Why was Old Man Jacob Dobkins’ Will Fraudulently Secreted, Concealed and Destroyed? – 52 Ancestors #375

Get yourself a BIG, oversized cuppa java, because this is better than the best soap opera.

Yes, really.

Know what else? We’ve vindicated Old Man Jacob Dobkins too. At least somewhat. When you’re done reading this, his last will and testament will no longer be “disappeared.” We’ve “reappeared” it, 191 years later, almost two centuries after John Hunt, the sheriff, wrote it for him. John then read it aloud to those in the room. Jacob acknowledged that it was what he wanted, then he sat down and signed it, in his home, in front of John Hunt, two unbiased, unrelated, witnesses, and a few nosey family members.

How could that will have simply disappeared without so much as a trace?

Back Story

For decades, the fact that Jacob Dobkins had no will made no sense. Truthfully, my cousins and I all looked, individually, and I think we just figured it was one more of those head-scratching omissions. I knew from Jacob’s Revolutionary War Pension papers approximately when he died – and I even read the court records page by page – all to no avail. Nada. Nothing.

That omission was inexplicable.

According to his Revolutionary War Pension application, Jacob Dobkins was born in 1751 in Augusta County, Virginia. I wrote about his early life and service in the article, Jacob Dobkins (1751-1835); Several Bullet Holes Through His Clothes.

He truly lived an amazing life.

By La Citta Vita – Shenandoah River, aerial, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26763408

After the War, where Jacob served in Kentucky and Ohio, he returned to his home in Shenandoah County, Virginia – to, his wife Dorcas and young children. But Jacob had experienced a taste of adventure and what lay beyond those Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley – and he would never be the same. He heard them calling.

Jacob packed up his family and struck out for the frontier, first settling in Washington County, NC, which was contested land between Virginia and NC. His name appears on a petition to the governor of North Carolina in 1789, asking, begging for help and protection after the State of Franklin dissolved. You can read my transcription, here.

Tennessee was not yet a state, and this territory referred to as “South of the French Broad” was literally the untamed wild west.

Then we find Jacob in Jefferson County, then Hawkins on the border with Greene County for a dozen years, then on to the Indian Boundary Line in what would become Claiborne County, TN in 1801.

His was one of the first homes established along Cedar Fork on the Powell River.

Jacob’s original Claiborne County home stood well into the 1900s, and likely still stands today in a reconstructed village. You can see more photos and read about his homestead in the article, Come Sit a Spell With Jacob Dobkins.

Jacob was already living in Claiborne County when it was formed in 1801, sitting on the original court as a juror. He was no young man by this time – about 50 years old. His eldest children were already marrying.

In 1802, Jacob bought land on the north side of Wallen’s Ridge from Longhunter Elisha Wallen, and added more acreage over the years. I believe his goal was to purchase enough land to provide an enticement to his children to remain nearby.

Two of his daughters, Jane (Jenny) and Elizabeth married Campbell boys from Hawkins County.

John Campbell and Jenny Dobkins owned land adjoining the Liberty Baptist Church today. The original house still stands next door.

Jacob sold land to Elizabeth Dobkins and George Campbell as well as to his son, Solomon, and his other daughter Margaret who married Elijah Jones.

His son John Dobkins patented land on the south side of Wallen’s Ridge and lived nearby too.

Jacob’s home wasn’t large, at least not by today’s standards. However, by the standards of the frontier, Jacob appeared to be rather well-off, at least for a humble farmer. His strategy of buying land on the undeveloped frontier, clearing it, then selling it a few years later to new settlers was paying off. You could always purchase more land on the frontier further west. Jacob seemed to be an upright, respected man within the community, serving on juries, witnessing deeds, attending court, and doing what normal men of his time did.

In 1809, Jacob did something quite out of character. Perhaps as he aged, he needed help. By 1810, his children were all adults, married and none remained at home. Jacob was 58 or 59 years old when he purchased slaves.

“I Jesse Cheek hath bargained and sold unto Jacob Dobkins 4 negroes names Aneker or Anekey, Mitilty, Jiary, Amelyer for the consideration of $130 in hand paid.”  March 29 1809 Jesse signs, registered July 30, 1809.  John Campbell and Solomon Dobkins are witnesses.

Jacob’s son, Solomon, who was of age to marry and did shortly thereafter, and son-in-law John Campbell were witnesses.

As much as I hate to say this, I think this building on Jacob’s property was probably the slave quarters. I could be wrong, of course.

There’s one other single chimney standing that was clearly attached to a structure of some sort.

In some cases, the enslaved people simply slept in the main house, but in this case, Jacob seems to have purchased a family unit.

That transaction broke my heart. However, those enslaved people tie into Jacob’s will, or lack thereof. They would affect his family for generations, much more than he could ever, ever have anticipated. I bet Jacob, from the other side, fervently wished he could go back in time and “undo” his action. However, that’s not a choice we get.

By then, all he could do was watch it unfold and unravel.

Jacob seemed to have a relaxed, close relationship with his children. They lived nearby.

Jacob began distributing his property to his children, including his enslaved people, in about 1814 or 1815. Solomon would have just returned from the War of 1812 where he got into some sort of trouble. He was court-martialed and stripped of his Captain rank. Solomon’s problems wouldn’t end there.

We find only snippets about the Dobkins family for the next several years. Early census schedules, a few deeds, tax lists, court notes, and such. Everything seemed pretty normal except for a thing or two.

Never ignore or dismiss “a thing or two.”

One of those “things” was that Jacob Dobkins died, with assets, including property, but not only did he NOT have a will, neither was his death reported to the court so an administrator could be ordered to process his estate.

That means his estate records, will, inventory, and such were missing from two separate sets of records – the Will book and the Court Minutes – both of which exist for this time period. How odd.

I found that even stranger because we knew exactly where to look in the records based on his pension payments and when they stopped.

Then…BOOM!!!

Bombshell

A few days ago, cousin Debbie messaged me with this:

YAY! I finally found a document with proof that Jacob Dobkins is Jane Dobkins/Campbell’s father!

Of course, I wanted to know where and how. Debbie told me that the local DAR Registrar checked and found that a contested will existed at the Tennessee State Library and Archives that included Jane Dobkins’ deposition wherein she states that she is Jacob Dobkins’ daughter.

Now, we had known this for years, based on DNA matches among other evidence, but the problem is that none of that evidence was adequate for DAR membership, which was Debbie’s goal.

Debbie sent me the link to the Supreme Court case. She ordered the page she needed. I ordered all 59.

I was hoping against hope that the title of the case as indexed was in error and that William Fregate was actually William Fugate who was rumored to have been married to the sister of John and George Campbell. The person who initially set forth that theory is now deceased and declined to provide any evidence or even a source – except to say that there was a contested will and I would just have to find it myself.

Was this THAT will? It didn’t look hopeful from the name of the case, but hey, you never know.

J. B. Heiskell next friend vs Jeherle Fregate, admr.

Here’s the case description.

Add. plaintiffs: Avery Sinira Deadrick, mother of Cynthia Ann, Lewis, Nelson, & Hessy & Jean Jefferson. Defendant administrator of the estate of William Fregate (dec.). Through the will of the deceased, the complainants state they are entitled to their freedom. Defendant states the will was fraudulently obtained and altered.

Furthermore, searching for the keywords Dobkins and Campbell did NOT display this case – so I was very uncertain.

I ordered the case to be scanned anyway. I’ve spent a whole lot more for nothing before.

This case turned out to be an absolute goldmine.

However, I still don’t know if one of the Fugate men married John and George Campbell’s sister.

This document answered a whole lot of questions, exposed a family scandal, and gave birth to an avalanche of new questions.

Jacob’s Children

Here’s what we know, or thought we knew, about Jacob Dobkins and his wife, Dorcas Johnson’s children:

  • Andrew Dobkins born circa 1775 in probably Dunmore County, VA died in 1852 Greene County, TN, married Johanna Woolsey around 1800, and had children, William, Patsy, Rebecca, Dorcas, Rachel, and Mary “Polly.” Note – at the end of this case, I now believe that Andrew was NOT the child of Jacob, but of one of Jacob’s brothers, either Reuben or Evan who also migrated with him to the Virginia/North Carolina borderlands, but did not move to Claiborne County.
  • Jane “Jenny” Dobkins was born about 1777 in Dunmore County and died between 1850 and 1860 in Claiborne County, TN. She married John Campbell around 1800 and had children Jacob, Elizabeth, Elmira, Jane, Martha, Rutha, George Washington, and William Newton. Note – Her deposition provided us with her birth year.
  • John Dobkins was born about 1777, probably in Dunmore County, VA, and died after 1840 in Claiborne County, TN. He married Elizabeth Shaw before 1805 and had two known children, Lorenzo Dow and John.
  • Jacob Dobkins Jr. – Note – this person previously attributed to Jacob Sr. is the son of Solomon Dobkins and is not Jacob’s son. It’s likely that at one time Jacob did have a son with his name, but we find no records as an adult.
  • Reuben Dobkins was born about 1783 in Shenandoah County, VA, and died in 1823 in Claiborne County, TN. His wife’s name was Mary “Polly.” It’s unclear whether they had children before his death. Note – It appears she remarried to Thomas Martin.
  • Elizabeth Dobkins was born about 1783 in Shenandoah County, VA, and died after 1850 in Claiborne County, TN. She married George Campbell around 1796. They had Elizabeth “Betsy,” Barnabus “Barney,” Dorcus, Peggy, Jenny, Charles, James, John, and Jacob. Note – We only learn of son Jacob through this lawsuit.
  • Margaret “Peggy” Dobkins was born about 1785 in what would become Tennessee and died after 1850 in Claiborne County, TN. She married Elijah Jones in 1808 and had Elisha and Dorcas.
  • Solomon Dobkins was born about 1787 in the territory that would become Tennessee and died in 1852 in Kaufman County, TX. He married Elizabeth about 1809 and had Phebe, Jacob, George, Hugh, Alexander, Nancy Ann, Barthena, Lucinda, Manervy, Clinton, and Marcellus.

