Chancery Suit

Mary “Molly” Rhodes vs John Birckhead, Thomas Brown

1853 Albemarle County, Virginia

Archives section of the Library of Virginia, Richmond

Case # 1853-033, Original Case # 1853-009

Transcriber's Note:

Only a portion of the documents in the folder were photographed.

The following is a transcription of the photographed items,

some of which were damaged or otherwise hard to read.

The documents in the folder were in no particular order.

I photographed the documents as I came to them in the folder,

and this transcription is in the order that they were photographed.

----------- Oratrix the use of his entire estate during her life, that certain portions of the estate, including a part of the slaves, was sold by the executor, to meet, as was alleged, the debts of the estate.

After the death of your oratrix's husband, she being then at the time of his death about eighty-one years of age, she was left alone, there being no white person belong to -------- George Martin was her --- and ---with the estate as executor, invited your Oratrix to remove to his house with the declaration that she would be considered as one of his family, and should be free from any and all charge for board, accompanied as your Oratrix would be with her negroes, amounting to six in number, none of whom was a charge and all capable of rendering service. Your Oratrix induced by her lonely and somewhat helpless condition from extreme age, consented to accede to the invitation of said Martin; and accordingly, removed to his house, he being married and with a family, accompanied by her said negroes, who immediately went into possession of her said nephew, Martin, and were used and supplied by him to his own profit and benefit. Matters thus continued until the death of Mr. Martin about the summer of 1847 when, or about when, your Oratrix left her then residence about July or August 1849, a period of some two years after the death of Mr. Martin & after your Oratrix left his family, she was, as she understood, sued in this Court in the name of Richard Duke ? Himself late Sheriff of Albemarle & as such committed & adm'r of George Martin, dec'd for the benefit of a certain John Birkhead. Your Oratrix, wholly ignorant of legal proceedings, & as ignorant of the object of said suit, felt greatly surpized when she was informed, that its purpose was to demand and --------------------------

The deposition of Sarah E. Early taken at the Law Office of Thomas Wood, in the town of Charlottesville, to be read as evidence in a chancery suit pending in the County Court of Albemarle in which Mary Rhodes is plaintiff and John Birkhead and Thomas H. Brown sheriff & admin'r are defendants – said deposition having been taken on the 13th October 1853, agreeably to notice herewith returned:

The deponent of lawful age, being first duly sworn, deposeth and saith as follows:

Question by counsel of defendant Birkhead, will you say whether you are related to the late George Martin & if so, how are you related to him?

Before answering the foregoing question, the plaintiff's counsel having arrived, propounded the following questions to the deponent.

Are you not the daughter of the late Geo. Martin, dec'd.

Answer: Yes

Did your father die without a will.

Answer: Yes, Sir.

From the answers to the foregoing questions, the plaintiff's counsel objects to the competency of Mrs. Early as a witness in this suit. She is a --- in her if ---estate ---the claim set up by the Deft. Birkhead –the ---- is as his answers showes one ---to be ---the late George Martin from the ---- & transferred as alleged by Martin in his lifetime to the deft. Birkhead towards the payment of a debt due the -------

The deponent on reply to the 1st question propounded to her by defendant's counsel says: I am the daughter of the late George Martin.

By Same: will you state as nearly as you can the time at which Mrs. Mary Rhodes came to live at your father's house and how long she remained there?

Ans. Mrs. Mary Rodes came to my father's house to live about the 1st of October of the year 1846 and remained there as late as the 24th of August 1847.

By Same: Please state how many slaves Mrs. Rodes took with her to your father's – the ages, the character and description of said slaves & what became of them during the latter part of the year 1846, as well as you can now remember?

Ans. She brought one of her own which she bought at her husband's sale – she also brought 5 others. One of the slaves was a young negro woman, another a girl, a negro man and two negro boys. The negro woman was about 16 I suppose, the girl I reckon was 12 years old, the man was old but I don't know his age. The two boys were probably about 14 & 11 years of age to the best of my knowledge. They staid there (at my father's) during the latter part of that year. I had forgotten when I answered the question that the girl about 12 years old was hired out during the latter part of the year 1846. The servant that Mrs. Rhodes bought at her husband's sale I suppose was about 8 years old & she was a cripple.

By Same: Do you know what became of the slaves Mrs. Rhodes brought to your father's after ----, & if hired, how many were hired?

Ans. They were all hired out except the one belonging to her.

By same: Will you state whether or not you ever had any conversation with Mrs. Rhodes touching on the subject of paying board to your father; & if so when and where said conversation took place, & all that she said on the subject?

Ans. I heard her at two different times allude to her board. The conversation took place at the place at which she was boarding – a few days before my father's death he sent for my mother, who was then in the dining room at the breakfast table, I of course had to fill her plate, at which time Aunt Molly (that is Mrs. Rhodes) remarked that it was hard she was paying her board & couldn't get enough to eat. The next conversation in relation to her board occurred at the same place & the morning after my father was buried – she was informed that my father had given her account to uncle John Birkhead. She said she knew she had somebody to pay and that she would as soon pay it to uncle John Birkhead as any body else. All this occurred in the same week.

