Basil Berry et al. v. Francis McLeland, administrator
of the estate of George Berry et al.
George Berry died in 1818 in what was then Arkansas County. He was survived by his siblings: Basil and David Berry, Mary Berry Buford (wife of John Buford), Elizabeth Berry Walls (wife of Scodgin Walls), and Mary Berry Walls (wife of Drury Walls); nieces and nephews Thomas, John F., Jane, William and Robert, all the children of a deceased brother William; and nephews Robert, Thomas and William, all the sons of a deceased brother James. He was also survived by his widow, Mary McLeland, who had since married again, to Hiram Smith. Francis McLeland was her father (George Berry's father-in-law).
Apparently Berry died without a will, because Francis McLeland petitioned to be appointed the administrator of his estate. Berry's estate was appraised at over $2,000, a sizeable amount in 1818. McLeland refused to distribute any of Berry's estate to his siblings, claiming that the widow Mary had given birth to a posthumous child who later passed away. The child would have been the heir of George Berry, and the mother was the heir of the child. Thus McLeland allegedly distributed everything from the estate, except the value of four slaves, to her. By the time the estate had been appraised and the distribution occurred, Hempstead County had been formed and thus the Hempstead County court supervised the distribution.
The siblings filed suit, alleging that the child had been stillborn. If this was true, then the widow would receive only her dower rights, or a portion of the estate, and the rest would be distributed among the heirs. The siblings filed their petition or "bill" in chancery, a division of courts that handled probate cases. Attorney William Trimble represented them.
In December 1821, James H. Lucas, the Deputy Clerk of the Superior Court, received the bill and, acting for David McKinney, the Clerk, issued a subpoena to Deputy Sheriff Joshua Morrison to serve on McLeland and Smith, summoning them to appear at the April Term of Superior Court. The sheriff executed the subpoena in Ozan Township on January 18. The case was filed on April 16, 1822. It was continued over until the August Term, when McLeland was given until the December Term to file his answer. At December Term the case was continued again. McLeland's affidavits, sworn before Circuit Judge Thomas Eskridge in April 1823, alleges that McLeland thought that the Berrys had agreed to dismiss the suit. In April 1823, the record book indicates that Basil Berry had died, and "the suit stands revived in the name of Peggy Berry" and was continued. At the August Term, the record book indicates that the parties had reached an agreement, and so the court ordered the case stricken from the docket.
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