American Story: Virginian Origins
The next few posts attempt to make sense of the political earthquake in the United States, by following some historical traces of 'irrational citizenship' from a single male line of American voters.
The idea is that what might seem to be inconsistencies in generational behaviour to an outside observer, are viewed as 'natural' consistencies by family members. Rather than aberrations, the attitudes and actions that society later condemns are received as a continuum of custom and character by those who 'inherit' them.
A democracy of people with personal 'complicated histories' has the potential, in aggregate, to produce national 'accidents of history'.
This story begins in 1675 in the Colony of Virginia, with Edward Boykin (1650-1725) marrying Ann Gwaltney (1652-1726). It continues with their son Edward Boykin (1676-1745) marrying Judith Hill (1674-1745).
The importance of the two Edwards, father and son, lies in their respective Last Will and Testaments. Wills are summary documents. They record the end of lives and the material achievements of those lives. They also reveal something of what those men thought about their property and the people they were leaving it to. In this sense they are windows into contemporary social history.
1. The Will of Edward Boykin Sr., Isle of Wight County, Virginia, 4 January 1725/26
"In the name of God, Amen. I, Edward Boykin, being sick and weak of body, but of perfect sense and memory, thanks be given to Almighty God, do make this my last Will and Testament.
First, principalely, I bequeath my Soul into the hands of Almighty God and my Body I commit to the Ground, and as for my personall Estate, which it hath pleased God to bestow upon me, I give and bequeath as followeth:
Item: I give unto my loving son John Boykin the plantation whereon I now live and all land thereto belonging, being five hundred and thirty acres...to my son and his Heirs forever.
Item: I give unto my Loving Wife Ann Boykin Two Negros by name James and Luke and after my said wife's Decease, I give the said Two Negros James and Luke to my Loving son John Boykin and his Heirs lawfully Begotten of his Body forever.
Item: I give unto my Son John Boykin Two featherbeads which he has in his own possession Already and to his heirs forever.
And all the rest of my Estate Goods and Chattels wherever I give unto my Loving Wife Ann Boykin During her Natural Life, and at her Death it is my wish that it be equally divided among all my children and
Lastly I do appoint my Loving wife Ann Boykin and my son John Boykin my whole and Sole Executors of this my Last Will and Testament revoking Disannulling and making Void all other Wills heretofore made by me.
In witness whereof I have hereunto put my hand and seal this 4th day of January, 1725/26.
Edward (X) Boykin (seal)
Signed Sealed and Declared in the presence of James Atkinson, Mary (X) Atkinson and John Dunkley."
Note that Edward Sr, despite bestowing considerable property, was illiterate.
He left the primary portion of his estate to his son John, including "the plantation whereon I now live...being five hundred and thirty acres". This land had been granted to him by the Colony's Governor in 1685, following his importation of 11 bond-servants into Virginia from England.
"To all &c. whereas &c. Now know yeee, that I the said Francis Lord Howard, Governor &c. Doe wth. the advice and Consent of the Counsell of State accordingly give and grant unto Edward Boykin, five hundred twenty-five acres of land situate between the third Swamp and the main Backwater...the said land being due by and for the transportation of eleaven p'rsons into this Colony &c. To have and to hold &c. To bee held &c. Yielding and paying &c. Provided &c. Dated this twentieth day of Aprile, 1685."
While his eldest son John was well provided for, the rest of his family were also remembered. His wife Ann was given the balance of his "Estate Goods and Chattells" for the term of "her Natural Life". On her death, this property was to be "equally divided among all my children", (comprising John, Edward, William, Mary, Thomas, and three others).
The additional property was apparently quite extensive. According to one researcher of family history, Edward Sr received another land grant of 1062 acres for importing 4 more bond-servants in 1690. In 1692 he purchased another 525 acres, followed by 400 acres in 1702. There may have been some selling too. A Roll of Quit Rents for 1704 shows him holding a total of 1100 acres in Isle of Wight County.
One last point. Note the essential equivalence in the Will between land, slaves, and furniture. In the testator's mind, these are all units of value, whether they be 530 Acres, Two Negros, or Two feather beads.
2. The Will of Edward Boykin Jr., Northampton County, North Carolina, 8 June 1743
"In the name of God, Amen. I, Edward Boykin, of Northampton County, North Carolina, being sick and weak in body, but perfect mind and memory, God be praised but calling to mind this mortal state and that it is appointed for all men to die. Do make this my last Will and Testament in manner and form following:
First and principally I give and bequeath my soul to Almighty God my Creator, who gave it to me and my body to the ground to be buried decently in Christian burial at the discretion of my Executrix and Executor hereafter named in sure and certain hope of a joyful resurrection through Jesus Christ my Blessed Saviour and Redeemer and as for what worldly estate it hath kindly to bestow on me.
