Sunday, May 3, 2015

52 Ancestors #18: Professor Frederick Speece's Will

Ancestor Name: Frederick Speece (1785-1868)

Recently I finished reading the fifth book in Jeffrey Archer's The Clifton Chronicles. In the third book the matriarch of the family, Elizabeth May Barrington, died. It was during the reading of her last will and testament, the sparks flew when she disinherited her only son to prevent his fiancee from getting any of the family's money. It was beautifully done:

"The remainder of my estate, including 22 percent of Barrington Shipping, as well as the Manor House is to be left to my beloved ... daughters Emma and Grace, to dispose of as they see fit, with the exception of my Siamese cat, Cleopatra, who I leave to Lady Virginia Fenwick, because they have so much in common. They are both beautiful, well-groomed, vain, cunning, manipulative predators, who assume that everyone else was put on earth to serve them, including my besotted son, who I can only pray will break from the spell she has cast on him before it is too late."

But Jeffrey Archer writes fiction. I could never find such a put down in a will written by someone in my family tree, could I?

As it turns out I could.

The book entitled Campbell County Chronicles described Frederick Speece's life after his daughter's marriage:

"In the latter years of his life the impulse seized him to play the King Lear Act. He accordingly made a proposal to his daughter and her husband to take charge of his property and divide the proceeds with him. He soon discovered this was a most unsatisfactory arrangement, and in his will written in 1868 [note: the will was written in October 1865] he covered pages of it with minute details of the neglect and privations to which he was subjected by his daughter as well as her husband."

Honestly, I couldn't wait to read that will. Image my surprise when my used and tattered copy of the Rice and McGhee Families of Bedford County, Virginia, by Virginia Rice Biggerstaff arrived in the mail. There was a partial transcription of the will of Professor Frederick Speece on pages 48-50.

"...I was soon informed by letters of their unhappy situation. Among other doleful facts, my daughter stated to me, 'Doctor Rice is as poor as poor can be.' I was surprised and grieved at this, for I did not know his character, and he had told me of his full practice through a good many years. I wrote him to bring his wife back to my house, which he shortly did. I then proposed to him the following: Take all my property into your possession and enjoy it, work the farm and give me half the proceeds. To this he agreed and took possession. I delivered to him three negro men, at that time strong and hogs sufficient for the family. My table was well furnished with wares of every description, with silver spoons and other plate to the amount of 25 pieces. My house was furnished with bedding, chairs, etc. some of them elegant...

Photograph courtesy of Campbell County Chronicles

From that time up to this, Doctor Rice's sole object has been to get all he could from me by fair means or foul. Within two years my hogs were extinct. The horned cattle were...nearly all destroyed. Two work horses were worked to death. My table furniture within two years was almost all broken up, the silver plate was made a plaything for the children, black and white, and was soon reduced to seven or eight pieces...At this (October 1865) I am almost without clothes of any description. My son-in-law and my daughter Ann have refused me any but the coarsest. I have been begging for a pair of half soles for my old shoes for the past two months and have been refused...

Doctor Rice and my daughter are the laziest people that I ever knew. He does nothing from a consciousness that he is the greatest man in the world and must not compound his dignity. She is completely negative and from long habit has become physically dead flat. At least half her life she is asleep...My daughter, the wife of Doctor Rice, is not much better than he is, but she has some excuse as he treats her tyrannically; so much that she has begged to be divorced, and parted from him forever. This he told me, himself not long ago...

That my helpless, hapless daughter Ann, may not in any extremity be without a roof over head, I hereby give to her under certain conditions 90 acres of land including the home house and all its her during her life and at her decease to her children in perpetuity. The conditions of the above bequest are these: I have good reason to believe that William R. Rice will present heavy claims against my estate for medical service rendered to my family and also for his supervision of my negroes, farm, stock, etc...No such claims shall be paid. Should he or his wife make such a claim, the above bequest of land to my daughter and her children shall be cancelled, revoked, and be utterly null and void...I hereby sign seal and deliver said will in present of witness...this 10th day of November 1865."

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge optional theme Where There's a Will.

Frederick Speece was born 23 October 1785 to Conrad Speece, a Presbyterian minister, and his wife, Rachel Claywell. His father was an early settler of Campbell County, Virginia, which was formed in 1782 from part of Bedford County. Frederick Speece wrote of himself that "he was a wayward boy of a melancholy turn, a stranger even in his own home; so he bade adieu to the land of his birth and went wandering afar; yet in the course of a few years he returned well satisfied to revisit his old haunts."[1] Frederick Speece married Ann Nancy Booker Morton in 1812 in Charlotte County, Virginia. They had two children, Edwin and Ann, but Edwin died in 1829 at the age of 16 years old. The loss of his young young son was a great grief to him and left him with only a daughter. By the time his daughter married Dr. William Reid Rice, a widower, in 1858, Frederick Speece was retired Greek and Latin teacher from New London Academy near Liberty, Virginia. He was also a poet, having published My Native Land and Other Poems in 1832.

Frederick Conrad Speece is the father-in-law of my second cousin four times removed.

[1]Early, R. H. Campbell County Chronicles and Family Sketches: Embracing the History of Campbell County, Virginia, 1782-1926, (Lynchburg, Virginia: J. P. Bell Company, 1927), pages 38-39

Doctor or Gold Digger?


  1. I am researching the history of a certain building in New London, and New London itself, for my Hands on History class. I would love to find a copy of Speece's "Sketches." Might you have any idea of where I might find a copy?

    1. The Library of Virginia may have it. Their Bulletin, dated 1915, includes this listing:

      Speece, Frederick, My native land and other poems . . . By Frederick Speece. Philadelphia, Printed by Lydia R. Bailey, No. 26, North Fifth Street: for Augustine Leftwich, Lynchburg, 1832. 5254
      156 p. 21 1/2 cm.

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