Monday, January 10, 2011

The Last Will & Testament of Hannah Nickett

A couple of month ago, I sent an email request to the New Hampshire State House to request the probate records of grandfathers Ludovicus Towle, Elbridge Gerry Towle and his wife, Hannah Clayton Towle Nickett.  Last week, I received an email from them indicating that they had in their holdings the probate records of both Ludovicus Towle and Hannah Nickett - nothing for grandfather Elbridge Towle (Grrrr!).

Ludovicus Towle died intestate (without a will) in 1859.  I received a few pages of the total inventory of his farm and belongings (I'm still working on deciphering the tiny, mid-19th c. handwriting, but it's fabulous reading); Hannah Nickett did leave a will.  And this is it:

                                                                    (click to enlarge)

Last Will and Testament of Hannah Clayton (Towle) Nickett (4th July 1905)


I, Hannah J Nickett, of Kingston, in the county of Rockingham, and the state of New Hampshire, do make this my last will and testament.

I give and bequeath to each of my children, Rose Ann Pratt, wife of Fred W. Pratt, Hannah J. Dole, wife of Elias P. Dole; Ida Bly wife of Daniel Bly; Mary L Muzzy widow of Arthur E Muzzy and Gary Towle, the sum of one dollar each; and to my said daugther, Mary L. Muzzy all the rest and residue of my estate, real and personal after the payment of legal claims against the same.

I do hereby constitute and appoint Robert C Bryden of Haverhill in the County of Essex, and the commonwealth of Massachusetts, sole executor of this my last will and testament and request that he be required to give no bond or surety for the faithful discharge of said trust.

Witness my hand and seal this 4th of July 1905
Hannah J Nickett

Signed and sealed by the above named Hannah J Nickett as her last will and testament and by us in her presence and at her request, subscribed as witnesses.

Mary F Peaslee 
Horace M Hills
William N Hills

I found a couple of things of interest:  First, the estate of Hannah Nickett was worth much more than $5.  She still owned a few acres of land in Kingston, her house, along with all of her personal and household belongings.  How can leaving $1 to children Rose, Hannah, Gerry, and Ida not be personal commentary on her relationships with them?  While her son, Gerry Towle had left for California nearly a decade prior to the creation of this document, clearly geography played no part as she didn't leave my grandmother Rose Pratt or my Aunts Hannah Dole and Ida Blye any more or less than their brother Gerry.  Both my grandmother Rose and her sisters Hannah and Ida were living nearby in Haverhill, Salisbury, and Revere Massachusetts.  Like my grandmother, my Aunt Mary Muzzey was also living in Haverhill.  Though Aunt Mary was the only one of her children without a living spouse or children, Hannah could have mentioned in her will that the intention in leaving virtually everything to Mary was done in effort provide Mary additional financial security- she didn't do this.  Had she entirely failed to mention Rose, Hannah, Gerry, or Ida there would have been grounds to claim that the will was in error and thus could be contested (had any of them desired to do so).  Leaving them each a single dollar makes this impossible.  It says, "I remember you; I just don't wish to leave anything to you."  It's the equivalent of leaving your waiter a handful of pennies; which is worse than leaving them nothing at all.  This isn't the first time I've gotten the impression that my grandmother Hannah Nickett could be rather petty.

Also, Hannah Nickett mentions each of her children by name, along with their spouses; even the deceased spouse of Mary Towle Muzzey, Arthur E Muzzey gets a mention by name. The only spouse not mentioned by name is son Gerry Towle's wife, Gertrude Pickering Towle, who was very much alive in 1905 and had been married to her son for 22 years.  Hannah Nickett bought and sold a half-dozen parcels of land in Kingston and was completely familiar with the custom of mentioning the name of the spouse of the person buying/selling/obtaining/giving/receiving something of value on legal documents - if the intention is to convey the duel ownership.  That she mentions all her children's spouses but Gertrude is...interesting.  Hannah Nickett did the same thing to her daughter-in-law Gertrude in 1893 when she deeded her son Gerry Towle an acre of land in Kingston - no mention of his wife Gertrude on the document though Gerry and Gertrude had been married for a decade at the time.

                                                                       (click to enlarge)

Hannah's deed of Kingston, NH land to son Gerry Towle (1893)

While it is true, a person has free will to be as petty and punitive as they choose to be in life, if they put it on paper and make it official, their granddaughter born 3 generations after the fact is free to obtain the documents and judge them as such.


So there.


  1. Thanks for your blog. I have found it personally useful and I'm recommending it on my blog Family History Writing ( with an "ancestor approved" award. You can use the image if you would like to and write your own list of 10 blogs you like as well as publish a list of 10 things that have humbled, enlightened or surprised you.