What do we do in Chapel Hill on cold, overcast Sunday afternoons in winter? Spend time in the archives, of course! I'll be talking soon about the constitutional origins of secession -- and in preparation for this, I'm reading some more about UVA law professor James Holcombe. (You may recall I wrote about a frightfully difficult exam he gave at The University in 1859 some time back.) There's a lot -- a lot -- that needs to be said about Professor Holcombe's legal ideas. But right now I want to focus on a vignette about his uncle, which seems like it should go straight into the trusts and estate course as a very amusing story:
Uncle Thomas Anderson Holcombe was ... educated as a lawyer and practiced awhile in lower Virginia. He was one day summoned to the bedside of a Miss Royall, a homely old maid, 10 years older than himself, with whom he had a slight acquaintance. She was said to be dying and wished to make a will. To the amazement of the young lawyer, the good spinster bequethed to him the bulk of her property, assigning as her reason the vast and unappeasable love she had conceived for him, declaring that she could not die in peace until he accepted her offering. To the astonishment of everybody and the chagrin of my uncle, Miss Royall recovered and common gratitude, as everyone knows, demanded that he should make her Mrs. Holcombe.
Actually, there's a ton more substantive things to talk about in what I'm reading now, about concern over keeping property within the family -- and disinheriting children if they stray from the parents' wishes, and all other manner of stuff on wills. But that will have to await the paper that Doug Thie and I are writing on probate in Rockbridge County, Virginia, from the 1830s to the 1850s. Never ceases to surprise me how much people in the old south worried about family and property.