The freed man frees. Maybe.

by Lisa Y. Henderson

M.N. Leary, Executor, v. S.W. Nash and others, 56 NC 356 (1857)

This case the Court of Equity of Cumberland County and involved the interpretation of a Solomon W. Nash‘s will.  The clause at issue:

Item 6. “I further leave my negro slave woman Venice, to serve my daughters ten years from the time of my death, and after the expiration of that time, I desire her to be freed; and if she wishes to remove to any free State, I wish her to be permitted to do so; and if she may be permitted to remain in North Carolina, that she may enjoy all the privileges that can be, or may be, allowed by law to slaves left by their masters or mistresses to be freed. The way I desire Venice to serve my daughters is, for her to be hired out for the term of ten years, and the proceeds of the same to be equally divided amongst them.”

Venice had no children at the time the will was made, but later had two, Jack and Festus. Executor Matthew N. Leary asked the court (1) if Venice was entitled to freedom and, if so, under what terms and (2) if Jack and Festus were entitled to freedom. The court was also asked if John Nash, born after his father made his will, was entitled to any of the estate.

The decision:

1. John, who was born after Nash made the will, but before his death, was entitled to a filial portion.

2. Venice can elect either to leave the State and be emancipated, or to remain here as a slave.

3. Venice’s two children, born after the will was made, are slaves. “There is no ground upon which they are entitled to their freedom” because Nash did not include Venice’s future increase in his bequest.