Wills of the First Three Presidents – Part 2

(Part Two of Three)

Didn’t mean to leave you hanging! Here’s where we left off…

The Washington’s could truly have used a pre-nuptial agreement, but with one exception, their wills were honored and both branches of the family were treated in proportion to the assets of both parties. George wrote his will himself, taking 42 pages to do so. He made many bequests of money, land (about 10,000 acres), and tangible personal property.

Of monetary bequests, $10,000 in bonds was given as an endowment to Liberty-Hall Academy, later known as Washington and Lee University. Another $5,000 in bonds was set aside to establish a college in the District of Columbia, a school that never was founded. Another $4,000 in cash was given to a school for orphans in Alexandria.

One 2,000 acre parcel went to Martha’s granddaughter, Eleanor Parke Curtis Lewis, whose daughter, Mary Curtis, who later married Robert E. Lee.

He left the majority of his estate in a life estate for Martha, with the remainder to his nephews, mostly Bushrod Washington. The residue of his estate after many bequests was divided into 23 parts to be divided up among his and Martha’s family.

To fulfill his promise to Marquis de Lafayette, Washington wrote a clause in his will to free all of his slaves upon the death of the survivor of himself and Martha. Freeing them earlier would be problematic for everyone, since some were his, some were dowery slaves of Martha and some were a result of intermarriages of the slaves. Before her death, Martha freed George’s slaves because she feared they would hasten her end to gain freedom sooner. Martha’s executors did not free the rest of the slaves, a situation that could have been overcome by a pre-nuptial contract.

Washington named his wife along with six other relatives as co-Executors. In spite of all branches of the family being represented in the Executor position, he foresaw disputes. With this in mind, he created a dispute resolution mechanism whereby each disputing party would name an agent to settle the dispute, and those agents would agree on another agent to join them in settling the dispute.

Part three is up…next week.

-Patti Spencer