By Same: Will you state whether or not your father Mr. George Martin, is generally reputed to have died insolvent?

Ans. Yes, Sir.

Since I answered the question as to how many of Mrs. Rhodes slaves were hired out during the latter part of the year 1846, it occurs to me and I remember that the oldest boy—supposed to be about 16 years of age—was hired out during the latter part of the year 1846. This correction is made at the request of the witness.

The plaintiff, not in any way waiving her objection to the competency of the witness, but reserving & wholly insisting, thereon, proceeds.

----- pay him as any one else?

Answer: I don't know Sir.

By same: How long did Mrs. Rodes remain at your fathers after his death?

Answer: He died on the 28th of July 1847 & she was there the last of August I know. I don't know exactly when she left there. I know she staid there until she went to Cousin Willis White's.

I desire to correct former answer in which I said one of the negroes was hired to Mr. Servies (?) – I should have said Mr. Hicks.

Re-examined by defendant's counsel.

Will you state when you were married – was it before or after your father's death?

Ans. I was married the 19th day of November 1846. It was before my father's death – the fall before his death.


And did you or did you not hear any conversation between your Father and Mrs. Rodes on the subject of her being taken away from your Fathers, & if so, state the substance of said conversation as nearly as you can remember?

Ans. I never heard Pa say anything in her presence about the removal of the girl.

By Same: Where was the girl carried to after she left your Father's?

Ans. To Grand-Father Martin's.

Pe x Ex'd

Question by plaintiff's counsel. What was the character or the disease of the crippled girl of which you have spoken? Did it lay her up, require nursing, or at all disable her from going about & for one of her age rendering service?

Answer – She was so from her birth – it did not lay her up. Her mistress (?) put her shoes and stockings on every time they were worn – it did not disable her from going about but at the same did she did not render any one any service.

And further the deponent saith not.

Sarah E. Early

The deposition of Orlando B Barksdale taken the same time and place, agreeably to the same


To Thomas H Brown Administrator of George Marin, dec'd and J Birkhead -

Take noticed, on the 29th instant in the Law office of V.R. Southall, in the town of Charlottesville, shall proceed to take the depositions of Robert P Rodes and others to be read as evidence in my behalf in a suit pending in the County Court of Albemarle in which I am plaintiff, and you are defendants – Should the taking said depositions be not commenced on the above day, the same will be continued from day to day til they are finished.

Aug: 18 . 1853 Yrs: VC (?)

Mary Rodes

The deposition of Robert P Rodes taken in the Law Office of V.W. Southall in the town of Charlottesville, county of Albemarle, on the 29th day of August 1853, to be read as evidence in a suit in Chancery pending in the County Court of Albemarle in which Mary Rodes is plaintiff, and Thomas H Brown, late Sheriff of Albemarle, & as such committee admin of George Martin dec'd and John Birkhead are defendants.

The deponent being first duly sworn, deposeth and saith.

Question by plaintiff's counsel. Have you any knowledge of Mrs. Mary Rodes coming to an understanding with the late George Martin as to her residence with him? If so please state all you know about it.


The day after the first sale which the administrator of John W Rodes had Molly Rodes had her horse gotten, and took her six negroes & one horse down to George Martin's. After she had left George Martin stated to me that as he and I were doing different roads & that he could overtake Mrs. M Rodes before she could get to his house that he wanted to have some conversation with me. I consented, and told him that I wanted to know what was to become of my stepmother, Molly Rodes. He (George Martin) told me that she was going to live with him as one of his family and that he did not intend to charge her cent for her board so long as she lived. That she was then in her 80th year, and that he did not expect her to live as long as her mother who died in her 84th year, as her breaking up house might lessen her days. George Martin is the nephew of Mary Rodes.

Question by Same. Will you enumerate the negroes old Mrs. Rodes carried along to George Martin's & their probable ages and whether Martin was to have the use of them as long as she remained a member of his family & as well as her horse.


There were Millis not more than 60 years of age, Clara about 17 or 18 years old, Amanda between 15 & 16 years of age, John between 12 & 13 years old, Henry between 11 & 12, and a deformed one about 7 or 8 years of age. After he said touching the negroes was that he would keep the negros until New Year's day and he would then hire them out. He said that she should keep the horse at his house, and use him when she needed, but when she was not using him that he would use him as one of his own horses.

By Same: Did Geo. Martin have the negroes in his own service upon his farm after they were carried there by Mrs. Rodes?

Ans. I do not know as I lived at a distance from George Martin's, and was not at my father's old place for some time after the sale. I have not been at George Martin's place since the sale.

Crossexamined by counsel for John Birkhead.

Do you know anything of George Martin's condition in a pecuniary way at the time you had the conversation with him in relation to the board of Mrs. Mary Rhodes. And did you understand that the Board of Mrs. Rhodes was to be furnished by Martin without any equivalent or consideration to Martin?

Ans. I knew nothing of George Martin's pecuniary condition at the time I had the conversation with him, but it was said at that time that he was in a tight place. Mr. Martin told me that she was to board with him and that he would not charge her a cent, as she would be useful in his family and as she was so old that she could not live very long.

