Wills of John Read Magruder, Sr. & Jr.

  • John Read Magruder Sr. (~1736-1811) was the son of James Magruder + Barbara Coombs
  • James was the son of Samuel Magruder + Sarah Beall
  • Samuel was the son of Alexander Magruder, the Immigrant

From his father, James (d~1775), John Read Magruder inherited most of the dwelling plantation, “Alexandria,” plus about five acres of “Good Luck,” as well as a town lot in Marlboro on which he (John) already had a store, warehouse, and stable. The only identified slave John inherited was a boy named Jack. Jack does not appear 26 years later in John Read’s will.

Will of John Read Magruder, Sr.

John Read Magruder, Sr., died 1811. He left to his son, John Read Magruder, Jr.: “Frank and his Wife Cate, my old Housewench Flossy, her daughter Flossy, her son Harry and her grandson Malatto Harry and beg his attention to Charles an old superannuated slave, that he may not want the necessities of life.”

Also: “to my sons John and Alexander and the survivor of them, the following negro slaves with the children they may have had and their future increase to wit Polly aged 21 years, Grace aged 17 yrs, Nell aged 41 years, and Peg her daughter aged 16 years, in Trust for the uses and purposes hereafter mentioned to wit that the said John and Alexander shall suffer the said negro slaves and their children with their increase to remain the possession and use of my son James and his family during the life of the said James and after his death that the same be equally divided among the children which he may leave .” Here the will becomes hard to read but says these negroes are to be hired annually with the income applied to the schooling and maintenance of James’ children. He also gave James a young negro man named Nace abt 20

To his daughter, Jane Contee Marbury: 2 negro slaves Alick –may say Alick of Battour or Alick and Battou’ s son Tom

To his granddaughter “Kitty Jane the dau of my son James, my negro woman Cate and her daughter Molly.”

* * * *

In Free Negroes in the District of Columbia 1790-1846, Letitia Woods Brown mentions John R[ead] Magruder in connection to the will of George Lee (who died in 1808). According to Brown:

Lee had exchanged Daphne and her three children with John Magruder’s Milly and her three children. He stated that the arrangement could be permanent, if Magruder agreed. Either way, the four could be sold. All sales under his will were to be private with no dealers or traders allowed. None of the slaves were to go out of the District [of Columbia], unless they requested it, and all were to have time to look for an agreeable purchaser for themselves and their children. (pp 84-85)

Neither Milly nor Daphne appears in John Read’s will, just three years later.

Some of Lee’s slaves were to be sold as slaves for life, others for terms ranging from seven to twenty-five years, while two (Letty and her son Carter–see below) were to be freed at once. He left property to one of his older slaves, Old Thomas Gillam. (His son, young Tom Gillam was to serve ten years.) Old Gillam, his wife Henny, and “an old black man named Harry” were too elderly to be self-supporting. Lee’s will provided for them in the following unusual manner–

In order to provide for the three elderly beneficiaries, he gave John and Japa, an idiot boy, to Nicholas Lingan and John R. Magruder in trust to be hired out and the proceeds used for their support. John was charged with their support for as long as they lived. If all three died within twelve years, John was to sold for the remainder of tha twelve-year term. If they lived over twelve years, John was to continue to serve until the last one died, then to go free. If John died, Lee’s other beneficiaries were asked to look after the three old people.” (p 84)

George Lee seems to have had a very close relationship with these Magruders. John Read Magruder, Jr., named one of his sons George Lee Magruder.

The family also had close ties to the Lingans, including intermarriage.

* * * *

An aside about those in George Lee’s will:

  • In 1830 and again in 1835, Thomas Gillam Jr. and “Gillam’s heirs” (can’t tell if this means Jr.’s or Sr.’s) are listed among those who payed property tax in Washington, D.C., for property described as Square 104, Lot 16. (Brown, Appendix 3, p 153).
  • A “yellow woman named Letty and her youngest child named Carter” were freed immediately. This suggests (though of course does not prove) that Carter may have been George Lee’s son. Letty also had a “little yellow girl” named Anna, who was willed to Nancy H. Baker to serve until age 18,when she would be freed. It was Lee’s desire that Miss Baker should “learn the said Anna to read agreeably to the injunction of the late Mrs Lee.” (Brown, p 84)
  • No one else among George Lee’s slaves is named by Brown. See below for citation for his will.

* * * *

Will of John Read Magruder, Jr.

John Read Magruder, Jr., (1773-1831) made his will in haste in 1831, with little time to settle his affairs. He directed his executors to sell everything he owned and divide the proceeds among his children, but asked that

the Negroes to be allowed a reasonable time before the sale to look out for purchasers agreeable to themselves, and if in the opinion of my Executor the situation of my estate will justify it, I desire that they may be sold at private sale to masters of their choice, provided a fair price can be obtained.”

At private sale means not at auction, where they would be exposed to the danger of being sold to slave traders and taken to the deep South, separated from friends and family forever.

