Friday, October 16, 2009

Some Final Notes on the Struggle Over the Estate of William Tilghman

Good afternoon,

Perhaps spending one more post on William Tilghman's Estate may seem excessive, but I cannot help feeling as though further details require discussion. In approaching the legal battle between John Tilghman and William Tilghman a second time, I uncovered biographical material about both William Tilghman and Benjamin Chew, the executor of his estate.

Nathan and I had both been wondering what connection exactly drew John Tilghman and William Tilghman together, as their closest family relation was that their fathers were cousins. In fact, the reason why so much of this correspondence bears the name of John Tilghman, and indeed the reason why we are privy to so many of the documents, is that John was the agent of Benjamin Chew in Maryland. This is indicated by the document to the left. Chew was a Pennsylvania resident, and therefore John agreed to help dispose of William Tilghman's Estate in Maryland, with the provision that all funds raised went to Benjamin Chew.

With that mystery solved, I turned to speculating upon why William Tilghman had left so much money to Benjamin Chew's son, and why John Tilghman was suing Benjamin Chew within months of Chew's appointment as executor. The reply to John and Ann Tilghman's claim (provided in my post on October 9) laid out the reasons why William Tilghman's death and the subsequent sale of his estate were so contentious; an intriguing family drama played out from there.

John and Ann Tilghman claimed that they should be inheriting "one fifth part" of William Tilghman's Estate, as described in his will. They argued that his funeral expenses and debts could be fully paid for, still leaving them with their allotted fifth part. In his rebuttal, which begins in the image to the left, Benjamin Chew did not disagree that Ann Tilghman was named in the will as an inheritor of one fifth of the Estate. He did dispute their claim, however, on other grounds. His explanation took ten pages, and in this post I have selected several of those pages to highlight the issues raised.

The primary reason for the appropriation of funds raised by sale of William's Estate, as stated on the above page, was that William owed a heavy debt at the time of his death in 1827. He had married his daughter, Elizabeth Margeret, to Benjamin Chew, in 1816. This had come with a price, however, as it seems that the Chews were of a higher social rank than was William Tilghman. William, therefore, offered to sell a piece of land in his daughter's name in order to raise money towards the $20,000 he promised Benjamin Chew as a dowry.

Unfortunately, however, he did not pay anything more than $2500 to Benjamin Chew. The land remained in his hands, and he refused to sell it prior to his daughter coming of age; once she had come of age and been married to Benjamin Chew, William Tilghman continued to hold the land, going against the contract as stated in the image to the left.

It would seem that, according to Benjamin Chew's defense at the right, William Tilghman actually sold a large amount of real estate that was in his daughter's name throughout the early 1800s. The money went into his own possession, rather than to his daughter, who was left with little upon reaching maturity.

By 1817, Elizabeth Margaret Tilghman, who had become Elizabeth Margaret Chew through her marriage to Benjamin, had died. This did not free William Tilghman from his debt to Benjamin Chew, however. Chew did not press charges, ostensibly because he was so affectionate toward his father-in-law, but the rebuttal maintained that he never relinquished his claims to the $20,000, which had eventually ballooned to $27,500. William told him, when pressed throughout the 1820s, that to "pay the debt, he would have to sell the house over his head" (see left). This may have seemed true at the time, but the vast inventory William left behind at his death suggests otherwise.

According to Benjamin Chew's defense, it was an unwillingness to pay rather than an inability. William Tilghman took responsibility for the estates of his daughter and grandson, worth roughly $50,000, and refused to use any of this property to pay off the marriage contract. This is explained in the document to the right. It was for these reasons that Benjamin Chew thought it fair to appropriate funds raised from the sale of William Tilghman's property to pay off the outstanding debt owed him. Sadly we do not know the outcome of this court case, but Benjamin Chew's detailed ten-page rebuttal, if not fabricated, certainly made a strong case for his position. Despite William Tilghman's intent that parts of his Estate go to his grandson, William Tilghman Chew (son of Elizabeth Margaret and Benjamin), Benjamin Chew was still owed a significant debt that had existed before the will was made in 1819. Perhaps the first document presented here offers a clue: John Tilghman was Benjamin Chew's agent in 1833. Whatever the outcome of the court case, it seems to have been a somewhat amicable one.

I hope this lengthy interpretation of the evidence has shone a light onto a somewhat bizarre legal struggle of 1830. Some of the questions raised in our last two posts (i.e. Why was John Tilghman involved? What was the perceived wrongdoing committed by Benjamin Chew?) have been answered sufficiently, and we will be moving on to other topics next week. Undoubtedly William Tilghman, Benjamin Chew, and John Tilghman will reappear in this blog, but next week we will be presenting some other people who figured prominently in the papers of Series 10. Thank you for reading, and feel free to comment in the space below. After all, if you have a particular interest in this collection and you would like it addressed, we would be happy to oblige.



Anonymous said...

I am the curator of Cliveden, the Chew family's ancestral country home, and if someone would like to give me a phone call at 215-848-1777 x230 I might be able to help you with this. Thanks

Phillip Seitz
Curator of History and Fermentation
Cliveden of the National Trust

Christian S. said...

It is good to hear from you, Mr. Seitz. I will be contacting you in the near future.