I, Anthony Carrol, do hereby make my last will and testament....
So began the document which was presented in court in Monongalia County in what was once the state of Virginia, sometime during February of 1830. The witnesses, John F. Dering and Sarah Scott, declared under oath that Anthony Carroll was indeed deceased, and thus the will was "ordered to be recorded."
Despite my access to what is merely a typewritten copy of the original—and surely handwritten—will, there are a few details we can glean from this document. First is the observation that the surname Carroll made its appearance in this brief document in various forms: besides "Carroll" and "Carrol" for Anthony, himself, there was also a variation of the surname spelled as "Carrel" and "Carrell." Hopefully, they all referred to one and the same family, but we need to keep our mind open to the possibility that perhaps that wasn't the case.
More important, at least in pursuit of my research goal for this month—to learn what I can about the parents of my mother-in-law's third great-grandmother, Mary Carroll Gordon—is the fact that wills often provide us a last listing of the decedent's family relationships. In this will of Anthony Carroll, we are not disappointed—although there are a few details which will require us to do more homework to confirm connections.
Anthony's will was fairly straightforward. First, he wanted all the "perishable" portions of his estate sold to pay off his debts and provide for a decent funeral. Second, if the sale of such belongings were not sufficient to satisfy those expenses, he dictated that one specific property of his—located on "Coburn's Creek"—be sold for that same purpose.
Then—and this is the part we were waiting to see—Anthony stated that all remaining portions of his estate be given to his wife, Temperance "Carrell" for the remainder of her lifetime. After her death—and here we arrive at the rest of what we were seeking—Anthony's estate was to be divided between his children.
The children were named as: "James Carrel, Pegey Guseman, Polly Gorden, James Walls."
Lastly, Anthony appointed his executors. We have to presume that he named more than one, because the typewritten copy inserts an ellipsis between the words "and" and "executors," most likely signifying an illegible name. The other executor was listed as "my friend, Temperance Carrell."
That listing of the names of his children gives pause. Why the name of two sons as James? Why, too, would a natural child of a Carroll have a totally different surname? One reasonable conclusion would be that Temperance, while Anthony's wife at the time of his death, might not have been the mother of all of Anthony's children. Also, the second James could be son of Temperance from a previous marriage.
The lack of that second executor's name is unfortunate, specifically because those named to such positions are often selected precisely because they have a vested interest in seeing that the heirs do, indeed, receive the inheritance intended for them. Temperance, of course, would be interested in securing her rights—but if she was not the mother of the children, who would remain to represent the needs of those parties? I suspect that second executor's name would have provided a valuable clue.
As for the identities of the children themselves, our exploration of nineteenth century nicknames came in handy for realizing that Polly could very well be Mary, a Carroll descendant who married a man named Gordon. As for the nickname Peggy, that is one common substitution which has been carried into our own century—but whether that leads us to the right daughter, we'll follow what we can find on any Margaret Carrolls who married men named Guseman, just to be sure.
With such a to-do list evolving from a document as brief as this will of Anthony Carroll, we have much to uncover in the next few days. We'll take some time to double check the possibilities—a research move which is not only prudent, but necessary, simply because of one additional problem: the Monongalia County courthouse fire of 1796.