Wills of the First Three Presidents – Part 3

(Part Three of Three)

John and Abigail Adams struggled to live within their means for most of their lives. Public service drained their resources because the President was not paid enough in salary and expenses to cover all the receptions at the President’s house, be it in Philadelphia or Washington. However, they did purchase lots adjoining their farm in Quincy from estates when available, and John accumulated a considerable library during his envoy duties in France and England.

Preceded in death by his wife, he left his residence, 103 acres of land, his French writing desk, all his public and private papers and his library to his son, John Quincy Adams, under the condition that his son pay his other son, Thomas, an amount equal to half the value of the library. This kept his library intact and still treated his son Thomas fairly.

The residue was given to his two surviving sons, his grandchildren, and Abigail’s niece, Louisa Smith. His gross estate was about $100,000. Thomas Jefferson was a widower most of his life. He spent more than he made, constantly borrowing against future crops, as did many Virginia farmers. But only Jefferson had the opportunity to spend future earnings on rare European books and furniture and building materials from Italy and France.

In the end, he devised some real estate to a grandson, Francis Eppes, directed the payment of his debts, and then directed many bequests and devices, none of which could be fulfilled because his debts at his death (about $100,000) exceeded the worth of his assets. Monticello, in disrepair at the time, was sold at a price much lower than its cost, his slaves were sold and there was still insufficient funds to fulfill fanciful bequests such as purchasing a gold watch for each grandchild upon turning 21 (16 for the girls).

He did free five slaves in his will, none of them being Sally Hemming, the rumored mother of several offspring. His daughter, Martha Randolph, rescued Sally by purchasing her and setting her free.

Jefferson, author of our Declaration of Independence, could have used help in drafting his will, but even more he could have used a tough accountant most of his life. Or a wife.

Until next week,