Goldmine!

I learned an incredible amount about so many aspects of Jacob’s life, the lives of his children, and the neighborhood where he lived. This lawsuit, despite the horrible injustice done to the complainants, provided a plethora of picturesque information about day-to-day life in the first half of the 1800s in Claiborne County, Tennessee.

For the most part, I’m simply transcribing this incredible document. I will be adding commentary from time to time. I’ve labeled where my commentary begins.

In some cases, I have omitted legal jargon that does not add to the narrative. Three dots also means some text is omitted. Occasionally, I have simply summarized a passage.

Numbers are electronic page numbers in the pdf files, here and here, received from the Tennessee State Library and Archives. The second document has the document page, along with the original page number. For the most part, I’ve left the punctuation intact and corrected little of the sentence syntax. In many cases, it’s obvious that commas and periods are missing. Bolding is mine for ease in reading. Indentions are the transcriptions.

The handwriting is difficult. Words I can’t make out have a ?, so maybe you can figure out that word. If so, please post in the comments with the page number and surrounding words so I can find it. Thanks.

The two pdf scanned files are:

To future researchers – you’re welcome!

The Lawsuit

J.B Heiskell by their next friend vs Jehile Fugate administrator of William Fugate

Comment: Yay – it is Fugate!

[Page 1] Filed Sept 12, 1853 – 12th Chancery Circuit – Motion to dismiss disallowed – affirmed and remanded to the chancery court – deft to pay the costs of this court.

[Page 2] Index – not transcribed

[Page 3] A record of a case began and determined in the Chancery Court at Tazewell in the Eastern Division of the State of Tennessee where in Cynthia Ann and others are complainants and Solomon Dobkins and others are defendants.

Comment: The chancery court records do not exist for this timeframe, so the only records we have are those that have been appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court. The process was that the local Clerk and Master would hand copy all of the pleadings and depositions and answers and send an entire packet of certified documents to the Supreme Court. That’s what we have today.

On Oct. 3, 1850, Cynthia Ann one of the complainants appeared before the Clerk and Master and took and subscribed the following oath, to wit:

Cynthia Ann and others vs Solomon Dobkins and others.

[She certifies her poverty and asks for a decree.]

Complainants Anny Louisa Deadrick and Cynthia Ann, Lewis, Nelson and Hessy, her children and Isam Jefferson, the last of who is the brother of complainant Any Louisa Deadrick. That about 14 or 15 years ago Jacob Dobkins departed this life in the said county, after making his last will and testament by the provisions of [Page 4] which your complainants are entitled to their freedom, that the said will has been fraudulently secreted and concealed for many years and they believe up to this time but if it is not yet concealed it has been destroyed lately, as they have been informed that within a very short time since, the said will was in the possession of George Campbell, who is the son-in-law of the testator, and your complainants Anny Louisa Deaderick and her said two children, Lewis and Hessy are in the possession of the said George Campbell, complainant Cynthia is in the possession of Margaret Jones, who is a daughter of the testator, but she lives with one Joseph Simmons.

Comment: Who lives with Simmons? Margaret or Cynthia, or maybe both?

Complainant Nelson is in the possession of and claimed by one William Fugate who has lately threatened to sell him to a negro trader, and complainant Nelson charges that this is a plan of the said William Fugate to have your complainant taken out of the country to that he can not assert his right to his freedom. Complainant Isom Jefferson is in the possession of and claimed by one Solomon Dobkins. Complainants show that they are all in a state of slavery are likely to continue such unless they can get the aid of the courts of the country. Your complainants further show that the said will as they are informed and believe was witnessed by Randal Lanham and William Lanham one of which has left the country, but the other is yet in the said County of Claiborne. Your complainants further show that they have been illegally held in slavery for many years and have been for a long time serving the persons herein before named without any compensation.

The premises? considered your complainants, who are all residents of the said county of Claiborne, pray that the said Soloman Dobkins, George Campbell, Margaret Jones, William Fugate, all of whom are residents of the said county, may be [Page 5] made defendants to this bill of complaint and that they be compelled to answer the same fully and in every particular and especially that they be required to answer and say at what date the said Jacob Dobkins departed this life? And where? Did he the said Jacob not make his last will and testament in the county of Claiborne and what are its contents? Who witnessed the said will? So if not ? in the possession of the said George Campbell? If not where is it? Do they or either of them know where it is? Where was it when they last saw it or heard of it? Let each answer and give answers to the statement and charges of this bill according to the best of their knowledge and information and belief, let them and each of them answer and say who are the witnesses of said will? And why it is that the said will was never presented to the court for probate and recording? Who were the executors appointed in the said will? And the said defendants and called on, if the said will is yet in existence, to produce and file the same with the answer, and especially let the said George Campbell and answer and say where the said will is? Was it not in his possession? If so when? Has he not shown the said will to some persons since the death of the said testator? If so whom? And to whom did he show it, let him state when last he saw the will? And if it is not in his possession, let him answer and say where it is according to his knowledge information and belief.

And in the mean time your complainants pray that are injunction may issue to restrain the said defendants from removing your complainants or either of them out of the county of Claiborne and that your Honors will also appoint a receiver to take them into possession so that they may not be sold or removed out of the county and beyond the jurisdiction of this honorable court.

[Page 6] And on final hearing, the prayer of complainants is that the said will may be set up in the Honorable Court if by the fraud of any of the said defendants it has been destroyed and complainants declared free, and if the said will is provided that the complainants be allowed to take steps under it to secure their freedom, that they have an account of their hire from the time that they were entitled to their freedom, and if in any thing they have mistaken their remedy they pray such other and further and different relief as they may be entitled to, under the circumstances of the case. This is the first application for an injunction in the case. They therefore pray for relief.

Netherland and Maynard Heiskell, solicitors for complainants.

Signed by Cynthia Ann with her mark on September 30, 1850

Court required defendants to post bond in “double the supposed value of the complainants for their good treatment” [Page 7] and failing to provide that bond the sheriff is to take the complainants into his possession and keep them safely until further order of the court.

Comment: I’m utterly dumbstruck – at several levels.

  • First – if true – I’m amazed that anyone would actually try to hide a death and will from an entire county – and apparently succeed.
  • Second, that Cynthia Ann, an enslaved woman who didn’t even have a last name, and her family members, had the MOXY to actually file suit against the ENTIRE DOBKINS FAMILY. People that could sell them down the river, could beat them, deprive them of food, and take their very lives. They could sell off their children. That happened all the time.
  • Third, that the slaves were able to find white men to file their suit as their “next friends” in the south is a testimony of a different kind.
  • Fourth – the fact that apparently many people are accused of being involved in this illegal fraud – and many in high standing in the county – is jaw-dropping.

Of course, this might not be true. We have to wait, look at the evidence, and see.

I have so many more questions than I started out with.

Subpoena to answer was filed and issued on October 3, 1850.

The Sheriff is commanded to summon Solomon Dobkins, William Fugate, George Campbell and Margaret Jones to appear at the Chancery Court to be held at the court house in Tazewell upon the first Monday of December next to answer the bill of complaint by Cynthia Ann and others, persons of color, filed against them.

Delivered October 8, 1830.

December 3, 1850 – Defendants allowed until [Page 8] second rule day to file their answers so as not to delay the hearing of this cause.

Comment: I’d say the defendants either weren’t taking this case seriously or were intentionally being uncooperative.

December 5, 1850 – Court issues interlocutory order because the injunctions had not been complied with. Margaret Jones has not complied with the order of the Judge granting the injunction and has suffered the said complainant Cynthia to be attached and that the sheriff has taken bond from certain other persons to wit: Thomas W. Jennings with George Rose his security for her forthcoming at the term of this court. William Fugate in like manner, failed to provide bond and that Nelson has been taken by virtue of the attachment and placed in the hands of Robert C. Woodson and bond taken with William Riley for security. Solomon Dobkins has given bond for the forthcoming of the complainant Jefferson at the present term of this court and for his good treatment until this time, but [Page 9] that the said bond does not embrace the time yet to come during the pendency of this suit. George Campbell has entered into a bond similar to the bond last named for the forthcoming of said Anny Louisa Deadrick and Louis and Hessy.

Cynthia Ann and Nelson to be delivered up to the Clerk and Master who is directed to hire the said complainants to some fit person at a fair rate per annum who shall give bond with approved security each in the penalty of $1200 for the safekeeping, kind treatment and care of said Negros during the space of 12 months from the first of January next and delivery at the expiration of the said period.

Comment: That’s exactly right – Margaret Dobkins Jones and William Fugate, neither one complied either initially or by the two extra days provided by the court. I bet the defendants are taking this suit much more seriously now.

