Charity, and Elizabeth a life estate in the southeast 40 acres of the Luzon Branch property. One wonders what kind of life they could have made for themselves there. Charity’s son George and Elizabeth’s son William were no doubt going to be living in Washington County. The three freed slaves promptly decided to live somewhere else and sold their rights in the 40-acre parcel to various Evans heirs for the stated sum of five dollars. (Note 19.) The meager price would have resulted from the fact that the freed slaves’ right to live on the property during their individual lifetimes would hardly be marketable to anyone but the heirs who would ultimately gain full title to the property.
Peter, Charity, and Elizabeth each had some other complaint about how they had been treated as the estate’s affairs were wound up. By June 1848, each of them had filed separate claims against George King, as the estate’s administrator.
Peter’s “action on account filed for the sum of $150” was considered by the probate court on June 6, 1848, and dismissed for unstated reasons. (Note 20.) In the proceeding, Peter was represented by James McCampbell (not as an attorney but as Peter’s agent). McCampbell was probably the son of James and Ann Evans McCampbell, in which case he was assisting the freed slave against his own uncle George King and the interests of many other inheriting relatives.
Charity’s claim against the estate for $52 and Elizabeth’s claim for $57 had also been filed by that time but were twice postponed. (Note 21.) Charity’s case came before the court on December 5, 1848, where she too was represented by James McCampbell as her agent. (Note 22.) A six-man jury heard the testimony and reached the following verdict:
We the Jury find for the plaintiff in the sum of forty-six dollars.
The next day, on December 6, 1848, the parties waived a jury trial, and the court heard Elizabeth’s claim. The court found in Elizabeth’s favor and awarded her judgment for $48.00. (Note 23.) On March 19, 1849, another entry appears in the court’s records about Charity’s and Elizabeth’s judgments. On that date, the court ordered King to pay the two judgment amounts. It isn’t apparent whether this was just a formality or King was being difficult. (Note 24.)
Probate of the estate would not be concluded until November 13, 1855. (Note 25.) In the meantime, George King died on February 17, 1852, and his son William King took over as the administrator of the Jesse Evans estate. (On December 8, 1847, William King had purchased at public auction for $308.70 the majority of the land on Luzon Branch, not including the southeast 40-acre parcel or the 40 acres on the river that had been left to George W. Evans.) (Note 26.)
The Suit over Pension Payments
If Joseph Evans had lived much longer, he would have regretted allowing George King to serve as administrator of the estate. Not long after King’s initial appointment in 1843, he had contacted Stephen F.I. Trabue, an attorney in Lexington, Kentucky, for assistance in obtaining any payments remaining to be paid on account of Jesse Evans’s veterans pension. Some of Trabue’s correspondence with the pension office, beginning in the fall of 1844, can be found in the files of the pension office. (Note 27.) For some reason, Trabue also contacted his congressman, Henry Grider, to use his influence, and Grider wrote a letter to the Commissioner of Pensions in September of that year urging prompt action. (Note 28.)
There seems to have been no question about Jesse Evans’s entitlement to payments under the pension act of July 5, 1832. His pension file, however, contains multiple but conflicting drafts of statements by the pension office about what he had actually been paid and what amount remained to be paid. Despite Evans’s 1834 deed giving his pension payments to his son Joseph and grandson James as described in Part X, they had not followed up—at least not successfully—to actually obtain the payments. (Note 29.) As administrator of the estate, King did follow up and, in January 1845, received $2,976.66 from the pension office.
Joseph and James Evans were likely unaware of the payment when it took place, and 1846 brought other pressing matters, including taking possession of 18 slaves and, in October, Joseph’s death. The pension payment to King was made public in September 1847 when the first annual settlement of Jesse Evans’s estate was filed with the court, which included the following entry. (Note 30.)
amount of money received from the Treasury of the United States Stephen F.I. Trabue my attorney on account of amount of half pay due said Evans deceased as a Captain in the Revolutionary War from the 4th March 1831 to the 29th day of July 1843 at $240 per annum: 2976.66
James Evans’s response was to file suit in Callaway County in September 1848 against George King in his capacity as the estate’s administrator, claiming the pension payment was James’s under the 1834 deed. Why the claim was not made within the probate case or otherwise in Osage County is a mystery. In any event, the case proceeded in the Callaway County Circuit Court toward a jury trial in October 1850. Because of a subsequent appeal, a 39-page formal record of the circuit court’s proceedings was made. (Note 31.)
The outcome of the case would turn on instructions given by the judge to the jury that they would need to find that the plaintiff had made a demand on the defendant for the money before filing suit. No evidence of such a demand was presented at the trial, and the jury accordingly found in favor of George King, resulting in a “nonsuit.”
James Evans was left unsatisfied by this outcome and appealed the case to the Missouri Supreme Court, which at that time was made up of three justices. Both sides submitted their briefs to the court, which reached its decision during the 1852 term. The court’s opinion is unremarkable, deciding simply that the absence of a prior demand precluded a judgment in favor of the plaintiff irrespective of any other considerations. The justice who authored the opinion was Hamilton R. Gamble.
The Missouri Supreme Court’s opinion in Evans v. King was published or reported for future reference in the sixteenth volume of the court’s Reports, beginning at page 525. The abbreviated citation is accordingly: 16 Mo. 525. The text of the opinion is included on the page “1852 – Evans v. King.”
The other two justices on the court at the time were William Scott and John F. Ryland. Coincidentally, Justice Scott was the circuit court judge who had officiated at Jesse Evans’s 1839 pension declaration, described in Part X.
During the same term in 1852, the Missouri Supreme Court (the same three justices) decided another case that would become notorious—that of the slave Dred Scott. The court’s decision in that case, which refused the slave’s claim for emancipation, was authored by Justice Scott. The case achieved its notoriety when Dred Scott refiled his claim in federal court, ultimately resulting in an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court where his emancipation was once again denied.
Copyright 2012-2014 Gregory Hancks
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