Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Inheritable Blood: The case of "Free Tom" Smith and Inheritance

Most recently I came across some indepth information on my paternal grandmother Lucy Callins maternal family . I have to give credit where credit is due. Thank you to my cousin Margaret in Detroit, MI who has spent the last 25 years researching the Smith family of the Black Belt Region of Alabama.

The family of "Free Tom" Smith migrated from Georgia to Dallas County, Alabama in the early 19th century with planter Baxter Smith. For unclear reasons,  Baxter Smithcomposed a will in 1825 where he manumitted Tom, a wife Charity and their children. Additionally Smith willed them $2000, several pieces of farm equipment and land. Upon Baxter Smith's death in 1829, Lewis Tyus the estate executor, executed the manumissions of Tom, Charity, Theodrick, Harriet, William, Malinda, Sarah and the transfer of property to "Free Tom" Smith. The family appears to have lived in Dallas County as manumitted without incident from 1829 until Tom's death in about 1850.

After Tom's death in about 1850, the executor of his estate, Garland F. Gardner began a search for legal heirs. The search for an heir was complicated by several factors. Tom and Charity had ceased to cohabitate shortly before Baxter Smith's will was executed. Tom had another 'wife' also named Charity with whom he had three children, Organ, Miles and Rebecca. Because his second wife Charity and their children were not manumatted and still the property of Baxter Smith's estate, Tom had to purchase them. This legally established their status as enslaved making them property of Tom's estate and denying them the status of legal heirs. At the execution of the estate the Dallas county probate court freed the enslaved Charity and her children and determined that all five of the children should equally divide the property.  Tom's eldest daughters Malinda and Sarah with his first 'wife' Charity disputed this ruling and claimed to be the sole heirs of the Tom after the estate was to be turned over to the state of Alabama. Malinda and Sarah sued Gardner. The case went to the Alabama State Supreme court and was decided in June 1854. The Alabama state supreme court found that neither Sarah or Malinda had "inheritable blood" because under the laws of that time, slave marriages were not considered legal therefore denying any status of legally legitmate parent/child kinship to Tom.

In the end, Sarah and Malinda did in fact get the property which remained in the Smith family over 150 years. Tom's remaining children Organ, Miles and Rebecca, left Dallas County settling in various places in Alabama.


Mel said...

Have you by any chance been able to map the land Baxter Smith left to his mulatto heirs? Is it by chance anywhere near Orrville, AL in Dallas County?

Tiffany Jones said...
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