Friday, April 9, 2021

Godfrey's Stipulations


It is fascinating to see just how differently two men can express themselves in a single-page document which, on its face, would seem to be a rather perfunctory listing of last wishes. In exploring the family relations of my mother-in-law's third great-grandmother, Mary Carroll Gordon, we first encountered the will of her possible father, Anthony Carroll, in 1830, whose wording was brief and to the point. Now, in considering the will of Godfrey Guseman, Anthony's son-in-law—who died only eight years afterwards—we see an entirely different personality coming through the written words.

For one thing, while Anthony got right to the point—"I, Anthony Carrol do hereby make my last will and testament"—Godfrey employed far more of the flowery language we've come to expect from that time period of the early 1800s. He started off with a phrase oft seen in New England documents, "In the name of God, Amen," then waxed on with the traditional "considering the uncertainty of this mortal life."

Considering that uncertainty, perhaps Godfrey was less uncertain than his written sentiments might lead one to believe, drawing up his will on Christmas Eve of 1837. He was dead by the following March.

From the document he drew up, we learn several key points about his family relationships, including one unexpected detail which is downright rabbit trail worthy, should we wish to follow the indicators of property ownership to help clarify family connections.

First, of course, our goal is to find confirmation that Godfrey's wife was the "Pegey" whom Anthony Carroll listed in his own will. As it turns out, Godfrey listed his wife as Margaret, to whom he bequeathed one third of his estate, including "use of the mansion house" if she wished to remain at that residence. Unfortunately, the will did not provide any additional clues as to Margaret's identity—not even the typical clue of one of her Carroll relatives named as executor or witness to the will.

Godfrey's will also named his two children, who were essentially to split the remainder of their father's property. His son, Amaziah, was designated as sole executor, as well as "agent or trustee" to ensure that Margaret's "portion of the estate is properly managed and taken care of." Godfrey's daughter was doubly identified as "Mary Guseman now Mary Kern."

In stipulating the division of the property, Godfrey included the detail of the "mill property on the Monongahela"—a nearby river—"now occupied by James Kern," which he specifically excludes from the half of the property awarded to his son. That mill property is granted to his daughter Mary "and her children." Since that property was "now occupied by James Kern," it is most likely that James Kern was Mary Kern's husband—but we'll be sure to find documentation to confirm that detail.

Unlike so many wills of the time which named descendants but not collateral lines or any connections to the previous generation, Godfrey's will mentioned one other family member. Identifying one Susan Murdock as his sister, he granted her "use of the house and garden she now occupies," opening up the possibility that his sister might have been widowed, and maybe also childless.

There were three witnesses listed to confirm that the document was indeed the last will of Godfrey Guseman: Christopher Nicholson, Joseph Reed, and Samuel Tibbs. In many cases, such witnesses represented key relationships with the testator—often trusted family members or business associates. In this case, it doesn't appear that any of those three men were connected with the Carroll family—at least, not based on what little I've been able to glean about that cluster of relatives so far. 

As for the extended Guseman family, I know next to nothing at this point. But what is fairly easy to see is that Godfrey Guseman had enough property to demonstrate that he was successful at his endeavors. Perhaps that mention of a mill property may be worth following up on, after all. If direct documentation doesn't provide the connections we wish to see tie Godfrey's wife to our Carroll ancestry, we can at least seek inferences from the cluster of associates forming around their day to day lives.

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