Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Rachel's Poison Pill


It is my will if any...of my said children shall attempt by resorting to the courts of law to set aside or change any of the provisions of this will, they...shall be...cut off from receiving any part or parcel of my estate and the share or shares of the one or ones who shall attempt to destroy this will or any of its provisions shall go to the one or ones who do not in equal proportions share and share alike.

When Rachel Metzger drew up her will in 1893, she had a delicate balance to maintain. While she was mother of seven of Joseph Metzger's children—six of whom were still living—she was also the mother of an older child by her first marriage. That older half-sister of the Metzger siblings was Mary Houck, by then married to William Bell and a mother in her own right. Perhaps hoping to protect the interests of this only half-sibling of the Metzger household, Rachel felt the need to add what in legal parlance is sometimes dubbed a "poison pill."

In her will, Rachel had originally bequeathed one thousand dollars cash to her eldest child, Mary—an amount equivalent to nearly $35,000 in today's money. Perhaps after the Panic of 1893 and the Depression it ushered in to the American economy, Rachel changed her mind about what she wished to leave as a legacy to her firstborn child. Two years afterwards, as the Depression still wore on, she added a codicil to her original testament, modifying what she was granting to Mary. The new provision granted Mary one half of one share in her mother's estate—which included a three hundred acre farm in Knox County, Ohio—rather than a simple cash payout.

There are likely many ways to read between the lines of this one vignette in the ongoing saga of the Metzger family. Of course, every one of those legatees are now long gone, so there is no way to ask them what the dynamics might have been between Mary and the rest of Rachel's children. But it is quite evident that Rachel sensed some uneasiness in the relationship between some members of her blended family, and sought to diffuse such tensions in case they played out in a battle for the inheritance after her passing.

This uneasiness set the stage for me when I turned to consider what became of Rachel's husband's property after his passing in 1885. Unlike Rachel, Joseph apparently had not prepared a will which included provisions to quell any sibling squabbles. In fact, he didn't prepare any will at all. That, however, doesn't leave us without any guidance in determining what became of Joseph's property. And it is in those other court records that we may spot a prequel to the scene Rachel anticipated at the reading of her own will. Tomorrow, we'll take a look at what shreds of information can be found about Joseph's property after his death.

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