Friday, October 9, 2009

Struggles Over the Estate of William Tilghman

Hello again,

It has been a week since my previous post, and I am happy to have, for the moment, made good on my promise of a weekly update. Let us hope this good fortune continues.

The topic of this week's discussion is one that I find both quite interesting and also somewhat baffling. In some ways, I am putting out a challenge to my readers, which will be made explicit at the end of this post. I will be offering a selection of documents pertaining to the battle over William Tilghman, the "Late Chief Justice of the State of Pennsylvania." At the moment, my biographical details on this figure are admittedly slim. I hope to have more time to delve into his story in coming weeks, but I have been somewhat caught up in a variety of other tasks. The important details for our discussion are to be found in a selection of papers from Poplar Grove, Series 10.

We know that William Tilghman
died in 1827, as is apparent in a Bill of Complaint filed by John Tilghman and his wife Ann found to the right. We also know that he drafted a will in 1819. Unfortunately, that will had apparently not been updated since 1819, and this caused some tension between those who expected to inherit some of his wealth (see the image to the upper-left). Clearly, John and Ann Tilghman were among those who wanted a piece of the pie, so to speak.

Perhaps the greatest issue causing contention over inheritance, however, was a sad event that had transpired in the decade between the writing and the execution of William Tilghman's will. According to the image to the left, he had intended to leave virtually all of his estate to his grandson, William Tilghman Chew. We learn from the same document that the grandson predeceased William Tilghman. This left the issue of inheritance in a nebulous area, without a clear heir. Clouding the issue was the fact that William's grandson was the son of Benjamin Chew, a prominent lawyer, who seems to have gone completely unmentioned in the will (which we do not posess). Benjamin became one of two executors of William Tilghman's estate upon the latter's death, and it is not hard to see why other family members may have seen Benjamin's involvement as somewhat dubious.

Two final pieces of information make this case even more bizarre. The first is that William Tilghman resided in Philadelphia at the time of his death, and had lived there for some time. The previous document to the upper left reveals this fact, and refers to the troublesome legal status of William Tilghman's large Maryland land-holdings. Much of the land was sold to a Mr. Cummins for a large sum, but this matter of the legal nuances of inter-state real estate surely complicated an already complicated subject. My final document of the day, however, makes obvious one of the especially troubling aspects of this situation. There were, in 1827, a large body of slaves owned by William Tilghman, living on the said Maryland property. These are referred to by name in the inventory to the right. In 1830, when Benjamin Chew and various members of the Tilghman family were muddling through this legal battle, Maryland was still a slave state. There were distinct abolitionist sympathies in the states on Maryland's northern border, and informed parties were almost certainly concerned about what would become of slaves caught in the awkward legal position of living in Maryland on a property owned by a deceased master residing in Pennsylvania.

One can certainly understand why William Tilghman's Estate is of interest to me; I hope it is of similar interest to the readers of this blog. There is much more information to be scanned and discovered in the William Tilghman file, and I hope to present that information in the coming weeks. Look for a post in the near future by my colleague Nathan discussing several penal bonds we found that were also tied to Benjamin Chew and reveal in more depth the situation facing these slaves following the death of William Tilghman. Please continue to check in weekly, and expect another post by next Friday as we further explore Series 10 of the Poplar Grove Collection. Until then, feel free to post comments and even start a discussion on this subject. I would love to read what you have to say regarding the somewhat confusing estate of William Tilghman.



Anonymous said...

Benjamin Chew actually went to the Maryland Legislature to get permission to transfer these enslaved people to Delaware. The question is why? NOW will you give me a call? :-)

POSE715 said...


Anonymous said...

I am a relative descendent of John Tilghman b 1796. Is William his father and is this the John you are referring to?

Unknown said...

I have a check from a Philadelphia bank signed "executor of the Honorable Wm. Tilgham" to the left of that is B. Chew Jr. signature. there is also one more signature on the check. two initials that I can't make out and what appears to be Briard...Navy man? The check date is 2 months after Tilgham's death June 13th 1827
made pay to D. L. Randolph for $125.00 (at this time there was a J. Randolph serving in the senate from Virginia) or (Dr. Jacob Randolph a famous American Physician and Surgeon)from...Joe Stanley Atlanta, GA