|Vol. II, No. 3, Winter 1989|
by Robert Flanders
Thus Evariste Francois Pratte, of old French-descended Missouri creole family, prepared to leave this life. Being of "disposing mind," he had much to dispose: "stocks, Bonds, bills, notes, debts, judgments... and all species of property, household goods, furniture and slaves." The one thing he did not dispose, but which by law and the good fortune of unburned county courthouses remains to the present, is the group of documents constituting his Last Will and Testament. They are probate records upon which justice and equity to a deceased person and her or his heirs -- and creditors -- may be dispensed.
Thomas Jefferson advanced the proposition that the world rightly belongs solely to the living; that the dead hand of the past, including the "will" of deceased persons, should not tyrannize the future. It was a radical notion which never caught on, and which Jefferson himself would probably have found unbearable. The evanescent boundary between life and death is usually a moment not of forgetting but of remembering, of bequeathing and reckoning, of property transfer and debt settlement. At the time of death the past might indeed lay a hand on the future. The evidence, preserved in the vaults of county judges of probate, remain to us from those moments when death overtook life. They offer an intimate look into times different from our own.
The documents featured in this OzarksWatch are from the probate files of Madison County, Missouri. They were brought to our attention by Lynn Morrow, who with wife Kristin and friend Rick Boland spent long volunteer hours making them more accessible. The trio are inveterate OzarksWatchers. Morrow is a professional historian and OzarksWatch Consulting Editor; Kristin Morrow teaches Ozarks history; and Boland is a University of Missouri Press editor and Madison County native. (Their story is on page 3.) The probate records of Madison County are of peculiar significance because they document social, economic, and personal histories stretching back in time to the Territorial Period, before Missouri's 1821 statehood. It is an Ozarks history.
Huge outcroppings of lead found by French explorers some two-and-a-half centuries ago in what is now northern Madison County proved to be one of the greatest concentrations of that mineral ever discovered on the North American continent. Covering several square miles altogether, it acquired the name "Mine a La Motte," after Antoine de La Mothe, Sieur Cadillac, early eighteenth century governor of French Louisiana. Mine La Motte and the surrounding region yielded lead, zinc, cobalt, and iron from the early eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth in almost unimaginable quantities. It was for a long time hauled in ox-drawn wagons some forty miles to the Mississippi, thence by raft or boat to New Orleans, where it was marketed.
Mr. F'cois Deguire, 19th April 1830 We send you the bearer Colas -- Peter Bolduc's boy to work the mines with you, we believe he will please you part of your Lead Sold at 3 ½ at New Orleans and some at 3.00 this far you have been furtunate [sic] with the Lead
-- Your friends Menard & Valle
Thus the famous Ste. Genevieve merchant partners reported the market news via a slave messenger from the banks of the Mississippi, the link to the outside world, to a major client at Mine La Motte.
The original letter is in my hand as I write. The paper is yellowed and soft, but still in one piece, the ink is bright, traces of the red sealing wax still adhere, surviving 159 years after deposit in the DeGuire Estate Papers at Fredericktown. This fragile piece of paper, and thousands of others, remain as evidence of vibrant life in a great, if remote, Ozarks mining center. The "galena" itself, as the coal-like lead ore is known, is finally gone, unnumbered millions of tons of it, exhausted, as all non-renewable earth resources must be.
The greatest resource, however, is renewable -- the people. The society of Madison, and its county seat, Fredericktown, remain, and go forward. The generations continue to roll. One generation after the end of Mine La Motte's more than two-century existence, many are taking stock of their heritage, and thinking of their history with new energy. "Heritage" is what we inherit; "history" is what we say about it, write about it. History is what we make of heritage.
This issue of OzarksWatch takes notice of some serious "taking stock" activity in Madison County- careful citizen activity, work accomplished by caring people. Two events caught our attention: first, the painstaking unfolding and sorting of thousands of sheets of old probate files to be microfilmed in the Missouri State Archives microfilming program; and second, Fredericktown's Certified Local Government survey program to inventory historic structures. We share momentarily in the discovery process going on the Madison County, where citizens now easily access the probate records via microfilm in the Fredericktown public library, as can the general public at the State Archives in Jefferson City (see OzarksView on page 13). The originals have been returned to the vault in the courthouse.
