Monday, March 31, 2014

Alice Milburn Wood vs. Hollis Amidon

Let’s lay out the course of events leading to the 1875 lawsuit over lot number 11. There are just two pieces of information that I’m relying on here, the newspaper article that presented the case to the general public in May of 1875 and the abstract of the case published in the following year with the court records for the term.

Lot number 11 was just one piece of the estate of George Milburn. When he died in 1838, the everything was bequeathed to his children and their heirs. But the use of the property and the decisions on how and when to distribute it were invested in George’s widow Margaret for her lifetime. As the children did come of age and marry, provision was duly made for them. When the fourth and last child to marry, namely George’s middle daughter Margaret Agnes, did finally become the bride of Hollis Amidon, nearly everything in the estate had been disposed in accord with the will. Old Mrs. Milburn retained only one piece of property. That was lot 11, sometimes called more explicitly part of lot 11, at the corner of Virginia Avenue and Seventh Street SW. And on that lot stood the house where all three of them lived—had lived for over ten years. Hollis and Margaret Agnes made some kind of improvements to the property. Old Mrs. Milburn then, in November 1866, turned over the whole, both the land and the house, to Margaret and Hollis Amidon, to be Margaret’s portion as George’s heir, and in consideration of her own—old Mrs. Milburn’s—need to be looked after in her later years.

We don’t know what the reaction by the rest of the family was to any of this business up to this point. But when Margaret Amidon died “intestate and without issue” in December of 1869, someone in the family put it to Amidon that he could not expect to have title to the land, since that belonged to George’s heirs by rights, and Mrs. Milburn lacked any power to deliver it to anyone else; that whatever contract appeared in the 1866 deed, it was void with respect to Hollis Amidon. But nothing else happened, it seems. In the 1870 census, Hollis's name appears on the record at the top spot in the household, with old Mrs. Milburn next, keeping house for everyone; and then follows the usual assortment of boarders.

In November of 1874 old Mrs. Margaret Milburn died. The following January Amidon registered the property in his own name. Straight away Alice Milburn Wood and her husband complained to the Court. The deed should be cancelled, since it was improper, and there should be a “partition.” I suppose that to mean a separate consideration of the house, which the Woods appear to have recognized as Amidon’s now, from the land which they believed was by right due to them. Who else took their side? The newspaper account of the suit names Violet Abell, George Milburn’s youngest daughter, as a defendant along with her husband. I can only think that this is a mistake. The only way, it seems to me, that Violet and her husband could ever be involved was as fellow Milburn heirs with an interest in the property. Surely they must have counted among the plaintiffs? The published abstract does not help to clarify who lined up with whom. It does include an “et al.” for Amidon, but I can’t imagine who those others could be or, indeed, why there should have been anyone else in his corner.

However this may be, Amidon, for his part, filed a “demurrer” to say that the Woods’ suit raised only invalid points and ought to be dismissed. The Court agreed. George Milburn’s will was consulted and found to give to old Mrs. Milburn all the discretionary power she needed to look after her own interests, so that she could give up the house and the land to the Amidons with the understanding that they would continue to look after her, while at the same time making this final distribution of George Milburn’s estate as a marriage portion for Margaret Agnes. It was all made so explicit by the language of the will and of the 1866 transfer that it’s hard to see how the Woods or their counsel thought they had the slightest chance to prevail.

So that was that. Alice Wood didn’t live too much longer, as we’ve already heard. Hollis Amidon got married one more time, his third wife being a widow lady from Vermont. The couple went to live in a new house clear on the other side of town. Amidon was eighty-two when he died in 1889, and the newspaper obituary mentioned his widow, but got his lady from Vermont confused with Margaret Agnes Milburn.

• • •

Why didn’t Mrs. Milburn marry Amidon? That’s one thing I can’t figure. Would she have lost control of her remaining property and income if that had happened? It just seems so much more likely that those two were the natural couple—compatible, near in age, close in religious experience. I suppose it is possible that there was some ardor between Amidon and Margaret Agnes. However, the brief mention of the Amidons’ union that we’ll get to hear in the eulogy for Margaret Milburn Amidon does nothing to convince me.

One other question comes to mind due to that description of Mrs. Amidon being “intestate and without issue.” Recall that she had tuberculosis and knew for a long time—perhaps years—that she was dying. How is it that she never made a will? I wonder about that.

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