That Solomon Dobkins and George Campbell enter into like bond for $1200 and that George Campbell in the sum of $200 as to the mixed treatment of the negroes, complainants, in their custody, respectively

[Page 10] Dec. 6, 1850 – Ordered to take the deposition of Elizabeth Campbell of Claiborne County, she being aged and infirm on giving defendants 5 days notice. Also deposition of George Campbell.

December 28, 1850 – Answers of George W. Campbell and wife was filed, which is as follows, to wit:

George W. Campbell to the bill of complaint filed in the chancery court at Tazewell

[Page 11] George Campbell says it is true Jacob Dobkins died in Claiborne County, TN about the time mentioned in the bill, but the precise time…does not now remember. It is true that respondent married one of the daughters (Elizabeth) of said Jacob. It is true that the complainants except the girl Hessy mentioned in the bill were the slaves of Jacob Dobkins at the time of his death, the said Hessy having been borned since his death. It is true that at the death of the said Jacob he was the owner of another slave named Berry, brother to the complainant Isham Jefferson. It is true that the death of the said Jacob Dobkins he made his last will and testament which was drawn by John Hunt who is since dead and was witnessed by William Lanham who resides in Claiborne County and Randall Lanham who has left the state. It is also true that the provisions of said will the complainants were entitled to their freedom.

At the death of the testator this respondent together with the other sons-in-law of the testator and his daughter met at the testators house about the time of the death of the testator and after they were assembled, they all with the exception of Elijah Jones who married a daughter of said testator walked out to the garden fence and Solomon Dobkins son of the testator and one of the defendants in the court remarked to them that his father had made a will by which he set all his negroes free (the complainants.) And that if he, the said Solomon or John Hunt, who were named executors in it saw it, they would be found to go by it, said Solomon further said that they were all of age and that the best way was to burn or destroy the said will, to this proposition the wife of respondent objected and said she would rather have nothing than that her father’s will should be burnt or destroyed. The said Solomon said that the will was in [Page 12] a box in the house and in a chest. We went in the house and the said Solomon went to the chest, unlocked it, and took out the box and put it under his arm and as he went out of the house he plucked the coat of respondent and ? went out with said Solomon, who put the box containing said will I the respondents arms and respondent immediately handed them over to John Dobkins a son of testator and brother to Solomon, the said John was a man of weak and ? mind, he had the said will out, when he was about to destroy it or burn it, the wife of respondent spoke to her brother John and with much feeling said “in God’s name Johnny don’t destroy our father’s will” on which the said John handed the will to his said sister, who put it into her bosom and carried it home with her that evening. Respondent further says that the said Elijah Jones, who had married one of the daughters of said testator but had separated from her and was on bad terms with said Solomon was not as respondent believed present at that time in the house as said Solomon had ordered him away, but he was not far off as the said Jones went home with respondent and wife that night, and after getting to respondents house his wife took the will out of her bosom and handed it to the said Jones and said “That is what they say is my father’s will.” Said Jones took it and after reading it over said that it was the will of her father, and that in it the negroes were set free. The said will was then put in a chest of respondent’s house and it remained there until within the last three years, which it was taken away by some person, but by whom respondent does not personally know – nor does he now know where it is, but as to the contents of the will they are truly stated in the bill so far as the freedom of the complainants is concerned.

Comment: Holy cow. I can hardly believe what I’m reading.

He set his negroes free, yet his children, or at least one of them, schemed, apparently successfully, to keep them enslaved?

Elizabeth took her father’s will and literally put it where she knew her brother wasn’t going to get it? She would have been in her 50s at the time.

What happened to Elizabeth’s determination? What changed her mind? What happened to the will?

In the late 1800s, you can see the fence around the original homestead and another building that was added later. Is this the fence they stood beside after Jacob died? This photo was probably only taken some 70 years or so later.

In this section, we also learn that John Dobkins may have had a disability – or at lest he was described as such.

And we now know that neither Elizabeth nor George could read or write, but that Solomon Dobkins and Elijah Jones both could.

Elijah also tells us that he and his wife separated. I know from later documents that he remarried in the 1840s, but I never found an actual divorce. Ironically, Elijah, even twenty years after separating from his wife, was still on good terms with her family except for her brother, Solomon.

Respondent further states that during the time said will [Page 13] was in his wife’s possession it was seen by Barnibus Campbell and Charles Campbell, sons of this recipient, who came to enquire for it, because they said they had heard that said Solomon Dobkins had threatened to put respondent in the penitentiary for destroying the said will. It was also seen and respondent believes read by one Mordecai Cunningham who was examining among the papers of respondent for some title deeds and was reading them over and when said Cunningham came to the will and looked it over he remarked to respondent that it was the will of Jacob Dobkins, ? rather he spoke to respondent’s wife and said “This is your father’s will.”

Comment: For years there has been LOTS of speculation about whether or not Barney was in fact the child of George Campbell. This removes all doubt about what George thought, anyway. Some Y DNA from Barney’s descendants does not match the Campbell line, but other does, as does some autosomal, so while there is a genetic break downstream someplace, Barney is indeed George Campbell’s son.

Respondents will state why said will was not sooner spoken of and produced by him. On the day when it was determined to secret said will and to keep the complainants as slaves a bond was drawn up in the penalty of several thousand dollars binding each one who signed it, (and all both men and women were prevailed upon to sign it) and that they were to abide by a division or property that day made among them, and were to keep the said will a secret. Respondent further states that since the filing of the bill in this case that William Fugate one of the defendants in this care and complainant came to the house of respondent and told respondent and his wife that the said Fugate held “that forfeited bond, that he got it out of the papers of the papers of John Campbell and that he meant to enforce it,” and the said Fugate further stated to respondent and his wife that when they were examined about the matter all they had to say was that there never was any will there and further said he understood it as well as any of the lawyers and that the way was to let him and Barney look for it and that they could not find it, that he would show them about freeing the negroes. Respondent knew the hand write of the testator and so did his wife and he believes the signature to the said [Page 14] will was in the proper hand writing of the said Jacob Dobkins.

Comment: Holy chimloda! It truly was a cabal. Not only did they decide to defraud the complainants, but also to prevent their own father’s last wishes as stated in his will, from being carried out. Not just having to do with his immovable property, but also with the human lives he controlled, but wished to free upon his death.

I won’t even ask the question about why Jacob didn’t just free them before his death, because the answer is probably the same reason as why his children didn’t want to free them either.

Also, this confirms that John Campbell died in Claiborne county. I believed so, but there has been speculation otherwise. So John Campbell retained the paper that everyone signed pledging to keep their guilty secret on penalty of forfeiture of the bond.

Where was that bond money? Who held it? How much did they have to pledge? And maybe even more important, who told? Clearly, someone told.

How is William Fugate involved anyway?

Respondent further states that the names and ages of the complainants and the persons with whom they are living are correctly set out in the bill respondent further states that he knows that the complainants are entitled to their freedom under the will of the said testator and he has always insisted that those of them in his possession should be liberated at his death and he new freely consents that the complainants maybe emancipated. And having fully answered defendant prays to be dismissed with his ?.

George Campbell signed with his mark

Elizabeth also signed with her mark.

Comment: Prior to this suit, I have never seen a middle initial for George Campbell. I’m guessing the W. is probably for William, but that’s just a guess.

[Page 15] January 8, 1851 – the answer of Solomon Dobkins was filed.

Soloman Dobkins…states that there are many falsehoods contained in the complainants’ bill.

True that he is the son of Jacob Dobkins who departed this life in the latter part of the year 1835 as well as he recollects. He was at times in great intimacy with his father, having been his agent in the transaction of his business for near 20 years before his death. At the time of his death he was very old and infirm. About four? years before the death of Jacob Dobkins made his will and testament in which there as a bequest of freedom to all his negroes as respondent understood though he never read the same as he now recollects. This request of freedom extended to all of complainants who were then in ?. The said Jacob placed this will in the hands of respondent for safekeeping and it remained in his possession for a short time only when the said Jacob spoke to respondent and informed him that he had understood since he made his will that the laws of the state would not allow the emancipation of slaves unless they were removed beyond the limits of Tennessee, and that being the case he said “it would be better for the slaves to remain in slavery” or “that they preferred to remain in slavery” the precise expression respondent does not remember. He then took the will out of the hands of respondent, and it was the understanding of respondent that the said Jacob did not intend to set [Page 16] his negroes free. His object then as respondent supposed was to destroy the same, since which time respondent has never seen it or has he ever heard of the same until within a few years past, when he heard that George W. Campbell one of the respondents in this case had the will of the said Jacob, so soon as respondent heard this he remarked that it would penitentiary the said Campbell for he had concealed the same. The said Campbell and his wife Elizabeth were heirs of the said Jacob. Shortly after the said Campbell came to the house of respondent in company with his wife Elizabeth and denied to respondent that he had taken or concealed the will, this was done in the presence of said Elizabeth and it is a little remarkable if they had the will, or knew of its existence, that they did not inform respondent of it as he was one of the executors of the said Jacob in the will placed in the hands of respondent by the said Jacob, as respondent was informed at the time of its execution. The conduct of the said Campbell and wife in concealing the will from the knowledge of respondent can be accounted for alone upon the grounds that they were heirs of the said Jacob, and that if his will could be supplied, that would be in total to a childs part of the value of said slaves.

