United States of America, circa 1830.

For our second assignment, I chose to analyze the wills of Caroline Carson and Robert Christian.

Caroline Carson wrote her will in Adams County, Mississippi in 1831. Mississippi, at this time, was the frontier of Jacksonian America. But it would be wrong to assume that Caroline lived a frontier existence. I located Adams County and Wilkinson County (the other county listed in the will) in the southwest portion of the state. Mississippi is rather odd in the fact that it was settled roughly west to east, and south to north. Adams County contains the city of Natchez, which started as a French trading post, Fort Rosalie, in 1716.  Between 1716 and 1817, when Mississippi gained statehood, the land changed flags 4 times, from French to English, English to Spanish, Spanish to American. During the steamboat era, Natchez became the greatest cotton port rivaling only New Orleans for that distinction. In the decades preceding the American Civil War, residents of Adams county amassed unimaginable fortunes and built vast estates and plantations alongside the Mississippi River. In 1830, the State of Mississippi reached a treaty with the Choctaw Indians which ceded their lands to the United States and required the Choctaw to begin the mass migration to Oklahoma in three phases from 1831-1833.

Map of Mississippi Counties in 1830-- Adams and Wilkinson Counties highlighted

According to her will, Caroline Carson was a woman of some personal property. She bequeathed to her brother, James Green, two slave women, a carriage and carriage horses, and two thousand dollars. This property was to be held in trust for the life benefit of Caroline’s sister, Eliza C. Woods. She also designated that a thousand dollars be made available to purchase a house servant and a cook (slaves) for the benefit of her other sister, Matilda S. Railey. In addition to this, Caroline divided her household goods equally between her sisters.

Caroline stipulated that James, Eliza, and Matilda be given five hundred dollars to distribute among her slaves according to her siblings’ will and the slaves’ merit. The remainder of her estate was to go to her son, James G. Carson, who had not yet reached majority. Caroline wished that several slaves (4: Jesse, Mima, Jinney, and Suckey) maintain their favored status and one slave in particular, Ned Morris, be emancipated when he reached the age of 38, provided that they continue to display loyalty to the family. According to the 1830 census, Caroline Carson owned 50 slaves. While it is unclear what these individuals did to merit a mention in Caroline’s will, it may be inferred that she had at minimum familial contact, depended upon them routinely, and perhaps something like friendship with these favored slaves. [For more on Caroline’s family, please see: Down the Research Rabbit Hole in the Lagniappe category]

Virginia County map-1850: Augusta County highlighted

Now, we turn to Robert Christian’s will. He wrote his will in Augusta County, Virginia in 1857, four years prior to the American Civil War. It’s important to remember that Virginia looked vastly different than it does today because the area known as West Virginia had not yet seceded from Virginia.

Robert stipulated that his debts be paid first, then bequeathed his remainder of the estate to his son and heir, John Christian. He provided a sum of two hundred dollars to each of his four daughters, payable in two equal payments, due a year and two years after his decease.  To his first daughter, Nancy, Robert made no restrictions on the monetary legacy nor the ten slaves of which he transferred ownership. She  and her husband, Robert P. Brown, were allowed legal ownership of these slaves already currently in their possession. Robert’s next two daughters, Elizabeth and Rachel, received the monetary legacy and were given slaves (seven and eight slaves, respectively) with the restrictions that the slaves were to be held in a trust to be controlled by the executors for the sole use and support of Robert’s daughters and grandchildren. This trust was a separate legacy that his sons-in-law could not touch and would not be used to pay their creditors. Sarah Rebecca, Robert’s fourth daughter, was unmarried at the time of the will. She received the same monetary legacy and was to be provided for in John’s household for as long as she remained single and was provided with equal shares of personal property as her sisters received when she married.

Robert and Caroline approached drafting their wills differently. Robert was concerned with leaving his son an intact entail and with the equal distribution of money and slaves between his daughters. He went to the added trouble of providing protection to the two daughters, who had less than stellar husbands. Caroline, on the other hand, was concerned with maintaining her influence among her heirs and slaves. She also hand-picked a select group of slaves to receive special favors. Robert’s slaves were listed by name only to stipulate which of his children would receive them as property. There was no merit-based reward system in place for their continued “good” behavior and no sign of emancipation in their future.