Apparently, the habit of swapping slaves from household to household continued into this generation, for the will further states that

the negroes Daniel, Polly, and her daughter Sook which I have given my son John Read [III] the use of shall be considered a part of my estate to be disposed of and distributed with the rest of it, he having taken them with that understanding between us—and my son John Addison shall have no claim against my estate for the services of his negro man Harry who has been in my possession several years.”

There is no way to tell if or how this Harry is related to the two Harry’s in the will of J.R. Magruder, Sr.

In the estate papers, names of buyers are recorded for most of his possessions, but not for the slaves. Here is the inventory.

Negroes: Peter 43 (375), Harry 55 (150), John 38 (400), Nat 35 (450), Abraham 45 (325), Edgar 28 (200), Tom 20 (375), Phillis 60 (50), Donah 50 (75), Eliza 40 (150), Linny (no age given) (200), Esther 38 & child (230), Cassandra 11 (275), Henry 11 (200), Abraham 3 (100), Sally 13 (225), a boy Sandy 13 (225), Polly 8 (125), Eliza 6 (100), Lucy 4 (60), Linny 2 (40);  mulattos Rachael 33 (180), Frank 5 (150), Nat 4 (125), Flora 2 (50); negroes: Rachel 22 (275), Jeff 3 (50), Fanny 21 & child (300),  Charles 3 (50), 1 old woman Kate 65 (00), 1 old man Ned 60 (25), 1 old man Will 75 (0), 1 dark Mulatto man William (no age given) (300), 1 negro boy Jim 14 (200).

  • It is likely Frank, Nat, and Flora are the children of the mulatto woman Rachael.
  • The order of names also suggests that 3 year-old Charles might be Fanny’s son, and that 3 year-old Jeff might be the son of the other Rachael, described as negro.
  • Nine other children are listed together, with nothing to suggest whose they were. This list follows the entry “Esther & child 38” but it would be a stretch to assume they were all her children. The “& child” entries refer to very young children who were appraised with their mothers.
  • Daniel, Polly, and Sook, mentioned in the will, don’t appear on the inventory; possibly the court considered them to be the property of John Read, Jr.’s son (John Read III), despite what the will says.
  • One Harry does appear here–whether he is the Harry whom the will states belonged to John Addison Magruder is impossible to say. Twenty-three years earlier there were two Harry’s in the family, both of whom were left to John Read Magruder, Jr.
  • Kate 65 is very likely the Cate who was married to Frank, mentioned in the earlier will as left to John Read Magruder, Jr.

* * * *

A snapshot of the relative wealth of this family is provided by Steve Sarson in “Yeoman Farmers in a Planter’s Republic,” in which he analyzed patterns of landowning and wealth in early Prince George’s County. In 1800, John Read Magruder, Sr., a county judge, owned 2,350 acres of land, 52 slaves, and total taxable wealth of over $7000. John Read Magruder, Jr., though only about 27 years old and not yet come into his inheritance, owned more than $1400 of taxable wealth, including 100 acres of land and 20 slaves. He also served as clerk of the Levy Court. In that year, the average taxable wealth among all free households in the county was $708.51, about half the younger Magruder’s assets. (p. 78)

* * * *

Not surprisingly, several of John Read Magruder Sr.’s descendants became prominent. They include–

  • William Beanes Magruder (son of John’s son James) was a physician and somewhat of a hero of a cholera outbreak in the District–simply because he did not flee, as did most doctors. He also served one term as mayor of the city, in the 1850s, and when war came he supported the Union.
  • Daniel Randall Magruder (grandson of John Read Jr.) was a judge in Maryland, celebrated by his descendants, but also indicted in Federal court after the Civil War for sentencing black convicts to term slavery instead of jail. (See Barbara Jean Fields Slavery and Freedom on the Middle Ground, pp 152, 154, 159.)

* * * *

Prince George’s County Register of Wills (Estate Papers) 1789-1831. Estate Papers of John R. Magruder (1811). MSA C2119-60-3.

Prince George’s County Register of Wills (Estate Papers) 1789-1831. Estate Papers of John R. Magruder (1834). MSA C2119-60-3.

I have not read George Lee’s will. According to Brown’s citation, you should be able to find it as: National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Record Group 21, Entry 111, Transcripts of Wills Probated, Vol. 1, p136-37. Will of George Lee (d.1827).

See Sources for full citations for Brown, Fields, and Sarson.

One comment on “Wills of John Read Magruder, Sr. & Jr.

  1. Maya D says:

    Additional information about John Read Magruder, Jr. can be found on the Maryland State Archives, “Study of the Legacy of Slavery” page where there are case studies and a database of runaway slave ads, etc. John Read Magruder also lost slaves during the War of 1812 including the enslaved woman Polly Clark who is the same Polly that is willed to him by his father John Read Magruder, Sr. When Magruder, Jr. dies his son George places a runaway slave ad for his enslaved man William Clark, who is likely the same mulatto William on the above inventory. I am hoping to make a connection between Polly Clark and William Clark (possibly mother and son).

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