The charges in the bill of complaint as to what occurred about the time of the death of the said Jacob in response to the distribution of the will is basely false and without the semblance of truth to the best of the recollection of respondent but the respondent will state what did occur. About the time of the death of the father of respondent or shortly after, all the heirs not at the old family mansion of the said Jacob, respondent told them all that some years ago his father had made a will by which he had set his negroes free and provided that his [Page 17] other property should be equally divided amongst his heirs. That he did not believe that it was the will of the old man that the negroes should be free, but that if the will was found they would be entitled to their freedom, that if the old man had not destroyed it, and could be provided he would be compelled to execute it and free the negroes. But he if had done so and it could not be provided they should divide the property equally as it appeared to be the wish of the old man, that all his heirs should share alike.

Comment: It appears that Jacob gave his will to his son, whom he trusted.

The main home on a property was often called the mansion in old deeds and references. It probably was a mansion to some, but not in the way we think of Tara.

Here’s Jacob’s mansion.

Respondent further states that before the day Jacob was buried, the keys of the trunk he said Jacob were placed in the hands of the said G. W. Campbell who kept the same in his possession until Benjamin Sewell and John Hunt the commissioners agreed upon divided the property. Respondent never saw a tin box then as respondent now recollects as entirely (or untrue) as stated in the answer of said Campbell, the bond to which he refers in his special answer instead of containing a penalty against producing or discussing the will, only contains a penalty to abide by the award of the commissioners who divided the property, said bond is in existence and will be provided upon the final hearing if necessary. Randall Langham and William Langham were witnesses to the will before referred to and John Hunt and respondent were executors of the same, as respondent is informed and believes.

Comment: Of course, the commissioners divided the property not knowing the full scope of what they should be doing. So agreeing to abide by their division, which was predicated upon deceit, is exactly the same as saying they agree to keep their mouth shut.

Also, John Hunt was the man who physically wrote Jacob Dobkins’ will, so he would assuredly have asked about it. They clearly lied to Hunt who by 1850 is conveniently dead and can’t be deposed.

Respondent denies all knowledge of said will or its contents except as above stated. He never believed that it was the will of is father to set the negroes free after said will was given up to him. If said will is in existence respondent calls for the production of the same and full proof in ? thereto. Respondent never either distinctly or indistinctly agreed with any person to conceal or destroy the same, according to the best of [Page 18] his recollection and belief. Respondent has had the boy Isom Jefferson in his possession claiming his as his own property under the division of said commissioners and does not believe that the commissioners would ever have installed this suit, if they had not been prompted to do so by some evil-disposed persons and intermeddlers in other people business. Respondent denies all fraud or improper conduct and having fully answered he prays to be hence dismissed with his ?.

Solomon Dobkins signs

Comment: I can’t even…

January 8, 1851 – William Fugate answer.

That he came to the county of Claiborne some time in the year 1826. Some few years thereafter the same Jacob Dobkins departed his life, but at [Page 19] what precise time respondent is not informed nor has he any correct means of learning. Respondent had but a slight personal acquaintance with the said Jacob, having seen him but seldom before his death. The said Jacob Dobkins owned some negroes in his lifetime and complainant may have been among the number.

Whether or not the said Jacob made a will before his death, respondent knows nothing and consequently cannot speak of its contents. Respondent has no recollection of ever having heard that he had done so, until within the last twelve months. Respondent denies all knowledge of said will or its contents and call for any proof of the same. It is true as stated in complainants bill that he has in his possession the boy Nelson but no claims to him have been an innocent, honest and long? purchaser for a fair and ? consideration, without any notice that the said boy had any right or claim to freedom. Respondent purchased him of John Dobkins, now dead in the year 1837 as well as ? for $297.50, all of which has been paid in good faith to the said John Dobkins, said boy Nelson was five years old in August 1837, said boy Nelson was since he was purchased by respondent has been a locaky? and painy? child, until the last two or three years and has consequently been of little value to respondent. The said John Dobkins was one of the heirs at law of the said Jacob, decd.

Comment: This establishes John Dobkins’ death between the 1840 census and the 1850 census, before the suit was filed.

The charge in complainants bill that respondent intended to sell the said boy Nelson to a negro trader is utterly gratuitous and unfounded. Respondent may have threatened the boy to do so, but if so it was without any serious purpose on the part of respondent, but done with a view to scare him and make him a better boy. If the said complainant Nelson is entitled [Page 20] to his freedom under the will of the said Jacob Dobkins, respondent will interpose no difficulties in his way, but if not he insists upon his rights under the purchase from the said John. The bill of sale taken at the time of the sale of said boy will be produced upon the final hearing if required. Respondent denies all formal or improper conduct on his part and having fully answered he prays to be discharged.

William Fugate signed on January 8, 1851

Margaret Jones failed to answer.

Dec term 1852 death of Solomon Dobkins suggested.

Comment: This seems to be out of order.

January 11,1852?

Complainants represent that since the filing, Solomon Dobkins has made an arrangement to sell or has actually sold to said Fugate his valuable farm lying in Claiborne County [Page 23] and is making preparation to leave the state with his property to the state of Texas.

Comment: This sounds quite shady and is exactly what the original complainants asked the court to prevent from happening. Isom would have had no choice but to go, and Texas is way beyond the reach of the Tennessee courts.

Isom Jefferson is asking for his payment of the amount which is due to Isom Jefferson for his services for the last 15 years or more. Asked that the court enjoin Fugate from paying our any part to said Dobkins until the final hearing and Dobkins enjoined from transferring of negotiating any notes or choses in action given for the said purchases money or any past thing.

[Page 25] Dobkins answers and said he sold his farm to Fugate for $5195 to be paid by a negro girl for $500 and other payment terms listed. Claims Isom has no claim upon him.

[Page 26] It appears that William Fugate accepted Nelson in payment from the Dobkins heirs for “a claim which the said Fugate had upon the heirs of said Jacob Dobkins.”

June 3, 1851, the answer of William Fugate was filed to the separate suit against Solomon Dobkins and William Fugate. Fugate claims he has no knowledge of the complainant’s right to freedom, and that is a question between other parties. Admits he did purchase Dobkins tract of land [Page 28] and that respondent was to surrender all claim to a certain slave named Nelson to said Dobkins, which slave is one of the complainants in this case. Executed note to Dobkins due March 1, 1851 payable in Tennessee money.

Fugate said Nelson was to be traded. (page 28)

Comment: in October 1850, Solomon Dobkins and Jefferson, then using the Dobkins surname, sign an agreement wherein Solomon frees Jefferson, but Jefferson has to agree to drop his suit in chancery for his labor and wages in the 15 years since Jacob Dobkins’s death.

Did Jefferson sign this because he was afraid of being taken to Texas and this was his only safe way out?

When I initially found this several years ago, I was very confused by this transaction and could find nothing in the court record. It had seemingly appeared “out of the blue.” Solomon’s son, Jacob signed as a witness, and Nathaniel Brooks was Solomon’s son-in-law. John Campbell Dodson was the grandson of Jane Dobkins and John Campbell.

Did Jefferson high tail it out of town, or did he stay nearby his family? I cannot find him in any future records other than this suit.

June term 1851 – Court orders an investigation of Solomon Dobkins, William Fugate and Campbell and wife, and Margaret Jones, whether Jacob Dobkins made a will and if so ? the provisions of the will such as are alleged in the bill of complainants, or what the provisions of the same…to the next term.

Comment: This looks to be getting quite serious.

Clerk and Master report October 2, 1851

Clerk and Master has caused the parties to appear before him at his office on the 19 September and depositions taken.

[Page 32] The bill alleges that some 14 or 15 years before it was filed Jacob Dobkins made a will by which complainants are entitled to their freedom which will has been concealed.

The answer of Solomon Dobkins admits that a will was made by which the negroes were to be set free and that after he had made the will, the old man stated to him that he had understood the laws would not admit the emancipation of slaves unless they were removed out of the state and that it would be best for the negroes to remain in slavery, but denies any knowledge of assistance in the concealment of the will

The answers of defendant Fugate states that he knew nothing about the will.

The answer of G. W. Campbell and wife admit that a will was made which emancipated the slaves of the deceased, the complainants and the children of Amey Louisa Deadrick bring among the number.

From the evidence taken the ? facts appear.

W. Campbell states that a will was made by Jacob Dobkins which set his slaves free as stated more fully in his answer.

Elizabeth Campbell states that when they [Page 33] met to divide the slaves, Solomon Dobkins stated that his father had made a will which intended his slaves to be set free that him and John Hunt were the executors and of either of them saw it they would be compelled to carry it out; he recommended that it be destroyed; she took the will from John Dobkins who was about to destroy it and carried it home with her where it remained until a few years ago when it was taken out by some person to her unknown.

Comment: No wonder Soloman wanted to go to Texas.

William Lanham states that him and Randall Lanham witnessed a will made by Jacob Dobkins which was drawn by John Hunt. Solomon Dobkins was present. He did not hear that part of it which disposed of the property ?. The testator Jacob Dobkins signed and acknowledged it in his presence. He never witnessed but one will for said Jacob Dobkins.

Barnabas Campbell saw a paper which his mother handed him stating it was the will of her father. He did not read it.

