J.B. Wells and wife (Clarisa Catlett) vs. William Catlett and others

Contributor's Note: The following record was copied from the Joseph A. Sharp Collection at the McClung Library in Knoxville, Tennessee. In this suit, J.B. Wells and wife (Clarisa Catlett) filed suit against William Catlett and others in regards to the terms of the Will of Benjamin Catlett, decd. They charge that the Estate is being misused by William Catlett & others. The Executor for the Estate, Micajah C. Rogers is also named in this suit. (I have abstracted this to include just the information pertaining to the slaves of Benjamin Catlett, deceased).

Original Bill, filed 5 Jan 1846, Chancery Court, Sevierville, Tennessee.

To Thomas L. Williams, Chanceror for Eastern division of state.

James Wells of Blount County, Tenn. Month of April, 1833, Benjamin Catlett made will, and left town lots in Sevierville and personal property to wife, Nancy Catlett; also she got use of negro property.

Appointed John W. Porter and Micajah C. Rogers his executors. Porter died before Catlett, leaving only Rogers "to execute will," but Rogers since left "the country". When Catlett died, he had SOLOMON and BEN, negro men, and SARA a negro woman, and MARTHA, SALLA and RHODA, young negro girls, probably between the ages of seven and twelve. Rogers sold SOLOMON, and BEN, RHODA and SALLA have since died.

Nancy Catlett, William Catlett and James Catlett, about last of November or December sold negro girl MARTHA to Bartlett M. Magee of Blount County. But William bought her back again owing to difficulty about title.

"Said William and the said James, being about to go to Georgia and Florida with a drove of horses in a few days, and the said William is threatening to take the said MARTHA with them and to Sell her in the South, and he is informed and believes that the Said William designs and is threatening to take all the said negroes to the South and to sell them."

Also widow, James and Henry are aiding in this design.

Bill asked for an accounting from William, Nancy, James and Henry, and also an injunction against sale of negroes. injunction was issued.

The tavern employs the negroes through a considerable portion of the year, Answer of Nancy Catlett, 10 April 1847, Richard Lanning C & M. Benjamin Catlett died 29th April 1834; had made will 30 April 1833.

She admitted the death of negroes and the sale by Rogers of SOLOMON to pay debt Denies that she William and James were in "unlawful combination" to sell negroes. "The Girl MARTHA had been raised in the family - Respondent had permitted her daughter Mrs. WelLs to have the Services of said Girl for a time - On taking her home again for some cause she appeared changed in disposition & temper expressed an unwillingness to live with the mistress that had raised her & wished to return to Blount County - Respondent finding she was likely to do no good - And Bartlett M. McGhee offering a most Generous bid for said Girl in like (Negro) property two valuable and likely boys for sd Girl believing (as all who were consulted did) that the bargain proposed was one greatly to the advantage of the heirs - Respondent left it to her sons to go on with contract." Bill of sale for two boys taken out in name of heirs, but when discovered that Wells and wife objected, the bargain was cancelled and the Girl restored to Nancy Catlett.

"In this transaction it is due repondent to say the Wells & wife used as much unlawful authority over the Girl - as Respondent - for they seized, held for a time and claimed her as their own."

Denied that any plan made to sell the negroes in the South. "Respondent had the controul & would have prevented it."

"For years every Dollar She Respondent could realize was demanded and taken from her by the Executor for the payment of debts as she said." Negro SOLOMON sold to pay debts.

Amongst the rest the Negro man JIM spoken of in the bill - Respondent denies that said boy was bought with the money of the estate of the town lots devised to Respondent." Peck was solicitor for Nancy. Richard Lanning, C & M, Sevierville, 10 April 1847.

Nancy ( her X mark) Catlett

Answer of William and James Catlett, 10 April 1847

"There was a proposition by McGhee to purchase or exchange for the Girl MARTHA. The offer was a most generous one on the part of sd McGhee - two likely Negro boys for sd Girl by way of exchange Respondents giving $200. As the Girl had failed to discharge her duty to her aged Mistress that had raised her."

Took up this proposition and paid money out of own funds and "bill of sale was taken in the name of the widow and heirs." Wells and wife objected "because they wanted sd Girl, " and contract was recinded." Girl taken back and now in possession of Mrs. Catlett. William and James then purchased sd Boys from McGhee with their own funds & on their own account for $750 and has since sold one of them for $600. Girl was not worth more than $600 at that time.

Made some money and property - and amongst the rest the Negro man JIM. This man has been purchased with the money of Respondent William and not with the money of the estate as is falsely charged." Denied any intention of selling other slaves. "If any such expression was used by either of them, it was either an expression used out of Levity or in a moment of heat produced by the conduct of complainants in standing in the way of the interest of the heirs in the affair about the girl Martha.

William L. Rogers, aged 26 years, before Richard Lanning, C & M, by M.A. Rawlings, C. C & M, Sevierville, 8 March 1848. "I drew the bill of sale saw it signed & acknowledged, was not present at or during the time the trade was going on." Said he understood that girl McGhee got "was a mulatto Girl named MARTHA," but could not say whether it was a good trade or not. Always understood that William acted as agent of Nancy Catlett.

Solomon Andes, aged about 53: "As to them negroes I know nothing about them. I have seen the boys that they swaped MARTHA for & I had Rather have the two boys than to have MARTHA but how they swaped I know not. I was told by William & James Catlett that they had swaped for the Boys."

Bond signed by Wm. Catlett, James P. Catlett, M.W. McCown, James McNelly, and B.M. Chandler for $2000.00 to bring two negro women slaves before Chancellor next term of court and abide by decree of court. 11 October 1847.

No decree was found in this case.

Contributed by: Linda Roberts Neal,


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