Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Court Case Regarding the Slaves of Mary (Mitchell) Beard

Mary (Mitchell) Beard of Bedford County, Virginia, died 28 July 1843, twenty-nine years after the death of her husband, Samuel Beard. He had served on two separate occasions in the Revolutionary War and during his last term of service as a Captain. Mary had collected a military pension since 1839. Together Samuel and Mary had seven children who lived to adulthood and were heirs to their estate. Part of the property in the estate included four slaves held in dower by Mary (Mitchell) Beard.

The four named slaves were: HENNY, WALLACE, DICK, and RACHEL.

The children of Samuel and Mary (Mitchell) Beard and heirs to their estate, which included the above mentioned slaves, were:
  • James Harvey Beard married 1) Mary McMullin or McMullen and 2) Rhoda Parker
  • Elizabeth "Betsey" Beard married Rufus Thomas
  • Robert Mitchell Beard married Nancy C. Webb
  • Nancy A. Beard married Mitchell Ewing
  • Frances G. Beard married William C. Mitchell
  • John Beard
  • Mary "Polly E. Beard married Bird S. Webb
Robert Mitchell Beard had moved from Bedford County and became a professor of religion in Franklin County, Virginia. There he married Nancy C. Webb. Robert died on 19 January 1837 at the age of 53 years. His widow was a native of Franklin County and she left with their children, likely the year after her husband's death, for Missouri in a wagon train. Bird S. Webb and Robert's widow were siblings and Bird's family joined the wagon train.

Conestoga wagon; image of painting courtesy of Wikipedia

Robert and Nancy (Webb) Beard's children were entitled to their father's portion of the estate of Samuel and Mary Beard since their father was alive at the time of Samuel's death. Polly (Beard) Webb was also entitled to a portion. That was a problem for the other siblings; they had no idea where those heirs were. The other issue they had was how to equitably distribute four slaves among the 13 heirs (children of Samuel and Mary Beard and children of Robert Mitchell Beard). The children of Robert Mitchell and Nancy C. (Webb) Beard were:
  • Abner Beard married Martha Hale
  • Samuel A. Beard
  • Ferdinand Beard married Mary Wyatt Howell
  • Sarah Ann Beard married Henry S. Howell
  • John C. Beard married Mildred A. Allen
  • Amanda Beard married Henry S. Howell after the death of her sister, Sarah Ann
  • Robert H. Beard
  • Harvey C. Beard married Tabitha M. (Jacobs) Howell, a widow
So the siblings who lived in Bedford County took the matter to Chancery Court and filed an initial bill of complaint soon after Mary (Mitchell) Beard died. In that bill, they asked the court allow the slaves to be sold so the proceeds could be distributed among the lawful heirs. They also wanted the heirs of Robert Mitchell Beard to be named as defendants so that a notice could be published which would seek their whereabouts. The requested notice was published in the Lynchburg Virginian on two successive months. The heirs for Robert M. Mitchell did not respond.

Heirs of Samuel and Mary (Mitchell) Beard and their relationship
to the decedents.

Some explanation is likely in order. Those people with a relationship to RMB are the children of Robert Mitchell Beard, a son of Samuel and Mary (Mitchell) Beard. Abner Beard remained in Franklin County and his location was known to his aunts and uncles. As a result he was a plaintiff in the case. Mary "Polly" (Beard) Webb moved to Franklin County when she married and she and her husband went to Missouri, thus while a daughter of the decedents, she became a defendant in the case as her whereabouts were also unknown to her siblings. Robert Mitchell and Nancy C. (Webb) Beard had a son named Harvey C. Beard in 1837. He was likely born shortly after his father's death. I believe he was not named in the case because his existence was unknown to the plaintiffs.

As a result of that non-response the court appointed two commissioners to oversee the sale of the slaves and conduct the sale at the best possible time and with the best publicity possible. Those commissioners conducted the sale on 20 February 1844 at the Bedford County Courthouse in Liberty.

Snippet from Chancery Cause No. 1852-049 (page 14), which was
the Commissioners report to the court regarding the sale; image
courtesy of the Library of Virginia

John Beard purchased HENNY for $58.

Richard D. Watts purchased WALLACE for $402.

Robert Allen purchased DICK for $475.

Rufus Thomas purchased RACHEL for $16.25.

There is no record of the proceeds being distributed to the heirs. The last page in the file was an affidavit from the administrators of the long-lost heirs, the children of Robert Mitchell Beard. In that affidavit they wanted to know how much money the heirs they represented would receive.

So while we learned who the new owners of the four slaves were, which may help their possible descendants, those descendants of the defendants have no idea whether their ancestors received a portion of the proceeds. Granted, a small loose end in the grand scheme of things.

The big thing for my research is that this court case proves James Harvey Beard is the son of Samuel and Mary (Mitchell) Beard, which is all I needed in order to submit Samuel to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) as a proven Patriot.

Slave Name Roll Project
Proving James Harvey Beard's Father


  1. Wow! What an interesting point using chancery court records. Thanks for posting this.

  2. Thank you. Chancery court records have been a Godsend to my Beard research. Another Chancery court record helped me prove who my great grandmother's father was, which extended me back to James Harvey Beard and one step closer to my favorite Revolutionary War soldier, Samuel Beard. http://tangledrootsandtrees.blogspot.com/2014/12/the-court-doth-adjudge-order-and-decree.html