Elijah Jones was present when the negroes were divided and he then heard that a will was made by Jacob Dobkins, he advised the heirs to have the will proven and to go by its intentions, but they stated they would lose too much and they had the negroes divided. He read the will at George W. Campbells; he cannot give the precise words of the will but so far as the freedom of the slaves was concerned, the will stated that the negroes were to be set free or emancipated if the laws of Tennessee would allow them to remain in this state and if it would not allow them to remain if emancipated, they were to stay on the farm of Solomon Dobkins and he Solomon was to take care of them and act as their agent for them and to have the control of them.

[Page 34] Then as other proof in the record as to a decision made by Jacob Dobkins of his slaves among his heirs several years before his death; but as this first decision was not regarded by the heirs in the settlement of the estate and a new division made by them, and not relied upon the answers; the master does not believe it affects the merits of the case as to the will and he does not examine it further.

From the foregoing facts in the cause the Clerk and Master reports that the said Jacob Dobkins in his lifetime made a will and which will was unreported at the time of his death and which will has been concealed since or destroyed so that it has never been proven or recorded. And by the terms of this will the complainants Isam Jefferson, Nelson, Cynthia Ann, Amey Louisa Deaderick and Lewis and Hessy, children of Amy Louisa Deaderick are entitled to be emancipated, in parcealnce? of the acts of assembly in such cases, made and provided, which was clearly in intention of the testator.

The evidence upon which the above report is founded is respectfully reported.

[Page 35] Response by Solomon Dobkins et al:

The proof shows that there was a division of the negroes in question by old man Dobkins amongst his children some 15 or 20 years before his death and the negroes delivered into the possession of his children and consequently the old man Jacob had no right to dispose of them by will or otherwise twenty years afterward.

Comment: It’s interesting that Jacob began parceling out both his land and other “property” about the time he broke his collarbone as he reported to the court. This was only five years or so after he purchased the enslaved people, who appear to be a family.

The fact that Jacob Dobkins made a will by which the negroes were to be emancipated does not sufficiently appear from the proof.

If he made a will from the proof, the emancipation of the complainants was only conditional, if the laws of Tennessee would permit them to remain in this state, as the laws of the state at that time of the death of Jacob Dobkins would not allow the complainants freedom, and to remain in Tennessee, the bequest of freedom was null?, as the condition would not be allowed by our laws.

[Page 36] Decree – June term 1851

That said Jacob Dobkins did in his lifetime make a will which was unrecorded at the time of his death, which will has been concealed, secreted or destroyed and that has been provided. By the term of said will the complainants as named are entitled to be emancipated and that the said provisions be drawn up in due form and filed as follows:

The last will and testament of Jacob Dobkins decd as ascertained in the Chancery Court at Tazewell in the cause pending in said court [Page 37] wherein Cynthia Ann, Isom Jefferson, Nelson, Amey Louisa Deaderick and her children Lewis and Hessy by their next friend…as complainants and Solomon Dobkins, William Fugate, Margaret Jones and George Campbell and wife as defendants and transmitted to the county court.

“I Jacob Dobkins do direct and will that all my slaves shall be set free at my death and emancipated according to law. I do appoint Solomon Dobkins and John Hunt my executors. May 1831. Signed Jacob Dobkins Witness William Lanham and Randall Lanham.”

The same being affirmed by this court.

Comment: So the court in essence “reconstructed” the will of Jacob Dobkins, as best it could, and ordered it to be recorded. *Only* 16 years later.

This also gives us an approximate time that Jacob wrote his will – in May of 1831 which means he must have been feeling poorly. He would have been 80 years old at that time. Fortunately, he lived to file for his Revolutionary War pension the following year, which provided us with a wealth of information.

Jacob died between September (final pension payment) and sometime in December of 1835 (when his heirs quitclaimed his land to daughter Betsey.) Maybe that land was the price of her changing her mind.

Defendants file bill of exception.

[Page 38] Defendants take exception to the language employed in the decree so far as the same declares that by said will it was intended to manumit complainants that bring an adjudication upon that point.

They also except to said decree pronounced on the report because the language of the will as set out in the report and decree is not in conformity with the language of the witnesses, giving the language of the will

And because the evidence does not so prove the will as to establish the same.

January 5, 1852

Clerk and Master reports:

    • Isam Jefferson to Abel Kesterson for $100
    • Nelson to Robert Woodson? For $65
    • Cynthia Ann to J. B. Heiskel for $30

Comment: I believe this is the result of the court ordering that some of the complainants be taken into protection and then let out for wages. It’s interesting that Isom is included given his agreement with Solomon Dobkins in late 1850 when he was supposedly freed. Perhaps Isom, Nelson, and Cynthia Ann are receiving their own wages now, under the oversight of the court.

[Page39]

Same as the following year, 1853.

At December term court, 1852, the death of Solomon Dobkins is suggested in this cause.

[Page 40] June 9, 1853 Court notes that defendant Solomon Dobkins is deceased. Jehiel Fugate as administrator. This suit to continue against Jehiel Fugate as administrator.

[Page 41] – Court is attempting to determine value of the 15 years of services. Judgement irrovuppo? was regularly entered against Margaret Jones in her lifetime, the other defendants having answered.

Comment – Referring to Margaret Jones “in her lifetime” means she is deceased as of June 9, 1853. Perhaps she was ill before, and that’s why she never answered the complaint.

Clerk and Master proceed to take proof and state an account of the value of the services of the complainants showing:

    1. How long they have been illegally held in servitude, by whom each complainant has been held.
    2. The value of the services of each of the said complainants from the time of the death of Jacob Dobkins deceased, computing interest on the same from the end of each year to the next term of this court.
    3. What allowance if any should be made to the persons holding said complainants for ? clothing.

[Page 42] And that the Clerk and Master make report the next term of this court. Made June term 1851 and should have been inserted at the proper place.

Supplemental Bill

Solomon Dobkins entering into bond with approved security in the sum of $2000 conditional to pay and satisfy all such sums as shall be decreed to the complainants Isom Jefferson for his services upon the final hearing and to abide by and perform whatever decree shall be made in the premiss?, that the imprimation? granted in this cause and the attachment preventing the defendant Fugate from paying to deft Dobkins the amount due him for the tract of land shall be ?.

On the 8 of Sept. 1851 a bond was executed and deposited which is as follows…Solomon Dobkins, William M Cocke and William Bullard…held and firmly bound…the condition that when a bill has been [File 2 page 1, original document numbered page 41] filed by said Isom Jefferson by his next friend…against said Solomon Dobkins and William Fugate (a supplemental bill) at attach certain funds in the hands of said William Fugate belonging to said Dobkins to satisfy an alleged amount due to complainant Isom Jefferson for his services and at the last term of the Chancery Court at Tazewell when said cause is pending, the imprimation? was dissolved upon the said Dobkins entering into bond. Now if the said Dobkins shall pay and satisfy all such sums as shall be decreed to the complainant Isom Jefferson for his services upon the final hearing and abide by and perform whatever ? shall be made in the permises?, then this bond to be void, otherwise to remain in full force and virtue. Sept. 8, 1851.

Comment: Again, this is after the document filed between Solomon Dobkins and Isom Jefferson. Perhaps the court didn’t care for those conditions. We know that Isom is no longer with Solomon though, so at least he didn’t get spirited away to Texas.

June term 1853 – Jehiel Fugate and William Fugate pray and appeal from the decree pronounced in this cause to the next term of the Supreme Court to be held at Knoxville upon the second Monday of September next, and said despondents having given bond and security.

[Page 2 – original document page 42]

Granted.

William Fugate, William Niel and Jehiel Fugate bondsmen. June 10, 1853

Proof of complainants – depositions of George Campbell, Elizabeth Campbell, William Lanham and Barnet Campbell taken by complainants before the Clerk and Master.

[Page 3 – original document page 43]

George Campbell first sworn stated that he has now heard his answer which he had ? in read out to him and the said answer contains the true statement of the matters in controversy as far as he recollects, and adopts his answer as his deposition and adopts the same now; and he wishes to state further that he had never seen the keys spoken of by Solomon Dobkins in his answer or had them in his possession, and that the first time he saw them was on the day the divide was made when they was in the trunk and used then by Solomon Dobkins, they was never deposited in his custody for safe keeping.

  1. Question by respondent S. Dobkins by his agent Jacob Dobkins. Did I not propose to the heirs to divide according to my father’s will for if John Hunt or myself found that will it was my opinion that we would be compelled to go by it and the negroes would be free but from what my father had told me since he wrote will, I knew that was not his will at that time for them to be free.

Answer: My recollection is not good enough to recollect what he said now about it not being his will at that time. I am satisfied that he never stated that he knew that was not his father’s will at that time.

Comment: Jacob Dobkins is Solomon Dobkins’ son. Apparently, Solomon has already gone to Texas.

2. Did you not all agree, if he had not destroyed his written, that we would divide by it and all agree to it.

A: As for my part I did not agree to it, or have anything to do with it. The old woman managed it. I had very little to do with the proceedings from the start.

Comment: I think he just threw his wife, Elizabeth, under the bus.

3. Then did I not give you the key of my [Page 4, original document page 44] father’s trunk to keep until we could get ressris? To come ad divide the estate, and did you not take the key home with you and that night come and steel four of the negroes and take them home and conceal them in your loft and claimed them as your own property and stated that your lawyer had advised you to do so, and then did I not ? you, that if you did not take them back it would penitentiary you, and you sent them home again that day and also after that did not ? John Hunt and B. Sewell to come and divide our father’s estate equal among us soon as it was convenient and the day was set and the heirs all met and you come and fit ? the key of father’s trunk, then did I not give you or your wife father’s trunk to unlock, supposing father’s money to be in it, and you took it, and did you not unlock it and the ? divide the money?

