Wednesday, January 24, 2018

A Horse Tale: Pankey v. Jennings

I absolutely love Virginia Chancery Court records, some of which are available on the Library of Virginia's website. Two cases helped me prove my descent from Samuel Beard (c1750-1814), and I am in the process of getting him reinstated as a Revolutionary War patriot with DAR. Others have sorted out familial relationships. And some just make me smile. This horse tale is one of the latter.

Horses on a farm in Virginia; courtesy of HorseClicks

On 19 October 1805, Samuel Pankey, Sr. and his son, Samuel H. Pankey, sometimes known as Samuel Pankey, Jr., were ordered by the Powhatan County court to pay Benjamin Jennings, Jr., eldest son of my four times great grandfather, Benjamin Jennings, Sr., $128.59, plus interest from 7 August 1805, until payment was made. However, if the judgment against them was dissolved, then their debt would be void.

So on the same day Samuel Pankey, Sr., signed a $250 injunction bond and filed a bill of complaint with the Chancery court against Benjamin Jennings, Jr. This bill, I believe was his attempt to "dissolve the judgment" and void his debt to Benjamin, Jr. On 24 October 1805 Benjamin Jennings, Jr., was summoned by the court to answer the complaint and 2 November of the same year, Benjamin, Jr., was enjoined from all further attempts to collect on the debt until Pankey's newly filed complaint could be heard.

At least that's my best guess at what happened...

Benjamin Jennings, Jr., acquired a horse from someone. Then, in 1804, Samuel Pankey, Sr., borrowed that horse so his son could ride to Ca Ira, a small community in Cumberland County, to obtain the services of a magistrate. A few days after Pankey's son returned home, the horse died. That's about the only parts of the tale that are not in dispute.

What is in dispute is the health of the horse before the trip, how hard he was ridden during the journey to Cumberland County and back; what and how the horse was fed; what exactly was wrong with the horse after the trip; the value of the horse; and if Mr. Pankey ever offered to make Benjamin Jennings, Jr. whole financially.

Snippet of the initial bill of complaint filed in Virginia Chancery Court case
Powhatan County 1806-003; courtesy of the Library of Virginia

In the initial bill of complaint, Samuel Pankey, Sr., said his son rode the horse "moderately," fed it three or four times a day and took as much care as if the horse were his own -- maybe better care because it was borrowed -- but it did appear to be sick when his son returned home. The previous owner of the horse, who Pankey said was Duke McGary, had offered it to another prospective buyer for $50 before Benjamin, Jr., bought it. Before Pankey borrowed it, the horse was being kept with seven or eight horses owned by John Haskins which all died of yellow water (a distemper type disease) and it was the only horse that survived.

Pankey went on to say that when Benjamin Jennings came to his retrieve his horse, Pankey offered to keep it until it was well again, but Benjamin said he would take the horse home and if it died, it was his loss -- probably the least believable part of the complaint in my non-legal opinion. Several witness for the plaintiff were deposed and their affidavits became part of the case file.

Those witness were Seth Hatcher, Benjamin Jennings, Jr.'s employer; John Pankey; Stephen Hubbard; Samuel H. Pankey, the plaintiff's son; John Woolridge; and William Sublett. They testified to all or part of the following:
  • Benjamin Jennings acquired the horse from Duke McGary.
  • The horse had been kept with a pack of other horses that all died from distemper and was the only horse from the pack that lived.
  • Jennings was treating the horse for some unspecified illness; many of the witnesses thought the horse had hooks or yellow water.[1]
  • Seth Hatcher would not allow Jennings to keep his horse with his own horses because it had been sick.
  • Samuel Pankey borrowed the horse for a trip his son made to Cumberland County.
  • His son had treated the horse well and ridden it only moderately and fed it three or four times a day.
  • Pankey offered to keep the horse and care for it until it was well again but Jennings took the horse home and said if it died it was his loss.
  • Joseph Salle borrowed the horse for a trip to Manchester after Pankey borrowed it.
  • Jennings asked Pankey's son to "cut the hooks off" the horse.
  • Several witnesses put different valuations on the horse, ranging from $40 to $80 before it got sick and died.
Not surprisingly, Benjamin, Jr.'s story, which was provided in his answer to the complaint, includes several key differences. He turned down previous Pankey requests to borrow the horse until he got a promise that Pankey would pay the damages if anything happened to the horse. Benjamin didn't believe his horse had hooks or yellow water but rather died as a result of injuries sustained during the Pankey's trip to Cumberland County. (Of course he would say that!) He believed the horse had been ridden over a 100 miles in the course of a day. Benjamin informed the court that Pankey's son was not a small man. He also thought his horse was not capable of a hard ride because he had not been fed on grain or dry forage.

