Joseph Paxton v Robert Crittenden & William
|Land was the chief basis of wealth in the
early United States. Surveyors, who traveled over the land before it was
settled by whites, and lawyers, who were essential parties to land sales
and disputes, could make fortunes by dealing in land. The founding of Little
Rock itself was the basis of a dispute between two groups of speculators,
composed in large part of attorneys and government officials. The Superior
Court's ruling on a suit in ejectment
in 1821 between these two groups resulted in most of "downtown"
Little Rock being moved by crowds of drunken men disguised as Indians, and
set down east of the Quapaw Line
(Rock Street) in Quapaw territory. See Russell
v. Wheeler. The dispute was amicably resolved several months later by
the two groups splitting Little Rock between them (in the bill
of assurances mentioned in the deed). Robert
Crittenden, attorney, land agent and Territorial Secretary, and William
Trimble, attorney and later Superior Court judge, were on one side of
this dispute; Joseph
Paxton, a surveyor, on the other. On July 10, 1824, Crittenden, Trimble
and their wives Ann
and Lunetta conveyed
Lot 1, Block 1 of Little Rock (today Lot 1 is bounded on the east by Scott
Street and on the south by Markham) to Joseph Paxton. The deed included
the exclusive right to operate a public ferry across the Arkansas
River; a valuable interest since no bridges across the river would be
built for decades. Paxton agreed to pay the Crittendens and Trimbles $4,000
for lot 1, block 1 of the City of Little Rock, including the exclusive right
to keep a public ferry across the Arkansas River. The ferry rights were
mentioned in the original bill of assurances executed by William
Russell, Henry W.
Conway, Robert Crittenden, William Trimble, Robert
C. Oden, Thomas
P. Eskridge and Joseph
Hardin in 1821, and the deed refers to the bill of assurances. The deed
was a general warranty deed, meaning that the sellers promised that they
had good title to the lot. Additionally, the Crittendens and Trimbles conveyed
a tract of land of about an acre and one half on the north side of the river,
opposite Little Rock. Crittenden and Trimble further promised to build a
road across the land on the north side of the river.
By signing the deeds, the wives were conveying away their dower rights, or any rights they would otherwise have in the property after their husbands' deaths. On July 14th, 1824, Thomas Newton, clerk of the Pulaski County Circuit Court, issued a statement declaring that he had examined Ann Crittenden to ensure that she was freely relinquishing her dower rights, and she was. In October, Newton recorded a similar declaration with respect to Lunetta Trimble. The deed with the accompanying statements was recorded by the clerk in August 1825. The foregoing instruments and the court's record book are all that have survived from this case.
The record book indicates that originally, Crittenden sued Paxton in chancery. After continuing the case, the court heard the arguments of counsel on April 24, 1826. Apparently Paxton had conveyed a mortgage to Crittenden and Trimble, being unable to pay the complete purchase price at the time of the execution of the deed. Paxton owed $3,671. Paxton was given a "grace period" by law (the "equity of redemption"), but the equity of redemption had expired and the court now appointed Sheriff Samuel Rutherford as a commissioner to conduct a foreclosure sale on July 10, unless Paxton could come up with the entire debt owed before the sale.
The October 26, 1826 record book entry indicates that the parties agreed to postpone the sale. The court set a new sale date of January 23, 1827, and also included to be sold another tract, 200 acres in size, on the north side of the Arkansas River about four miles below the house of James Martin, which had been conveyed by James Scull to Henry W. Conway, and from him to Paxton; and an entire section (640 acres) of land in Hempstead County at Long Prairie; and any interest Paxton might have in two locations on the White and St. Francis Riversthese last two were also connected in some way to Thomas Mathers. Henry Armstrong and Nicholas Peay were appointed commissioners to carry out the sale, and all proceeds were to go to Crittenden and Trimble.
Next, Paxton sued to enjoin the sale. In April 1827, the court granted the injunction, and also apparently rescinded the entire sale and accompanying agreements. Paxton had been in possession of the land and had been operating the ferry. The court ordered him to return possession to Crittenden and Trimble. The court appointed Peay, Samuel Rutherford and William Cummins to audit the ferry receipts to determine how much Paxton had paid Crittenden and Trimble. The court also ordered Trimble and Crittenden to refund whatever Paxton had paid of the purchase price.
In May 1828, Trimble refunded $700 and in exchange for that, Paxton let Trimble keep the rest in consideration for rescinding the contract. No deal had been made with Crittenden, however, and in October the case was continued over until the next term. The death of Paxton between October 1828 and April 1829 ended this lawsuit.
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