I give and bequeath as following Imprimies I will that all my lawful debts and funeral charges be paid and discharged.
Item: I give and bequeath unto my loving son Thomas Boykin all my lands lying between Richard Walls line and the Meadow Branch: also a parcel of my lands over the Creek in Brunswick County beginning at the head of the Great Swamp, then turning down the same to my cart path and then bounded by the said path quite to the river. Also all my lands and Plantation at Potocarie to him and his heirs.
Item: I give and bequeath unto my loving son Solomon Boykin all my lands lying above the Meadow Branch running up the Creek to Thomas Nicholn's (Hicolans) line, with all the remaining part of my lands on the Creek in Brunswick County not bequeathed already. Also fifty acres of land upon the Creek with old Richard Walls line to him and his heirs.
Item: I give and bequeath upon my loving son Hardy Boykin all my lands and Plantation lying upon the Cypress Swamp if he thinks proper to live upon it. And if not let some one of his Brothers have the refusal of it when he is disposed to sell it.
Item: I give and bequeath unto my son Hardy Boykin a negro named Jack but in case he should die without issue lawfully begotten then to my son Solomon Boykin.
Item: I give and bequeath unto my son Thomas Boykin two Negroes Dill and George after the death of my wife or her widowhood, but if my son dies without issue lawfully begotten, my will is that the said Negroes shall go to my sons Hardy and Solomon Boykin.
Item: I give and bequeath unto my daughter Rachal Heron one Negro girl named Lucy.
Item: I give and bequeath unto my loving daughter Martha Boykin one negro girl named Joan, after the death of her Mother, or her widowhood or at the age of twenty-one years, but if my said daughter dieth without lawfull issue the said negroe to be equally divided amongst my three sons (viz.) Hardy, Solomon and Thomas Boykin.
Item: My Will is that the first child my negroe wench Dinah beareth may be given to my grandson Drury Boykin.
Item: I give and bequeath unto my son Thomas Boykin, my negroe Boy Abraham after the death of his Mother or widowhood.
Item: I give and bequeath unto my grandson Henry Boykin, one negroe wench named Dinah, after the death of my wife or widowhood, and my Will is that my son Edward Boykin, shall have the benefit of the said negro wench's labour during his natural life.
Item: I give and bequeath unto my loving son Benjamin Boykin all the money he is indebted to me, also one cow and calf.
Item: I give and bequeath unto my daughter Rachal Heron one cow and calf.
Item: I give and bequeath unto my daughter Martha, one cow and calf.
Item: I give and bequeath unto my grandson of my first born, Edward Boykin, one cow and calf.
Item: I give and bequeath unto my beloved wife, Judith Boykin, all the residue of my estate, whom also I constitute and appoint with my son Solomon Boykin, whole and sole executor and executrix, of this my last Will and Testament, revoking and annulling any other Will by me made. Ratifying this only to be my Last Will and Testament.
Witness whereof, I have set my hand and afixed my seal, this 8th day of June, 1743.
Edward Boykin (seal)
Witness Chas. Campbell
Richard Wall jurat called Testis."
It is sometimes said "the dead have long fingers". Edward Boykin Jr. really did want to "rule from the grave". For instance, his Will appears to make provision for his wife Judith in the conventional manner, with use of his residual estate for the remainder of her natural life. But her husband was not so trusting. The operative phrase is "after the death of my wife or widowhood". If Judith remarried, her bequest was forfeit.
His children came in for similar micro-management. If they didn't settle down ("thinks proper to live on it") and get married ("dieth without issue lawfully begotten"), then sons Hardy and Thomas and daughter Martha lost the right to freely sell or pass on whatever he gave them.
The case of "my negro wench Dinah" is especially galling. Item 10 insists that Dinah will belong to his wife until she dies, then his son Edward "shall have the benefit of the said negro wench's labour during his natural life", and finally, she is to be given
"unto my grandson Henry Boykin".
But the ultimate indignity he inflicts on this poor girl is contained in Item 8: "My Will is that the first child my negroe wench Dinah beareth may be given to my grandson Drury Boykin". His dehumanising equivalence of slaves and livestock - "one cow and calf" - could not be more plainly described.
This is so obviously WRONG it implies that an important part of Edward Boykin Jr was already dead.