Our last column concerned a recent case that dealt with the abandonment of "Old" Thompson Road in 1826. In the actual town meeting vote, "Old" Thompson Road is referred to as the road from the Sly house to Capt. Bates. Further research indicates that Stephen Sly lived on what is now Ash Street where he owned a significant farm before he died in 1773, shortly before the Revolution. The Bates family homestead was on the new Thompson Road.
In addition to information we found in real estate records, we also know something about Stephen Sly's legal affairs from probate records. Probate records in Worcester County are well maintained and Stephen Sly's original Will and probate records are still held among the records of the Worcester Probate and Family Court, where they are available for inspection by any member of the public upon request. Examination of the Will and probate records reveal how little the probate process has changed in the last 235 years and how much society has changed. The basic probate process of filing the Will, appointing an executor or administrator, and filing an inventory of real and personal property was largely unchanged from 1773 until March 1, 2012, when Massachusetts implemented a new Probate Code that updated much of the archaic practice and terminology.
Among the dramatic social changes reflected in the Will of Stephen Sly is the treatment of slaves. Although slavery is usually associated with the American South, it was not abolished in Massachusetts until1783. Stephen Sly apparently had a slave and his Will provides:
My Will is that my Negro Boy, Prince, shall, if he behaves himself pretty well, be set at liberty and go free, when he shall arrive to the age of twenty-one years, until which time he shall serve my wife but the said Prince shall after he is set free pay unto my son, John, yearly, and every year four Spanish Milled Dollars, while he is able to labor… and if the said Prince shall fail… then my son, John, shall take him and sell him for life.
Fortunately, since he was under the age of 21 in 1772 when Stephen Sly wrote his Will, Prince probably lived to see slavery abolished in Massachusetts. In light of current circumstances, it is hard to believe both that slavery was common in Massachusetts at the time of the Revolution and that Spanish money would have been considered a stable reserve currency in 1773; but obviously before independence was declared, modern banking and our own national currency were established, foreign currency was apparently the best option. On the other hand, with Spanish multinationals acquiring the Commerce Insurance Company and Sovereign Bank, maybe Spanish currency will once again attain economic significance in Webster.
- Wednesday, 13 June 2012
- Posted in Categories: : The Law and You