A: He never gave me the key of the trunk to keep, and I did not bring the key with me. Then was four of the negroes come home and by a lawyer’s advise then were kept in the loft and if the old woman (my wife) had got her just rights they would all have belonged to her by a divide that the old man had made before he made he will, I think he had some talk then about penitentiarying me for it, but he would have been short of penitentiarying me for that, I sent them back again. I think they did agree to let Sewell and Hunt divide the negroes. I had no hand in it and cannot recollect but little about it. I never took the key and never had it in my possession. I never unlocked the trunk or had my hand in it. These negroes were a part of the negroes that were divided.

Comment: Oh boy, the plot gets even thicker. Those poor enslaved people, being stolen back and forth and hidden in the barn loft. What little peace and continuity they had in their lives was gone.

4. Who unlocked the trunk?

[Page 5, original document 45]

A: John Dobkins unlocked the trunk and took the will out.

5. Do you know who he gave the will to?

A: I do not know any more than what my wife states, that he gave it to her.

And further this deponent saith not.

George Campbell signed by his mark.

Elizabeth Campbell next sworn states:

That as near as she can recollect Jacob Dobkins died in 1835. She is a daughter of said Jacob, the first that she knew of the will was on the day we had met to have the negroes divided. My brother Solomon Dobkins came to us and stated that father had made a will by which he had set his negroes free and that if John Hunt or him saw it they would be compelled to carry it and the only way was for us all men and women to agree and destroy the will, and I said to him in the name of God with my hand held up that I would have no hand in it, that if father had made a will and had not given me a cent, I would rather it would stand and I turned off and left them, who were all standing at the garden fence, and the minit I saw the will, John Dobkins had it out in the yard, he gave it to me and I brought it home. Elijah Jones came home with me that night, and took the will out of my bosom, and handed to him, stating that here is the paper they say is my father’s will, and he took it and read it over to himself and stated that it was his will and by it the negroes were free; the will was put in a chest and kept locked up and I do not know when it was taken out, or by whom.

Hessy is a child of Amey Louisa Decubinch?. She is about 11 years old on the instant of [Page 6, original document page 46] January last, as well as an idiot?.

Comment: If “idiot” is what this says, that was the accepted term of the time for people with intellectual developmental disabilities. It was not a derogatory term then.

Solomon Dobkins was sick with the mumps some three years after father’s death, he expected to die and sent for us to come and see him. My husband and me went to see him, and I stated to him in a conversation that he had not treated my husband as he should have done, that he had threatened to send him to the penitentiary for breaking open a trunk and taking out the will, and he asked George Campbell if he did not open the trunk and take out the will, and he replied that he had not done it, and Solomon then asked him who had done it and George said that it was your brother John.

Comment: I have never seen mumps referred to in a historical document before, nor did I realize it was potentially fatal. Apparently, mumps victims sometimes develop encephalitis and other severe diseases. Thank goodness for the mumps vaccine that began being administered to children in 1963.

Witness states that she could read when she was young and was acquainted with her father’s hand write, that she looked at the will and she believed that the signature to it was in his hand write.

Witness states that she was in a small box which was in a chest that Solomon Dobkins unlocked the chest and took the same box which contained the will out, he went out with it and she did not see him open it. John Dobkins had the will in his hand and handed it to her as she has stated.

While the will was in her house, Barney Campbell, and Charles Campbell who were her sons saw the will. Barney Campbell came and stated that Solomon Dobkins had been there and threatened to send George Campbell to the penitentiary for croming? the will of Jacob Dobkins and he had come to see about it. Charles Campbell came also for the same purpose. Mordicai Cunningham also saw it.

Comment: This is interesting, because it appears that Elizabeth’s two sons did not know what their parents had schemed to do, and that the evidence was still locked inside in that chest. Having said that, I wonder if Solomon was trying to stir up trouble. What was his objective in telling Barney and Charles?

The will continued there until about three years ago when it disappeared, she does not know who took it, or what had become of it the only person who was about the house who would likely have taken it was her grandson Nathaniel Brooks, and she does not know that he got it.

Witness states in cross examination that the will was kept with some deeds, the last she recollects of seeing it was about three years ago, but she missed it first about a year ago and Brooks would have known the will from his education from the other papers.

On the night after father was buried we were all there but George Campbell and Solomon Dobkins stated that his father had left him and John Hunt to settle the matter and his father wanted the male? to have the property equal, he did not say that he had made a will, and that if any of us was contrary he had it in his power to cut us off without anything. My father never told me he had made a will, or said anything to me about a will, I could read a little and was used to father’s hand write that was the way I knew it was his signature to the will. The chest was locked and the key usually hung up on the bed nail.

Comment: A bed nail was what people hung their clothes on.

That was very clearly a threat from Solomon.

She never read the will, she looked at it when Jones handed it back and saw her father’s name to it signed by him as she believes and witnesses by William Lanham and Randall Lanham, and heard Solomon Dobkins say it was her father’s will

Witness states that the key hung up that unlocked the chest when the will was kept and Brooks could have for the key and opened the chest if he wanted to he is the son-in-law of Solomon Dobkins, he was then not the son-in-law of Dobking was visiting then.

Further this deponent saith not.

Elizabeth Campbell signed with her mark.

Comment: When trying to figure out when Dorcas Johnson, Jacob Dobkin’s wife died, I was able to establish that she died before Jacob, in part because she did not apply for his pension as a widow.

Furthermore, Jacob apparently did not mention her, or, if he did, the people who read the will didn’t mention that because it was irrelevant after she died.

I had previously discovered an index entry that Jacob Dobkins’ heirs all quitclaimed his land to Betsy Campbell, here called Elizabeth. Of course, that’s the deed book that is missing. So we don’t know who all signed.

I found it very odd at the time that they all quitclaimed to her, not her husband. A quitclaim is not a buyout, but in essence, simply a relinquishment of rights for no remuneration. I still wonder why, but I’m now sure it has something to do with that clandestine agreement and what she and her siblings and their spouses all colluded to do.

Until reading this, I don’t think I ever fully comprehended what it meant to not be able to read. It’s not just having to make an X for your signature. It’s not being able to verify anything – even that the document you hold in your hands is your own father’s will. You must trust everyone else, even for the most critical transactions of your life.

[Page 8, original page 48]

William Lanham next sworn states that some time in June or May, the year he does not recollect, Alexander Dobkins a son of Solomon Dobkins came to him in the field and states that John Hunt was at his grandfather’s doing something writing and wanted me to go and witness it. I told him to go and get Randall, my brother and he done so. I went up to the house and John Hunt, Jacob Dobkins, and Solomon Dobkins were there. Hunt said they wanted us to witness some writing, he commenced reading a paper which he said was the will of Jacob Dobkins, he read on down to the disposition of the property and he stopped and stated that it was not usual for the witnesses to hear that part of a will and implied that if that was the way I did not care about knowing; when he was done reading Old Jacob Dobkins went up to the table and set down and signed the paper. Hunt asked him if he acknowledged the execution of the will and he stated that he did and acknowledged the contents of it. My brother Randall Lanham and myself witnessed it. Randall Lanham moved to Indiana and from there to Missouri and the report is he is deceased, but I do not know whether it is true or not.

Witness states that he did not read the will and he did not know that it is the same will that Mrs. Campbell spoke of, he never knew its contents or that the negroes were to be free, until he heard it spoken of, he thinks it was upwards of twenty years ago that the will was witnessed, he never witnessed but one will for old Mr. Dobkins.

Witness states he was well acquainted with Isom Jefferson, he was a good boy to work and industrious and peaceable and from 1835 up to this [Page 8, original page 49] time his since were worth after clothing him seventy four dollars a year upon earning?.

Signed William Lanham

Comment: I’m stunned that this man doesn’t know if his brother is actually deceased, or not.

Barnabus Campbell next sworn stated that Solomon Dobkins came to my house and stated that he intended to penitentiary Old George Campbell for burning his father’s will, this was a short time after the death of Jacob Campbell, George Campbell was my father and immediately came to his house to see about it, and when I come my mother handed me a paper which she stated was her father’s will. I took it in my hands and looked at it, but did not read it. I handed it to my brother Charles and he handed it back to mother, told my mother what Dobkins had said and she said the will was not burned, nor never should be that he ? Solomon Dobkins would be glad it was burnt. The rumor of the county was that the old man had made a will setting the negroes free.

Signed Barnet Campbell

Comment: This Jacob Campbell has to be a previously unknown son of George and Elizabeth, because the Jacob Campbell who was the son of John Campbell and Jenny lived into the late 1870s and died in Texas.

Deposition of Elijah Jones and William H. Jennings taken by complainants May 16, 1851 (1851?) before the Clerk and Master.

