When researching the great uncles and aunts of my Grammy, Lillie Belle Munro Read, I came across a marriage bond for great-aunt Agatha Bless Whittington and Alexander S. Collins, dated February 16, 1823 in Wake County, North Carolina.
In looking for further records about the Collinses while they were married, I came across a probate file that possibly belonged to Alexander S. Collins. It was dated 1860 and was very brief and inconclusive as to whether it belonged to great-aunt Agatha Whittington’s ex-husband. One thing in the inventory caught my eye, however: “1 spider” it said, among a listing of kitchen items. I immediately envisioned a spider web above a kitchen cupboard, catching unfortunate bugs and keeping them out of the food. Okay, impossible. What is a kitchen implement that was called a “spider” in the 1800s?
A quick search online shows that it was a long-handled, three-legged skillet or frying pan, probably made of cast iron.
Nathaniel Euse and James Sears and Mills L. Eure put up a bond for $500 on November 7, 1860 for Nathaniel Euse and James Sears to be granted Letters of Administration as Special Administrators over the estate of Alexander Collins. They were charged with the task of completing an inventory within three months and returning it to the Court. The Court Clerk, Henry I. Eure, witnessed the petition. The inventory was taken November 15, 1860, and that’s all that was in that file. Why wasn’t the estate settled?
On November 6, 1860, over 80% of the country went to the polls, and Abraham Lincoln won the presidency without winning a single southern state. I don’t know how long it took in those days to count the votes and come up with the final tally, nor do I know the exact date of the electoral college votes, but it would have been very soon. And just a month later, the southern states started to secede from the Union. North Carolina was the last to secede of all the southern states that joined the Confederacy, on May 20, 1861.
North Carolina was reportedly less physically affected than most Southern states by the war, having few battles fought within its borders and none of them large. But certainly it was very much affected by the fact of being at war and by all the available men being conscripted.
After the War, North Carolina was beset with political problems that were not easily resolved. In 1870 the conservative Democrats regained control, and in that year on July 4th, the Probate Court of Gates County under Judge R.B.G. Cowper granted John J. Gatling Letters of Administration de bonis non for the estate of Alexander Collins. That meant he was a successor administrator of the estate, so this new file must be tied to the 1860 beginning. Within the new probate file are some twenty-two pages of documents, including promissory notes with the name “Alexander S. Collins” on them. A search of North Carolina records reveals no other Alexander S. Collins of the right age except the one who in early life was associated with Agatha Whittington, so this must be our man.
He must have died in 1860. He himself signed a promissory note in January of that year, and then the probate started on November 7th of that year. There were notes owed the estate dated November 17, 1860 that could not mean Alexander Collins had loaned money to anyone. Since the original inventory was dated November 15th, probably the estate auction was held two days later and some of the buyers never paid up. Administrator John J. Gatling eventually sold those notes to a man named Carter for five cents. Carter was speculating that perhaps he could track down the defaulters and make them pay something after 15 years.
What happened to the earlier administrators? A search of the census records shows there were two Nathaniel Eures in Gates County, one born in 1798 and another born in 1848. The older man must have been the administrator. Perhaps he did not survive the War. As for James Sears, he was born in 1818, married in 1838, held a number of slaves in 1850, and his probate was begun in 1870. The co-signer on the original bond, Mills L. Eure, had a son also named Mills L. Eure who was born in 1838. The younger Mills served in the Confederate Army and married after the War. It was probably his father who lost the money through the chaos the War caused.
How much money was $500 worth back then? It would be a lot of money to lose. There is no exact calculator that tells us, but there are several websites that take a stab at it. According to one of them, $500 back then would now buy you roughly $14,300 worth of “stuff.” Yes, that would be a lot of money to lose back then. We do not know if they lost it or not.
Either way, that $500 was just a drop in the sea of the troubles of that time.
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