The Legacy

Sarah Clark McDowell had died in 1892 at the age of 71. She was followed shortly after by her daughters, Sarah and Elizabeth. William McDowell died in 1900. His will was the catalyst for me starting research on my mother’s ancestors. My aunt called me to ask if I would be interested in speaking to an Irish cousin in New York about this will. It was a surreal moment for me. I did get a call shortly after from the cousin, Evelyn, telling me that she had grown up in Dublin and emigrated to New York. Eva, her grandmother was my great-aunt.

That will has a tender spot in my heart. There was something about the child-like writing on the envelope and the way it was neatly folded inside. The yellow color and the handwriting. And the incongruity of the heavy, glossy paper it had been printed on.

Well, first things first. Try to read and understand it. William was a man of some property at the time of writing, some of it rented out. The rented houses were left to the daughters except for Sarah who had died, the rent money was to be used for the upkeep of her children with the property passing to the youngest at age of majority. The farm was left to Alice and moneys were distributed to the various grandchildren. But the codicil, now there was something else. William had told Agnes that he did not remember what he had signed and he was alarmed about it. As it turns out, the codicil rearranged the disposal of some of the properties, making it more beneficial for the grandchildren. Nothing really untoward. My grandfather was to benefit by it.

The story of William’s death was a family legend. He went to town to buy a new scythe, a child ran in front of the cart, it overturned and William’s neck was cut by the scythe. What are the odds? I remind you that I had grown up with this story in various forms. It was purportedly my great-grandfather George Phillips, who had been murdered in his own driveway, a circle drive no less! His throat slit! (Sorry those are the words that were used.) George, however, died of typhus.

So, we look for Will’s death cert. Cause of death; hemorrhage and debility, length of illness, two months. It doesn’t take two months to hemorrhage to death. So that rules out hemorrhage as cause of death, though perhaps indirectly. The accident probably weakened him leading to his demise. At the time of the codicil William added James Fraser as another executor to the will, perhaps showing his lack of confidence in the others. I think his feelings were may have been concern for the state of his property and lack of trust in Walter Bates, Sophie’s husband. We do not know if Walter was actually tryin to gain control over the property but there is no doubt that he was a prominent figure in the family at the time. That may have been because he was the only male figure actually present at the farm and having been the farm steward he would take a managerial position unless there was a stronger character there. Alice was a strong character by all accounts, but her propensity for drink may have weakened her position somewhat. There are stories of her drinking at the bar with the men after cattle auctions.

William may have felt powerless in all this and panicked asking James to be another executor, though by more accounts James wasn’t too reliable himself. The larger picture is that Walter Bates did gain ground during this time . He seems to have been the one who did all the arranging for things and was at all the official occasions, such as Alex Frasers funeral. He sent my grandfather and his brother over to Canada. Sadly, we do not know how the particulars of the  will were served out but the probate served some 5 months later (not sure if this would be normal), left behind £2037.1.10 . That is equivalent to £57,600 today ($105,984C).  the economic status of that amount is $373,000 and the economic power of that amount is $1,520,000 (from the website Measuring Worth. Of course, there was the land as well which eventually got sold off. Lisheenamalausa, the farm was sold sometime in the 1930’s. I do think that Walter Bates may have been the overseer of most of the transactions that took place but it seems that he would have been the only one close enough to do that.  I am sure that William would have been gratified to see that his money did help the family, especially the younger ones.

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