Abstract

http://ssrn.com/abstract=1398522
 


 



The Most Esteemed Act of My Life: Family, Property, Will, and Trust in the Antebellum South


Stephen Duane Davis II


U.S. District Court, Northern District of Alabama

Alfred L. Brophy


University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - School of Law

May 12, 2009

Alabama Law Review, Forthcoming

Abstract:     
This paper combines an empirical study of probate in Greene County, Alabama, one of the wealthiest counties in the United States in the years leading into Civil War, with a qualitative examination of property doctrine and ideology at that time. The data address three key themes in recent trusts and estates literature. First, what testators did with their extraordinary wealth; in particular, how they worked to maintain property within their families, and especially how male testators were suspicious of loss of their family's wealth through their daughters' marriages. Second, the testators used sophisticated trust mechanisms for both managing property and keeping it within their families. In the antebellum era, Americans celebrated the ways they harnessed technologies, from the steam engine to the telegraph and printing press, to create wealth and improve society. This study reveals that trusts should be added to that list of technologies that assisted in the creation and management of wealth. Finally, the data reveal the salience of enslaved human property, often managed through trusts after their owners died and also frequently divided between family members, to the maintenance of family wealth.

While some in the United States at the time, including some jurists, as well as politicians and novelists, questioned the desirability to our country of inheritance, the Greene County data show an extraordinary devotion to maintenance of family wealth. The findings in 'The Most Esteemed Act of My Life' invite further study in other places in the South, as well as in the North, to test the extent to which the existence of wealth (particularly a wealth based on human property) led to different patterns of bequest from those seen among some of our nation's wealthiest individuals at critical period of American history.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 51

Keywords: trusts, wills, slavery, antebellum legal history

working papers series


Download This Paper

Date posted: July 18, 2009 ; Last revised: March 16, 2010

Suggested Citation

Davis II, Stephen Duane and Brophy, Alfred L., The Most Esteemed Act of My Life: Family, Property, Will, and Trust in the Antebellum South (May 12, 2009). Alabama Law Review, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1398522 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1398522

Contact Information

Stephen Duane Davis II
U.S. District Court, Northern District of Alabama ( email )
Birmingham, AL 35203
United States
Alfred L. Brophy (Contact Author)
University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - School of Law ( email )
Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States
919-962-4128 (Phone)

Feedback to SSRN


Paper statistics
Abstract Views: 2,735
Downloads: 241
Download Rank: 71,664

© 2014 Social Science Electronic Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.  FAQ   Terms of Use   Privacy Policy   Copyright   Contact Us
This page was processed by apollo6 in 0.312 seconds