We are pleased to share our discovery, and theirs, with our readers. We hope it may be repeated
in counties across the Ozarks.
|Old photo of Mine La Motte near Fredericktown, MO.|
In the name of God Amen I James McFadin of the County of Wayne & the State of Missouri being of sound and perfect mind & memory and in good health of Body but oweing to the uncertainty of this Mortal life knowing that is appointed of God for man once to die do make this my last will & Testament.
1st It is my will that all my Just debts shall be paid out of my personal property such as stock
2nd it is my will that my wife Eleanor if it should please God that she should attlive me to hold and retain for her support and benefit such property as she may think proper reserving a competency to serve her during her lifetime.
3rd It is my will and desire that all the children of my said wife & my own should share equally of my property (Namely David W. Shaver, Mary Shaver, Elizabeth, Susannah, Lavinny, Dolly, Polly, Andrew, Margaret & John MCFadins) and to the end that they may all get equal Justice it is my will that the slaves should be truly valued by disinterested persons and the name of each slave set on a separate paper put into a hat & let each draw out a sing[lie ticket beginning at the oldest & going on to the youngest in regular Succession & those who may draw those of the least value to be made equal to rest by payment in cash to be made out of my property & after making each equal as aforesaid if any thing then remains of my estate It is my will that it should be sold and each to draw an equal part of the remainder in cash after deducting what each have drawn or may draw from my said estate in my lifetime.
The foregoing being my will I do in testimony thereof set hand this 3rd day of August in the year of our Lord onethousand eightyhundred & thirtytwo
Articles of an agreement entered in to an concluded on between John Taggart of St. Ginnevee County. Missourie Territory. of the one part and William MCMurtrey of Jackson in Cape Gerido County and territory a fore said of the other part. Witnesset. That the said Taggart & McMurtrey has a greed to build a set of mills on Castor at the shoal where said Taggarts mill now stands (to wit) a Grist Mill & Saw Mill. On the following terms (to wit) said Mills are to consist of two pair of stones, and one saw. The said Taggart binds him self to let said McMurtrey have an equal division of the quarter section where said mills are built agreeable to quantity and quallity. To make a lawful deed or deeds to said McMurtrey his heirs or assigns so as to secure to said McMurtrey his equal share of land and one half of all the profits arising from said mills. Said McMurtrey binds him self to refund to said Tigart one hundred and twenty five dollars being one half of the purchase money of the preem[p]tion purchased by said Taggart. The said Taggart and McMurtrey is to each do an equal share of all the labour and be at an equal share of all the expence the grist mill is to be an over shot and the whole of the work to be done under the direction of said McMurtrey agreeable to his best skill & judgement and said McMurtrey is to repair and put in some better fix the Old Mill now in said shoal and from the time he repairs hir he is to have one half of all the profits arising from hir it is to be further understood that the said Taggart & McMurtrey is to be at an equal share of Trouble and expence in all further purchase of said land -- in testimoney where of we have hereunto set our hands and affixt our seals this tenth day of December 1818 attest
[signed] John Taggart seal
[signed] WM McMurtrey seal
To this amount due the estate as per annual settlement of
|June 8th 1864||$6259.55|
|By 1 negro woman & 2 children freed by ordinance of state convention 1864 appraised value||750.00|
|"1 bay hores inventoried melanfully [sic] taken by Federal soldiers & not paid for||97.00|
|"1 Iron gray mare stolen by Rebel soldiers and which was obtained in exchange for 1 sorrel horse inventoried and appraised||58.00|
|"This amt. paid William Matthews being the remainder of his portion of $500.00 devised to him by will of deceased (voucher No. 1 )||165.00|
|"This amt. paid school fund security debt for [blank] Revell (voucher No. 2)||83.54|
|"This amt. paid State, and county taxes for the year 1865 (voucher No. 3)||12.60|
|"This amt. paid U.S. tax on income for the year 1864 (voucher No. 4)||18.25|
|"This amt. paid state on taxes 1865 in Washington county (voucher No. 5)||2.00|
|"Balance due estate||5073.16|
Lowease was borne February the 20.
Frances Ann was borne February the 21.
Lewis was borne October the 27.18.46
Delily Jane was borne May the 11.
James Henry was borne June the 28.
Acan was borne April the 4. 18.50
Voluntine was borne August the 21.
Sarah Ann was borne August the 3.
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