Elijah Jones sworn states at the time that the heirs of Jacob Dobkins Sr. met (after the death of the said Dobkins, I was present, I believe it was in December 1835). They met I was informed in order to divide the estate as they would all of age, then was something said about the old man Dobkins having made a will, they all as well as I knew ? at a ? that they would not have the will proven and recorded; my advice to them was to record the will [Page 10, original document page 50] and live up to the contents; they refused to do so and said that they would lose too much if that was done. My understanding was that if the will was proven that they would lose the negroes; the will was not shown to me then, but I believe that I saw and read the will at George Campbell’s that evening or the next morning. I am not certain which, I cannot now state what was the whole contents of the will, as it has been so long, but I feel very confident that the negroes were to be free, but on what terms or conditions I do not recollect. I knew that as I insisted they heed the letter not divide the negroes, that Solomon Dobkins became very much irritated and ordered me to leave the place. I replied to him that it was a public day and that I would not leave, but that I would say no more, only that I thought they would someday wish they had taken my advice. They proceeded to make a decision. John Hunt and Benjamin Sewell was two if not all that was chosen by the heirs to make the decision. I am not certain who were the witnesses to the will. I believe that William Lanham was one but am not certain that he was. I have almost forgot all about the will and the whole transaction, but since I was summoned I have reflected brought second things to recollection, that I could not have stated when the subpoena was served. There was very little interest in the will if the negroes were set free, for them was not much other personal property belonging to the estate. This was the reason that they all agreed to divide all the difference in the price of the negroes were made up in other property.

And further this deponent saith not.

Elijah Jones

[Page 11, original document page 57]

Comment: Even knowing that John Hunt was aware of Jacob’s will, they STILL involved him, perhaps not wanting to arouse suspicion. How did they even look the man in the eye? Is it possible that Hunt simply looked the other way? He couldn’t insist on enforcing a will that Jacob could have destroyed. However, he could and should have required the estate to be submitted to the court for administration. Why didn’t he? He was, after all, the sheriff.

Thomas W. Jennings next sworn deposeth and saith that before William Fugate bought the boy Nelson, he came to my house and asked me if I knew anything about there being a will of Jacob Dobkins and I told him all I knew about it was from the report in the neighborhood, he said he was talking about buying this boy and he did not think it would be any effect, that it was not recorded.

By William Fugate: Have you not been an agent for these complainants, in this matter, and did you not threaten that you would file a bill to have them set free.

Answer: I have not been an agent for them. I have never stated that I would have it done, but I have stated that it would be done.

And further this deponent saith not

Signed Thomas W. Jennings

Comment: It appears that there is another person that supports their bid for justice.

Depositions of Jenny Campbell, William Riley, and Elijah Jones taken Sept 12, 1851 before the Clerk and Master

Jenny Campbell first sworn:

Question by Solomon Dobkins: If your father Jacob Dobkins made a distribution of his negroes before his death amongst his children, please state when it was and how it was.

Answer: I know nothing of my own knowledge only from information.

By same: Which one of the negroes did your sister Mrs. Jones take home with her, how long did she keep him and what did she do with him?

Answer: Jefferson was the one she took home with her. I do not know how long she was with him. She went back to her father’s when her and her husband parted but I do not recollect

[Page 12 – original document page 52] when that was. The boy remained with her and she took him back with her to her father’s. The boy was with her several years before she went to her father’s.

How old was the boy when she took him away?

Answer: I do not know exactly, but from my best recollection he was about 9 or 10 years of age, the boy stayed at Old Mr. Dobkins after she came back and I think Mrs. Jones clothed him and she remained there until a short time before the death of old Mr. Dobkins.

Question by complainant’s solicitor: What is your age? Can you write or read writing?

Answer: I am in my seventy-fourth year. I cannot read or write. I never saw the will and know nothing about its contents.

Comment: These few sentences are packed full. Jenny is my ancestor. First, this absolutely confirms that she is Jacob’s daughter. It’s this deposition that cousin Debbie was seeking.

This is also the only place she ever provides her age – and the only words we have from her own mouth.

Her deposition also provides significantly more information about Margaret Dobkins Jones. She apparently took Isom when he was a child. When Margaret separated from her husband, she went back home to her father’s. I wonder if she took her children with her. I can’t help but wonder what happened between her and Elisha. He allowed her to take her possessions, and if I recall, returned the land too.

Divorce was unheard-of at the time and required Supreme Court permission. There was no such thing as no-fault. I did not find their divorce in the index at the Tennessee Archives, but their indexing system leaves a lot to be desired since this case didn’t even come up using the surname of Dobkins.

Where did Margaret go before Jacob died, and why did she leave her father’s home? She was about 30 when she left her husband and a little over 50 when Jacob died. In 1850, Margaret is age 65 and living with Daniel Leonard, a carpenter, who is living one house away from Joseph Simmons

We also learn that Jenny can’t read or write, and her age which gives us a birth year of 1777, assuming she had already had her birthday in 1851.

While Jenny did live nearby, it was across Little Ridge, so she and John Campbell were not direct neighbors with Jacob Dobkins or her siblings. She seems to not have maintained day-to-day contact with people in that group. Plus, she was raising her daughter, Elizabeth’s children and probably had no time for drama. Still, she and John were a part of the group who agreed to secret her father’s will and divide the slaves.

Jenny lived beside present-day Liberty Baptist Church, and Jacob lived on what is now A. L. Campbell Lane. Solomon Dobkins as well as George Campbell and Elizabeth lived adjacent to Jacob Dobkins on the Powell River.

William Riley next sworn

In the fall of the year 1834, I taught a school in the neighborhood of the old Mr. Dobkins, perhaps the schoolhouse was on his land. During the school I went to Old Mr. Dobkins’s one night to stay all night with him. While in conversation with Jacob Dobkins decd he said then was a boy then by the name of Berry that he had given to Mary Martin when he was a child. His mother died left him and if she would raise him she might have him. He told me that she had taken him in her bed and raised him and he intended the boy Berry for her and that a short time previous he had sent the boy home to her and the boy stayed some time with her and got dissatisfied and had come back to him, and that he had sent word to Mary Martin and Thomas Martin to come and get him, that he intended the boy for them. He also told me to tell [Page 13 – original page 53] them to come down and get the boy and he would make them a bill of sale to him, for fear that he might drop off said he, and the heirs might rock them out of the boy.

Did Mrs. Martin get the boy away before the death of the old man, if not what became of him?

Answer: She did not. He remained then until the death of the old man, when he and the complainants were divided amongst the heirs.

How long after this conversation was it until Old man Dobkins died?

To the best of my belief, he died in the year of 1835.

Signed William Riley

Elijah Jones next sworn:

Mr. Jones you will please state all you may know in relation to a division of the negroes of Old Man Dobkins in his lifetime, if there was one, if so who got the complainant Isom Jefferson?

Answer: There was a division in part of the negroes, I believe it was in the year 1815. The boy Isom Jefferson was given to my wife, [I] was not present, we then lived in Powells Valley. I moved the boy to my house and kept him then for some time. I cannot say how long but I think it was something near 12 months when me and my wife separated. I sent the boy home to the old man Dobkins by my father with a letter. In that letter stated to the old man, as he had given me the negro, that I would return him to him and he might give him to his daughter if he saw proper. He remained there as I believe until the death of the old man. When the property and negroes was to be divided I was there, and insisted of the negroes was to be divided, that Isom Jefferson should [Page 14 – original page 54] belong to my wife. I claimed no interest myself. I then stated that as the old man had given him to me, and her that I claimed no part, that she ought to have him. The answer by all was that the old or former division was of no effect and they would not let her have the boy, is all I know at this time about the division as respects that boy. There was another boy the old man gave to Mary or Polly Dobkins wife of Reuben Dobkins. She did not get him at the last division. I insisted she ought to have him, for he took him when helpless and had all the trouble that was the frowned?. The old man stated he gave her to the boy Berry, then the heirs all still insisted that the former decision or gifts should not hold, nor did they let them. I believe that George Campbell and wife the first decision was to have a girl Amey but I do not believe that they received her at that time. I got Isom Jefferson but believe she was to remain with the old man perhaps as long as he lived, but I am not certain. They got her at the last division but did not get all her children. My wife for one Cynthia Ann and John Dobkins got one. I am not certain what was his name, he was a small boy. I supposed his name was Nelson. They both are children of Anny as I was informed and am informed that by an complainants in this bill.

Comment: This is quite interesting because it confirms that the Reuben Dobkins who died in 1823 was the son of Jacob Dobkins, and not Jacob’s brother by the same name. This progression makes me think the Mary “Polly” who was Reuben’s wife remarried to Thomas Martin, which is why Jacob tried to gift her with the child, Berry. What happened to Berry?

Was not Old Mr. Dobkins at the time of his death a very aged infirm man, what was his age and what we the condition of mind, had not age made him very childish?

Answer: He was among the best? of men. I have not been with the old man for some time [Page 15 – original page 55] before his death. I perhaps passed by there one time not more than one or two years before his death. The old man was appeared the last time I saw him to be in as good a state of mind then as is common of his age, which I believe was eighty or upwards.

In your former deposition you state something in relation to the will of Old Mr. Dobkins and that you think you saw it. Please state in whose handwriting, if you know it, the will appeared to be.

Answer: I believe the will that I read was in the hand writing of John Hunt. I was well acquainted with his hand writing; as respects the freedom of the slaves, I cannot give the details? Precisely, but will give the meanings or substance. The will stated that the negroes were to be set free or emancipated if the laws of Tennessee would allow them to remain in the state and if it would not allow them to stay if emancipated, they were to stay on the farm of Solomon Dobkins and the Solomon Dobkins was to take care of them, and act as their agent for them, and to have the control of them, is I believe what in substance the decd stated about the negroes, as to the date of the will, I think been date some three or four years before the death of Jacob Dobkins but cannot say precisely.