2nd Question by same

Do you know how long Mrs. Rhodes continued to house with George Martin, and whether he hired the negroes which she carried theron or whether they continued in the service of George Martin.

Ans. I do not know how long she lived with George Martin, and I did not hear of her leaving Martin's until after his death.

I do not know whether the negroes were hired out or lived with Martin. All I know is that Martin said that he intended keeping them until New Year's and then he would hire them out. I was at my father-in-laws in the neighborhood of Martin's, some time in the month of February succeeding the sale, and heard that they were hired out.

3rd question by same:

Did George Martin say to you that he expected Mrs. Rodes to live with him the remainder of her lifetime.

Ans. He told me that he did not intend to charge her with board as long as she lived.

4th by same. Do you know what servant or servants Mrs. Rodes kept to wait upon her whilst she remained at Martin's and whether she kept a horse for her own use. And if she kept such servants or horses whether they were provided for and maintained by and at the expense of George Martin.

Ans. I know nothing about it as I had not been at Martin's.

5th by Same. Will you be kind enough to say in what year and what month of the year you had the conversation with George Martin relative to the Board of Mrs. Rodes.

Ans. It was between the 14th and 20th of October 1846, as well I recollect.

6th by Same. Please state what your -----

The deposition of Mrs. Mildred Marshall taken on the 12th day of September 1853 at the law office of V.W Southall in the town of Charlottesville – to notice, to be read as evidence in a Chancery suit pending in the County Court of Albemarle in which Mary Rodes is plaintiff and Thomas H Brown late Shff & adm'r of George Martin dec'd and John Birkhead are defendants.

The deponent being first duly sworn, deposeth & saith:

Question by plaintiff's counsel. Were you at the residence of the late George Martin during his last illness?

Answer. I was.

By same: Did you see the plaintiff there?

Answer. I did.

By same: How long had the plaintiff been living at Mr. Martin's when you first saw her there, as well as you recollect?

Ans. I suppose that she had been living there about two months.

By same. Did you have upon the visit alluded to any conversation with Mr. Martin --- --- the plaintiff's living with him and if any, please say what it was.

Ans. Mr. Martin said that the old lady (Mrs. Rodes) was not satisfied with living with him but that he would take as good care of her as he would do with one of his own family and that he did not intend to charge her anything for living at his house. Mr. ----

..Some were working out and some working it, as other people's hands.

X examined by counsel of Def't Birkhead -

Will you state whether you are related to the plaintiff, Mrs. Mary Rhodes, and if so, how you are related to her?

Ans. I am her sister.

By same. When was it that you had the conversation with George Martin, in which you say he told you he did not intend to charge Mrs. Rhodes for board, & who besides yourself and Mr. Martin was present at that conversation?

Ans. It was sometime after Christmas whilst he was sick. There was no other person present.

By same: In what year was it?

Ans. It may have been about the year 1845.

By Same: In what month was it – was it before or after Christmas?

Ans. It was after Christmas; it may have been February, though I do not recollect the month.

By Same: George Martin in his last illness at the time and confined to his bed, or was he going about?

Ans. It was in his last illness and he was confined to his bed.

By Same: How many of the plaintiff's negroes did you see at George Martin's & in his employment at the time you had the conversation with him in relation to the boarding of ---

..all the slaves of your sister Mrs. Rhodes: You now say in reply to one of my questions that three of said slaves were hired out: will you now explain how they were in Mr. Martin's employment when they were hired to other persons?

Deposition of Mrs. Marshall continued.

By Same: Who do you live with or who lives with you?

Ans. I live by myself.

By Same: How came George Martin to be talking with you about the terms upon which your sister was living with him. Did you introduce the conversation or did he introduce it?

Ans. I do not know who commenced the conversation – Martin was ---

By Same: Was your sister able to pay board to Mr. Martin?

Ans. She was.

By same: Was not George Martin a very poor man & did he not die insolvent?

Ans. I do not know – they say so.

By Same: At what time of the year did your sister go to live with George Martin & how long did she remain there before George Martin's death?

Ans. I do not recollect.

By Same: Were not all the slaves of your sister who were old enough to hire out, hired out after Christmas, with the exception of the one girl to wait upon her?

Ans. They were all hired out after Christmas,

Know all men by these presents that I Willis M. White am held and firmly bound unto Mary Rhodes in the just and full sum of sixty six dollars 66 cash current money to collect payment well and duly to be made, I bind myself my heirs & firmly by these presents. Sealed with my seal and dated this 3rd day of November 1851.

The condition of the above obligation is such that whereas in a suit in the County Court of Albemarle between Thomas H Brown sheriff of Albemarle County and as such adm'n of George Martin dec'd (for the counsel of John Birkhead) Plaintiff and Mary Rodes Def't. The Deft alleges that the said John Birkhead resided one of the Commonwealth. Now if the above bound Willis M. White shall well and --- pay all such costs and claimings as may be awarded to the Defendant in case the Plaintiff shall be cash in the said suit: and of the said Willis M. White shall also pay all the fees which will become due from the said – to the officers of the said Court, then the above obligation is to be void otherwise it is to remain in full force and value.

W. M. White