and Mercer's Answers
Williamsburg 20 April 1759
Be pleased on the other side to answer the following queries in a full and ample manner and oblige very much, Yr most Obedt Servt. 1
First Does the Law require that all the Personal Estate & (Negroes only excepted) of the late Colo Custis be sold, in order to lay off his widows dower and daughters part.-or can it be done by the Inventory & appraisment - or lastly by dividing the Estate as it stands at this present - Which of these three is the Right Method? - & had Mrs. Washington a claim to one third of the Chattels of every kind whatsoever?
To the first
All such Goods as may be liable to perish or be the worse for keeping are by Law directed to be sold by public auction as soon as conveniently may be after the Debts paid - Yet I am of Opinion a Division may be made of the personal as well as the real Estate by the method hereafter mentioned - Mrs Washington has a clear right to one third of the Chattels of every kind whatsoever.
Second - What steps are necessary to Effect this in either Case? & how is the Money and Bonded Debt to be divided?
To the Second of (illegible) & best method to have Mrs Washington's Dower assigned (illegible) Estate divided will be by a Bill in Chancery to be brought in your & Mrs Washingtons names against the Children upon which Commissioners will be appointed not only to set apart her Dower in the Lands but to divide the money & bonded Debts & every other part of the Estate, one third thereof which belongs to Mrs Washington - and as I am satisfied your chief motive is to have the Children's Shares set apart & ascertained, so that fair & regular Accounts may be kept of the Profits & all Disputes that might be occasioned by a joynt Occupation, avoided, so I am assured the Speaker who is appointed Guardian to prosecute & defend for the Children will agree to any Division that may be for the Ease & advantage of all Persons concerned: and such a Division I am confident (will) readily be established by the Court.
Third - Has Mrs Washington a Right to take any part of the Furniture or Personal Estate (negroes excepted as before) at the Appraisment price? - or is she under a necessity or taking the whole or none?
To the third. As it would be very inconvenient either to part with the furniture of the House or expose it to Sale in order to purchase it I make no doubt but the Commissioners will assign you any part of the household furniture you desire at the appraised value & the remainder may be sold.
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Publication information: Book title: Worthy Partner:The Papers of Martha Washington. Contributors: Joseph E. Fields - Compiler, Martha Washington - Author. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 1994. Page number: 82.