And further this deponent saith not.

Elijah Jones signed his name.

Deposition of Susan Hardy taken January 17, 1852.

Question by respondents council: Please state what you may have heard Old Jacob Dobkins, in his time, in relation to freeing his slaves and what he intended to do with them, if he gave any reason why he would not free them, state what it was, when and when did it take place, and how long before his death.

Answer: I never heard Old Jacob Dobkins say anything about setting his slaves free and never had any conversation with him on that subject.

And further this deponent saith not.

Susan Hardy signs.

Comment: I have no idea who Susan Hardy is or how she is connected.

The bill of costs is attached, but I did not transcribe it.

So, What Happened?

I don’t know, nor do I know how to find out. With former chancery suits heard at the supreme court, I’ve called the library and asked about the outcome, and apparently, they don’t have the disposition information. Just the case files.

How incredibly ironic. It’s like missing the last page of the book.

I tried to find the complainants in 1860 with families that would be likely candidates, but I couldn’t.

In 1850, George Campbell was listed on the Slave Schedule with people:

  • Female 40 – black
  • Male 15 – black
  • Female 10 – mulatto

The mulatto description begs another question for which there will never be an answer.

Next door was Solomon Dobkins with:

  • Male 43 – black
  • Male 39 – black

One of those men was Isom, but who was the other? Did he wind up in Texas?

I’d like to think that these people received their freedom, albeit 17 or 18 years late. Better late than never.

I also can’t help but wonder how much, if any, wages they were compensated for. Isom was supposed to receive a horse and saddle. Did he receive that, and did he receive anything else? Did he use that horse and saddle to ride into the sunset and never look back. He was 43 years old in 1850. Where did he go?

Did they change their names, or leave the county, or both? Is that why I can’t find them in the 1870 census? They could also have died, of course. Twenty years is a long time, and we know the three oldest people were born in the early 1800s

What happened to Isom Jefferson’s brother, Berry, and his sister, Anny Louisa Deaderick who was probably born about 1810 or so.?

If Isom Jefferson was 9 or 10 in 1814/1815, he would have been 4 or 5 in 1809, or born about 1804 or 1805.

Berry was his brother, and was quite ill as a baby. If Berry was given to Reuben Dobkins’ when they were married, that occurred before Reuben’s death in 1823. If Barry was given to her when she was a widow, that happened after 1823 when Reuben died. This also tells us that when Barry was born, Isom Jefferson and Anny Louisa Deaderick’s mother died, so Barry was clearly the youngest. Their mother was probably one of the four people named in 1809.

Aneker or Anekey, Mitilty, Jiary, Amelyer

Was Isom’s father with the family in 1809 too?

I’ve done my best to reassemble the family, here.

Name Relationship Age When With Whom When
Anny Louise Deaderick Mother and sister 40 in 1850 census, so born about 1810 Jacob Dobkins, then George and Elizabeth Campbell in 1835
Cynthia Ann Daughter of Anny Can’t find in census, but since she filed the lawsuit in 1850, that suggests she is an adult Margaret Jones, but can’t find her in 1850 census
Lewis Son of Anny 15 in 1850, so born about 1835 George and Elizabeth Campbell
Nelson Son of Anny 5 in 1837, 19 in 1850 so born about 1831 John Dobkins until 1837, then bought by William Fugate, with Fugate in 1850
Hessy Daughter of Anny Born after 1835, 10 in 1850 census George  and Elizabeth Campbell
Isom Jefferson Brother of Anny Louisa Deaderick 8 or 10 in 1814, 43 in 1830 so born about 1807 Solomon Dobkins
Berry – Ill as an infant and not expected to live. His mother died. Brother of Isom Jefferson Before Reuben died in 1823? Mary Martin, widow of Reuben after she married Thomas Martin, then back to Jacob Dobkins until his death. Did John and Jenny Campbell receive him? Probably deceased by 1850 since he’s not listed in the lawsuit.

Based on this information, it appears that probably only Isom would have been named in the 1809 purchase transaction, but the mother of Anny, Isom, and Berry certainly was, and possibly their father as well.

I hope that descendants of these people can find them if they are looking. One thing is for sure, their acts were legend-worthy.

Thoughts

I’m left with lots of questions and some thoughts.

First, I have so much respect for the bravery of Cynthia Ann, the young woman of color with no last name. The trouble-maker. The rabble-rouser. The incredibly brave enslaved woman who initiated and signed this lawsuit on behalf of herself and her family members – including her mother, uncle, and siblings. Despite the odds against her, and the long drawn-out nature of the suit, she did receive a positive outcome, even if the defendants filed an appeal and kicked it to the higher court. I hope that Cynthia Ann didn’t suffer ill-treatment as a result.

Injustice was committed for days, months, and years – but that day, justice, or something resembling justice was finally done.

I hope they were freed before the Civil War freed all slaves. I hope they did receive justice, or at least some compensation, and found a way to live a joyful life from thenceforth. I wonder if Cynthia Ann’s motivation was outrage at injustice or if there were other reasons. I surely would like to know what happened to that family and to her in particular. I can’t help but wonder how one would transition from enslaved to free in the blink of an eye. Were they prepared for making their way in the world? Where did they go? Did their families know, a couple of generations later, how brave Cynthia Ann was? Does she have descendants today?

My second set of thoughts is that a WHOLE LOT of strangely misfitting pieces in the Dobkins/Campbell family line now make a lot more sense.

I knew there was a secret, but I had no idea the magnitude of that secret. I know my ancestor’s daughter, Jane Campbell Freeman was divorced in 1830, a HUGE scandal. I thought it might have been that.

I knew from another suit that, let’s just say, one Campbell daughter was caught by one of the slaves copulating in the barn with her double first cousin, the son of the other Campbell brother. This family was no stranger to scandal.

I knew that something was unusual about Margaret Dobkins Jones’s situation, but I didn’t know what. I never expected that she lived separately from her husband for most of her married life and probably never divorced, but he remarried.

Yet, her husband, Elijah, remained connected to her family, except for her brother, Solomon. Was he defending his sister’s interests, or was there something else?

Of course, Solomon had his own set of issues.

Then there was that cousin who made insinuations about William Fugate, but absolutely WOULD NOT get up off the family scuttlebutt. She enjoyed holding information hostage, unfortunately. Maybe she was embarrassed.

Then, someone else who lived in Claiborne County told me that one of their relatives in Barney’s line started researching this family some years back, found something, tore everything up, and stopped. They wouldn’t tell anyone what they found and said no one needed to know. I thought that they might have discovered that Barney did not belong to George Campbell, but now we know, based on this and DNA, that Barney WAS in fact George’s son, so it wasn’t that.

There was a break in Barney’s genetic male line a generation or so later, though, so who knows what they might have found. I’m guessing that went to the grave with the two adults involved back in the 1800s.

I’m not a betting person, but I’d bet what they found was either part of this chancery suit, or something having to do with it. That paperwork may still be floating around in that family someplace, or was then. Maybe they found the agreement that everyone signed. We never did see that that produced in the lawsuit.

Maybe they actually found Jacob’s will, but I’d bet dollars to donuts that was burned sometime between 1847 and 1849, between the last time Elizabeth saw it and then noticed it was missing – assuming she’s telling the truth.

My guess is that the guilty culprit who burned the will was George Campbell, because it was his box or chest that held the will all those years, and he was the one who was threatened to be “penitentiaried.” Maybe he or Elizabeth decided that enough was enough, and the evidence needed to disappear.

It’s VERY clear that what they did was extremely serious, and VERY illegal. I don’t think the penitentiary was an idle threat.

There wasn’t one innocent party in that family – not one. That’s why everyone, men and women, and their spouses, had to sign that clandestine “do not tell” agreement.

Yet, somebody told. That information hit the grapevine highway.

The Dobkins siblings also couldn’t have pulled that off alone. People gave them cover for not registering Jacob’s death, and several people knew he had a will at one time, not long before his death. In particular, John Hunt, long-time sheriff and friend of Jacob’s who wrote the will, along with the witnesses.

You know John Hunt had to have asked about Jacob’s will.

You know the family lied and said they found no will. So Jacob had probably changed his mind and torn it up or burned it – at least that’s what they would have said to John Hunt when he inquired.

That’s what the compact was for – to discourage anyone from telling that ugly truth – by making it VERY expensive to do so. Plus, that penitentiary threat, to some extent, hung over everyone’s head.

That agreement and what they had done, plus maybe a guilty conscience, caused them to fight between themselves for the duration of their lives. Solomon tried to leave it behind and died soon after arriving in Texas. I don’t think his family never knew, just like they never knew about his issue, whatever it was, during the War of 1812. He was stripped of his rank, according to his military records, yet he was still called Capt. Dobkins in the family and in Claiborne County. Nope, he never told that secret either.

Word of this misdeed never trickled down in my line either, although it was many generations ago. Rumors that reflect poorly upon direct ancestors don’t tend to get repeated.

None of our ancestors are perfect. Some are more imperfect, in different ways, than others.

I’m grateful to know the truth, whatever it is.

And I feel that in some small way I’ve vindicated many people by publishing Jacob Dobkins “will,” such as it is, and along with it – the truth.

It’s no longer fraudulently concealed, secreted, or destroyed. In fact, we’ve just raised it from the dead!

_____________________________________________________________

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