If it weren't snowing here (and hence we have a snow day--or rather snow afternoon, as I taught property this morning) I would have taught In re Strittmater this afternoon. In place of that I'll talk about a book on testamentary capacity in the 19th century that I'm looking forward to reading: Yvonne Pitt's Family, Law, and Inheritance in America: A Social and Legal History of Nineteenth-Century Kentucky. Cribbing now from the Cambridge University Press website:
Yvonne Pitts explores inheritance practices by focusing on nineteenth-century testamentary capacity trials in Kentucky in which disinherited family members challenged relatives' wills. These disappointed heirs claimed that their departed relative lacked the capacity required to write a valid will. These inheritance disputes crisscrossed a variety of legal and cultural terrains, including ordinary people's understandings of what constituted insanity and justice, medical experts' attempts to infuse law with science, and the independence claims of women. Pitts uncovers the contradictions in the body of law that explicitly protected free will while simultaneously reinforcing the primacy of blood in mediating claims to inherited property. By anchoring the study in local communities and the texts of elite jurists, Pitts demonstrates that “capacity” was a term laden with legal meaning and competing communal values about family, race relations, and rationality. These concepts evolved as Kentucky's legal culture mutated as the state transitioned from a conflicted border state with slaves to a developing free-labor, industrializing economy.
This looks absolutely terrific -- and another part of the work being done of late on the intersection of the market and the probate process in the old south. Soon Doug Thie and I will have our study of probate in Rockbridge County, Virginia, before The War up, I hope. We aren't focused on will contests, but on the distributions of property that testators make in their wills -- so Pitts looks at a different vantage from us, but at very similar questions. Looking forward to reading it when I have some time.