Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Last Will and Testament of Jeremiah Hart

I recently came across the original probate record on Family Search for the will of Jeremiah Hart, one of my Revolutionary War ancestors. Up to that point, I had only had a summary of the will, which only listed names. When I read it, it was like I was hearing Jeremiah’s voice for the first time:

"In the name of God, Amen. I Jeremiah Hart of Stillwater Town, and county of Saratoga in the State of New York farmer being in perfect state of health and of perfect mind and memory thanks be unto Almighty God, calling into mind the mortality of my body, and knowing that it is appointed for all men once to die, do make and ordain this my last will testament That is to say principally and first of all I give and recommend my Soul  into the hand of Almighty God who gave it, and my body I recommend to the earth to be buried in a decent Christian burial at the discretion of my executors nothing doubting but at the general resurrection I shall receive the same again by the mighty power of God.  And as touching such worldly estate wherewith it hath pleased God to bless me with in this life I give and bequeath to Abigail my dearly beloved wife, all my household furniture and bedding for ever, the whole of my real estate now in my possession during her natural life, or as long as she shall remain my lawful widow. Secondly I give and bequeath unto Jeremiah Hart Jur. my son after the death of my wife Abigail Hart, or at the end of her widowhood if she should again marry and no longer remain my lawful widow, all my real estate, as it is at present in my possession in consideration of the said Jeremiah Hart Jur. pay to Stephen Hart my son, one thousand, one hundred dollars. To have and to hold forever. Thirdly I give and bequeath unto John Hart my son two dollars to be paid out of my Estate. Fourthly, I give and bequeath to Reuben Hart my son, all that estate whereon he now lives to have and to hold for ever. Fifthly, I give and bequeath unto my daughter Phebe Hart one cow and ten sheep. Sixthly, I give unto my son Philip Hart two dollars to be paid out of my estate. Sixthly, I give and bequeath to Sarah Hart my daughter one cow and ten sheep.  Seventhly, and after all my funeral charges and all my honest debts are paid, I give and bequeath to my three daughters Phebe, Sarah and Hannah, after the death of my wife Abigail, all my household furniture to be equally divided among them. Seventhly, I will and constitute, make and ordain Abigail Hart my loving wife my sole Executrix and James Barber and Frederick Conly my sole executors together with my loving wife Executrix in this my last will and testament, hereby revoking utterly and disallow all and every form and testament, wills, legacies, and Executors by me in wise before named, willed and bequeathed, ratifying and confirming no others to be my last will and testament. In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this Eighth day of March in the year of our Lord, one thousand, Eight hundred Six. Jeremiah Hart L.S."

I was struck by the strength of his religious beliefs, and by his affection for his wife, Abigail. It has been said that Jeremiah was of a Quaker background, but I haven’t found any evidence for this. It is certain, however, that he and his family were members of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Stillwater, Saratoga, and that he and his son Stephen, my three times great grandfather, helped to incorporate it in 1800. The Methodist strain in the Hart family was strong henceforth, up to and including myself and my siblings, as we all attended the United Church of Canada as children. Stephen Hart was also later a founder of the Methodist Church in Pinckney, New York. My great grandfather, Melvin J. Hart, was strongly Methodist his entire life.

He speaks lovingly of Abigail, his wife--she is “dearly beloved”, and his “loving wife”. He also thinks highly enough of her to make her executrix of his will. He may be possessive as he does not make it worth her while to marry again after his death, making her possession of his real estate contingent on her remaining a widow. Of course, he may also want to ensure that his wealth stays in the family. Dear Abigail is also one of my major “brick walls” on my tree. She was born “Abigail Pearsall” or possibly “Abigail Macomber”, and I can find no hint of her parentage, or a prior marriage, despite there being Pearsalls and Macombers galore in Dutchess county around the time of Jeremiah and Abigail’s marriage when they were likely living there.

Jeremiah seems to have included all of his children in this will, and it may be possible to ascertain something about how he felt about each of them by looking at what he left them. It was traditional to leave the bulk of one’s estate to the eldest son, and this is not what happened in this family. His two eldest sons, Philip and John, each get “two dollars”. Why these two were out of favour with their father is unknown. They were both likely living in Stillwater at the time. Son Jeremiah is the recipient of the homestead, but the history books tell us that he later moves to Saratoga Springs. Reuben gets to keep the land he is living on. My three times great grandfather Stephen appears to be in favour, due to his generous legacy, despite having just moved 162 miles away to Pinckney, New York, the year before. Two of the daughters, Phebe and Sarah, are endowed with livestock, principally sheep. We have to remember that the Hart family, including Jeremiah and his brothers, were tailors, wool producers, and fulling mill owners. The daughters were likely given the sheep for the wool. Hannah, the youngest, gets some furniture.

We might assume that Jeremiah continues to be satisfied with this distribution of his assets, because he does not write another will, and lives another sixteen years.

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