Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Peaks of Otter Presbyterian Church Land

One hundred and two members of the Peaks of Otter Church in Bedford County, Virginia, petitioned the House of Burgesses for permission to purchase slaves in order to work church land in order to support the maintenance of a full-time minister. The Burgesses' Committee on Religion reported the petition as reasonable on 21 May 1774 but Lord Dunmore, the royal governor, dissolved the House of Burgesses on 25 May. So we don't know if an official act was ever passed granting the petition. However, we know the church members did buy four slaves. (See Peaks of Otter Presbyterian Church Petition)

In From Slaves to Satellites: 250 Years of Changing Times on a Virginia Farm, published in 1999, author Peter Viemeister wrote on page 29:

"Neither church nor county land records reveal where the slaves were quartered nor where they worked. Relevant church minutes have been lost. Perhaps one of the big landowners -- like Beard or Ewing -- said, in effect, 'Here, use this land as long as the church wants to. No need for formal deed, contracts, and all that. If the church stops using it, we'll take the land back.'..."

I believe I have found the record regarding the land in Chancery Court cause 1769-003. Robert Mitchell, my five times great grandfather, and John Erwine purchased two hundred acres from John Hardiman which was described as being located between "Molly's Creek on the one side, the road on the other, and Dutchman's Branch on the last side" for "settlement of a certain David Rice, their minister."

Snippet from page three of Bedford County Chancery 1769-003; courtesy
of the Library of Virginia

John Erwine and Robert Mitchell entered into two bonds each for the sum of fifty Virginia pounds for the agreed upon 200 acres. The parties also agreed if after being surveyed the triangle described did not include 200 acres additional acreage would be added to the agreement. And that was the rub.

Surveying revealed the land to be 150 acres and the parties had two different ideas about how to make up the shortfall. John Hardiman wanted to add land along the banks and across Falling River and John Erwine and Robert Mitchell thought that land was worthless and refused. The first bond was duly executed but while Hardiman, Erwine and Mitchell were discussing what to do about the additonal 50 acres they had committed to purchase, Hardiman assigned the second bond to John Richards, who promptly went to court and obtained a judgment against Erwine and Mitchell.

John Erwine and Robert Mitchell were outraged, and their ire comes through the stilted court language almost 240 years later:

"...the said Hardiman disregarding every principal of honesty has confederated with the said defeat your orators out of the just deductions and encouraged the commencement and prosecution of the said suit; and after judgment by bond, used a subpoena...for recovery of the debt."

John Erwine and Robert Mitchell told the court they were always willing to pay some portion of the second bond if agreement could not be reached on which land should be used to make up the acreage shortfall. They felt the dealings of Hardiman and Richards had been unnecessary and resulted in needless and expensive court costs. They begged the justices to put the two men under oath each time they were questioned -- clearly they didn't think much of the two men's word!

This is yet another Chancery Court case file that peters out without a final decree. John Richards never responded to two subpoenas to appear in court and answer the bill of complaint. The last page is a bond signed by John Erwine, Robert Mitchell, and Israel Read for twenty Virginia pounds which was be effective until the court rendered its decision. If Ewine and Mitchell prevailed, the bond would be void.

Peaks of Otter Presbyterian Church Petition

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