Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Wilson vs. Wall and wife a landmark courtcase for Native American rights

Although I found the Alabama supreme court case several years ago, it didn't occur to me to look into the familysearch.org collection of Sumter court cases until yesterday, where I found over 150 microfilmed pages involving a landmark court case involving the children of William Hall in Sumter County, Alabama.

Originally filed in 1849, Thomas Wall and his wife Catherine Hall, William Moncrief and his wife Margaret Hall, James Trahern and his wife Sarah Hall, David Folsom and his wife Jane Hall, and Joseph Hall filed a suit in Chancery court for their portion of the land received and sold by their father William Hall in 1836. A similar case was also brought by the children of Alexander Brashears, Sr. namely Alexander Brashears, Derrill Brashears, Samuel E. Brashears, Dennis Brashears, Joseph Siliski and his wife Harriet Brashears, John Jones and his wife Sophia Brashears, James Jones and his wife Mary Jane Brashears, Asa Daniels and his wife Rachel Brashears, John Boykin and his wife Henrietta Brashears, and Gilbert Ansley and his wife Lettie Brashears.

In both cases, the only children who filed were those alive before the treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. The case of the children of Alexander Brashears frauduently claimed he died interstate by 1849 (he died in 1868), and is incomplete, the testimonies of the men sued and a decree are missing in that case. In both cases responses in support of the complainants by William Fluker, Sampson Moncrief and  John C McGrew  are absent. In 1851, the case of Alexander Brashears and others added the names of Susan Lanier, Ann Brashears and Clarissa Vaighter or Vaugter to their support, but those answers are also missing.

The case pivoted on the wording of the treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek's 14th article, that to each head of a household one section of land where he then resided, for each child over 10 a half a section adjoining said land and for each child under 10 a quarter section adjoining said land was to be issued to the claimants under the fourteenth article. The children of William Hall alleged that their father had the land in trust for them, and that they were owed their portion of the land entailed to them by the treaty. William Hall sold his land in 1836. Under the fourteenth article he was entitled to a section or 640 acres of land for himself, and 3 1/2 sections (960 acres) for Catherine, Jane and Silas Hall, and 4 1/4 sections (420 acres) for Sarah, Margaret, Joseph and Eliza Ann Hall, the children born before 1830.

The total land in question entailed 2120 acres of land in Sumter County, Alabama along the Tombigee River, with the 5 remaining children asking for their share of 1380 acres of land. The respondents, or defendants were Samuel Wilson, William Bates, John W. Smith, Patrick May, William Meador and E. Haupt. Each responded by their attorneys Lyon and Price with almost identical answers, except to the improvements they each claimed to have made on their land.

Basically their argument was that they had no knowledge of the children of William Hall, or if the complainants were his children, that William Hall did not remain 5 years as specified in the treaty before removing to the Choctaw Nation, that the government issued the patent to William Hall and not to his children. They all also stated that they were aware of the fact that William Hall had a "wife or what would be a wife under the Choctaws" and several children, that he was a head of a family and received the land under the treaty. and that the children surely enjoyed the profits of the sale of the land by William Hall.

The judge returned a decree in favor of the children of William Hall, citing that it was impossible for a child to choose to remain so the language under the 14th article in that instance involved the head of household only, and the five year stay could not be applied to the children. That the language of the 14th article clearly stated the land was for each child thus implying a trust, and the head of household was obligated to that trust. That the purchasers of the land had no argument that they didn't know of this provision, as they knew the land in question came from the treaty, and it was their responsibility to be aware of the provisions as it was the law involved in the case, they could not claim ignorance of the fact, because they did not do due diligence in informing themselves.

As pivotal as the case was, it was a hollow victory. The land to be sold for the heirs amounted to only 240 acres, not the 1380 for which they should have been entitled. The main defender Samuel Wilson's land was the land in question, and the judge decreed he had the right to recoup his improvements. David Blackshear, Patrick May, A. M. McDowell, John C. Wilson and Wm McKee, all farmers, and some of them involved in the Brashears case gave testimony for the defendants on the value of his improvements totaling over $19,000 dollars. The value of the rent (only a dollar a cleared acre) and interest from 1836-1849 amounted to only $2500 and the men all claimed that the land had no value for rent from 1849-1854. Attorneys for the children of William Hall answered basically that was ridiculous. And it was, the evaluations were all done by men who like Samuel Wilson had the same risk of loss of land if other claims followed suit. Rather than the cost of the improvements, they charged the value, and it is certainly questionable that the children of William Hall should have to pay for negro houses, and overseer's house. A decree was then issued that the improvements were equal to the value of rent and interest and that the recommendation was to sell the 240 acres of land and divide the money between the complainants in 1857.

Samuel Wilson then appealed to the Supreme Court of Alabama which upheld the decree with the final decision dated 1861. By 1861 Jane Hall and her husband David Folsom and Joseph Hall had all died. How much money the remaining children received is unknown.

The value in the Alexander Brashears case isn't the information about the case, but rather what we learn about the children of Alexander Brashears Senior. Harriet Brashears was the widow of William Juzan and married J. B. Cooper in 1838 in Mobile, Alabama, and in 1847 married Joseph Siliskie (spelled Scelskie in record) also in Mobile. Emigration records and the annuity roll of 1855, done in 1856 show that Gilbert Ansley and his wife Lettie, Sophia Brashears Jones, now the widow of Sampson Moncrief, and Alexander Brashears were in the new Choctaw Nation. Asa Daniels, his wife and a child are shown as emigrants in 1847, but I have been unable to trace them further. Online genealogies show that James Jones and his wife (Sarah Ann and not the Mary Jane listed in the documents) end up in Kansas. Samuel E. Brashears enlisted in the army in 1848 and 1851 and served in the ordinance department of Mount Vernon. He appears on the 1855 state census in Mobile with a wife, but nothing else is known. Derrill Brashears, I have found nothing on, but he is named for Derrill Payne.

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