PRIMARY DOCUMENT

Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Decision in Pleasants v. Pleasants (May 6, 1799)

ORIGINAL IMAGES
Virginia: In the High Court of ChanceryVirginia: In the High Court of ChanceryVirginia: In the High Court of ChanceryVirginia: In the High Court of Chancery
CONTEXT

In this May 6, 1799, decision in the case of Pleasants v. Pleasants, the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals upholds the High Court of Chancery’s decision, overruling the appellants: Charles Logan and members of the Pleasants family. This appellate court ruled in favor of Robert Pleasants and the people formerly enslaved by the Pleasants family.

 

 

 

 

 

FULL TEXT

June 5th, 1799.

In these causes, in order that the decree of the Court of Appeals, which is certified by the clerk thereof in the following words.—”At a Court of Appeals, held at the Capitol in the City of Richmond, the sixth day of May, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-nine, Cary Pleasants & Mary Pleasants his wife, late Mary Logan, administratrix of Charles Logan, and devisee of John Pleasants and Jonathan Pleasants, deceased, Elizabeth Pleasants, administratrix of Joseph Pleasants, Isaac Pleasants and Jane his wife, Samuel Pleasants, jun. and Margaret his wife, appellants against Robert Pleasants, son and heir of John Pleasants, appellee, and Elizabeth Pleasants appellant against Ned, a pauper, appellee, upon appeals from a decree of the High Court of Chancery, pronounced the twelfth day of September, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-eight.

“This day came the parties by their counsel, and the court having maturely considered the transcript of the record, and the argument of the counsel, is of opinion that there is no error in so much of the decree of the said High Court of Chancery, as overruleth the demurrers of the appellants Mary Pleasants, Isaac Pleasants and Samuel Pleasants, jun. for want of jurisdiction in the said court; but that there is error in some of the principles, on which the decree upon the merits is founded, and part of the reasoning thereupon is not approved by this court, therefore it is decreed and ordered, that so much of the said decree as overruleth the said demurrers be affirmed, and that the residue of the said decree be reversed, and this court proceeding to make such decree as the said High Court of Chancery should have pronounced, is of opinion, that although the testators at the time of making their respective wills had not power to manumit, and if they had devised them upon conditions that the devisees should emancipate them immediately, the condition being unlawful would have been void, and the property vested, yet the condition that they should become free when the law would permit it, was not of that sort. That to apply the rule respecting the limitation of the remainder of a chattel upon too remote a contingency, with all its consequences, to the present case, would be too rigid, but that a reasonable principle ought to be adopted to suit its peculiar circumstances, which is this, that if the event happens whilst the slaves remain in the possession of the family without change by the intervention of credit

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ors or purchasers since the contending parties would be those whose interest had been contemplated by the testators, the bequest ought to take place, but that the case of such intervening claims not being in the view of the testators it ought to be considered how far they should in equity prevent the devise of the manumission from taking effect. So far therefore as concerns the family, the court would have had no difficulty in decreeing in favor of the paupers, if the wills had directed a general emancipation, when permitted by law, and the legislature had permitted it without any condition annexed; but a difficulty arises from the testators’ not having directed a general manumission, when allowed by law, but a limitted one, directing that all future generations of these people born whilst their mothers were under thirty should serve to that age, founded no doubt, upon considerations of the interest of his family, and that of the slaves on which middle state the legislature have not declared their will, and on the other hand the legislature have permitted an unlimitted emancipation, but annexed a condition imposing upon the person liberating certain terms for the sake of the community, of which the persons making voluntary manumissions might judge, whether they would do the act upon these terms and use their pleasure: and on these terms the testators have not declared their minds whether they would or would not have compelled the devisees against their inclination to emancipate subject to them. Under this difficulty, the court endeavored to model a decree to effect the purpose of the paupers without essentially violating the wills, and is of opinion that the limitted manumission, according to the modifications, in the wills of the testators, can alone take place and be decreed, and that the terms for securing the public against the maintenance of the aged or infirmed, cannot be equitably imposed upon the devisees. It is therefore further decreed and ordered, that all the slaves of which the testators were possessed as their property, at the time of their respective deaths, not subject to the claims of the creditors or purchasers, before stated, and who are now above the age of forty five years, and their increase, born after their respective mothers had attained the age of thirty years (so soon as Robert Pleasants the executor, the several trustees, or any other person, shall in the courts of the several counties in which the said slaves respectively reside, enter into bonds, with approved security, payable to the justices then sitting in each court, and their successors, with condition that the said slaves shall not become chargeable to the public, or enter into one such bond for the whole in the General Court,) and all such as are now above thirty and under the age of forty-five years immediately shall be emancipated and set

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free to all intents and purposes, in like manner as if they had been born free; and that all who are now under the age of thirty, and whose mothers had not attained that age at the time of their birth, and all their future descendants, born whilst their mothers are in such service, do serve their several owners, until they shall respectively attain the age of thirty years, and then be in like manner free, and when their freedom shall severally take effect according to this decree, there shall be delivered to each of them, by their respective masters or mistresses, a certificate, written or printed, attesting their freedom, in such form as shall be directed by the said High Court of Chancery. That no account ought to be taken of profits, it being unusual in such cases and less reasonable in this very difficult one. And the cause is remanded to the said High Court of Chancery for a state to be taken of the present condition of the several persons, and their rights ascertained, according to the principles of this decree, also for further proceedings to be had respecting the claims of Elizabeth Pleasants and Daniel Teasdale to part of the slaves, under titles paramount to the will of John Pleasants, and the claims of the creditors of Charles Logan, upon proper statements of the facts and exhibits relative thereto, which they are to be at liberty to introduce in the said court, which is ordered to be certified to the said High Court of Chancery. A copy, J. Brown, C. C,” if it be not misunderstood by him, whom the law requireth to enter it as his own, may be executed; this court doth direct that a commissioner thereof do report, first the names and sexes of the slaves of which the testators intended by the said decree, were possessed, as their property at the time of their respective deaths, not subject to the claims of the creditors or purchasers in the decree stated, and who were, when the decree was pronounced, above the age of forty five years, and their increase, born after their respective mothers had attained the age of thirty years (so soon as Robert Pleasants, the executor, the several trustees or any other person, shall in the courts of the several counties, in which the said slaves respectively reside, enter into bonds, which approved securities, payable to the justices then sitting in each court, and their successors, with condition that the said slaves shall not become chargeable to the public, or enter into one such bond for the whole in the General Court) and all such as were, when the decree was pronounced, above thirty and under the age of forty-five years, and secondly, the names and sexes of the slaves of which the testators were possessed as their property at the time of their respective deaths, and who were, when the decree was pronounced, under the age of thirty, and whose mothers had not attained that age at their birth: and this court doth order, that when the freedom

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of the slaves shall severally take effect, according to the decree of the Court of Appeals, there shall be delivered to each of them, by their respective masters or mistresses, a certificate, written or printed, attesting their freedom in this form:— is emancipated and set free according to the decree of the Court of Appeals, in May, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-nine.

CITE THIS ENTRY
APA Citation:
Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Decision in Pleasants v. Pleasants (May 6, 1799). (2023, February 14). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/primary-documents/virginia-supreme-court-of-appeals-decision-in-pleasants-v-pleasants-may-6-1799.
MLA Citation:
Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. "Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Decision in Pleasants v. Pleasants (May 6, 1799)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (14 Feb. 2023). Web. 16 Apr. 2024
Last updated: 2023, February 14
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