Snippet of Benjamin Jennings, Jr.'s answer to the bill of complaint in Powhatan
County Chancery Court case 1806-003; courtesy of the Library of Virginia

When he brought the horse back to his home, he believed it was just tired but the next day realized the horse was ruined. He took the horse back to Samuel Pankey's place and said Pankey should give him $110 for the horse. Later he saw the horse in Pankey's wheat patch and the horse was in pain so he took the horse back home and it died about ten days later. Benjamin, Jr., went on to say that Pankey had offered him $100 for the horse before he borrowed it. He reminded the court that in the previous trial, three witnesses swore the value of the horse was between $80 and $100. He and Pankey agreed the debt would not have to be paid until fall, but the agreement fell through when Benjamin wanted part of the money sooner. Benjamin finished his answer by expressing surprise that the Pankey's now wanted void the previous judgment altogether.

Like Samuel Pankey, the plaintiff, Benjamin Jennings, Jr., had several witnesses who were deposed and provided affidavits to the court. Those witnesses were Arthur Bowles, Joseph Salle, John Cheatwood, Henry Bowles[2], Mary Gates[3], Joseph Roper, and Susanna Bowman[3]. Their depositions were taken in Chesterfield County, where Benjamin, Jr. lived, and they testified to all or parts of the following:
  • Benjamin Jennings, Jr., acquired the horse from Joseph Roper, who paid Duke McGary $70 for the horse.
  • The horse was worth more than Roper paid for it and witnesses thought the value ranged from $100 to $110 before it got sick and died.
  • Pankey's son had seen the horse before he borrowed it and thought it was a well, sound horse; other witnesses had seen the horse themselves and thought the same.
  • At least two witnesses examined the horse after Pankey borrowed it; both thought it was not ill but rather suffered from over use, over feeding, or an injury sustained during Pankey's journey to Cumberland County. All agreed it was in a terrible condition.
  • That Pankey and Benjamin had agreed to arbitrate the value of the horse so that Pankey could compensate Benjamin for it, but Pankey did not show up on the appointed date.
  • Some witnesses allowed their horses to be pastured with the horse when they were visiting Benjamin and their horses did not get sick.
And there the case file ended! My horse tale became a horse mystery at the end of page 41.

[1] I have been unable to determine to my satisfaction what "hooks" and "yellow water" may be in terms of equine diseases.
[2] I believe Henry Bowles, but have not yet proved, was the father of Benjamin Jennings, Jr.' second wife, Sarah "Sally" Bowles. Bowles was frequently spelled Boles in documents. Another witness, Arthur Bowles, was also likely related.
[3] I believe Mary Gates and Susanna Bowman were married daughters of Joseph Roper and the three were probably related to Benjamin Jennings, Jr.'s first wife Kisiah "Kisey" Roper and her father, Shadrach.


  1. I love, love, love the VA Chancery Court records. There are so many family stories in them. This is a great story, but like some I've found, there is no closure with a verdict. However, it makes identifying the FAN club really easy.

    1. Even inclusive cases help with FAN! I wish I could find these records in every state and I have some counties I wish LVA would hurry up and finish.