On July 6th, I posted an article on the will of George Fox (iii) written in 1754. I used that will to describe some of what I knew about his widow and children and what happened to them after he died. But there was a lot I didn’t know, and I discovered some of it recently when visiting the County Archives at the Records Center in the County Complex on Route 12. What I found was a considerable amount of litigation over debts owed by the George Fox who died in 1754, and debts owed to him.
But first I want to thank Larry Green, who manages the archives, for doing the hard work of pulling dozens of fragile documents from their files for me to examine. He spent a long morning on his feet, for which I am grateful.
The first case involved a debt incurred by George Fox when he was alive amounting to £15.10.9. The court paper [#6856] suggested that the creditor was one Samuel Stevens, and that the debt was transferred to Jacob Arnwine for collection. Arnwine seems to have gone to court right after George Fox died, and not only got the court to rule in his favor, but to award him damages of £6.8. This happened in the May term, 1755. (George Fox died in June of 1754.) Arnwine was described as the “manucaptor” of Samuel Stevens, and was suing the executors of George Fox’s estate, George and Gabriel Fox.
Manucaption in the Oxford English Dictionary is a writ directing the bringing in of a person charged with a felony who was debarred from being admitted to bail by the sheriff or other inferior magistrate. Manucaptor (obsolete) was a main person, like a surety. This doesn’t shed much light on what role Arnwine played in regard to Samuel Stevens.
George Fox’s will had ordered that part of his land be sold, if necessary to pay his debts. We must assume that the sale of that land was insufficient to meet the demands of Jacob Arnwine. We do know that George and Gabriel Fox sold 76 acres to John Waterhouse shortly after their father died. This may have been intended to provide money to pay the debt.
In my previous post, I had estimated the age of Gabriel Fox in 1754 as 16 years old, being ‘not yet of age,’ according to the will. So it is surprising to see such a young person named as executor, and having to deal with suits in the Court of Common Pleas. Since there were no other papers on file for this case, we do not know how George and Gabriel Fox responded to Arnwine. Apparently they did not respond, or Arnwine could not have gotten a writ of fieri facias.
On May 23, 1755, Arnwine, “for the more speedy recovery of his debt,” got the court to issue a writ of fieri facias, ordering the county sheriff, one Benjamin Biles, to levy on the goods of the defendant in order to produce the money to pay the debt. Biles was ordered to have a total of £21.18.9 before the Court of Common Pleas at Trenton on the first Tuesday of August, 1755.
Biles carried out the order and levied on goods belonging to George Fox deceased. In effect, he was taking away the movable property of George Fox’s widow Mary. This is what he collected (with original spelling): two horses, one cow, one yearling calf, six hoggs, one pine table, one bigg wheel, one iron pott, one chain trammell, three pewter dishes, five plates, one box iron, one reel, one little wheel. This deprived the widow of nourishment from her livestock, the cooking utensils needed to prepare her food and the table and plates to eat it on, as well as the spinning wheels needed to provide her clothing. These writs of fieri facias are the most heart-breaking items to be found in the old court records, which always fail to describe the hardship endured by the people who have lost all their most basic worldly goods.
Since George Fox’s will only left movable property to his daughters, this meant they got virtually nothing from his estate. George Fox had ordered that his widow Mary “have her living” with his son Amos. Neither of them were mentioned in the court papers.
Afterwards, on Aug. 8, 1755, Jacob Arnwine in the Court of Common Pleas in Trenton prosecuted “a certain other Writ commonly called a Venditione Exponas” to Sheriff Benjamin Biles ordering him to expose to sale the several goods of George Fox deceased “which remained in his hands unsold for want of buyers” and produce those moneys before the next Court on the 4th Tuesday of October. Jacob Arnwine personally delivered the writ to Benj. Biles on Oct. 1, 1755. But on the designated day, Biles did not appear in court. So Arnwine demanded, by his attorney, Abraham Cottman, that Biles be liable to him for £40 to compensate Arnwine for the damage he had suffered.
There were no further papers related to this case filed under the name of George Fox. There might be others filed under Jacob Arnwine or Benjamin Biles.
Being a sheriff in the 18th century was a challenging job. It was fairly common for sheriffs to find themselves sued for damages when they could not recover what plaintiffs expected. It seems odd to us now that Sheriffs would be held personally liable for matters related to their job over which they had so little control. Sheriffs were almost always sued for debts. Makes one wonder why anyone would want the job.
It certainly is a mystery what happened to Sheriff Biles and all the goods he removed from George Fox’s home. Could he have been sentimental enough to claim falsely that there were no buyers and then returned them to Mary? I doubt it. Biles had to come up with £40, which was a lot of money in 1755, probably far more than could be recovered from the sale of Fox’s possessions.
As far as I can tell, he was the same person as the Jacob Arnwine who emigrated to America from Holland. The first record I have of him is a mortgage made in 1752 [Bk 1 pg 360]. He was sometimes identified as a merchant, and owned a large farm north of Headquarters. In 1759, his son John Arnwine married Elizabeth Opdycke, daughter of John Opdycke and Margaret Green. In 1764, Jacob Arnwine found himself in the same position he put George Fox’s heirs in. The sheriff was ordered to sell Arnwine’s property to satisfy his creditors. Fortunately, his daughter’s father-in-law (John Opdycke) was in a position to purchase the farm, which he then gave to Elizabeth and John Arnwine. I do not have any more information on Jacob Arnwine at this time, not the name of his wife or any details of his death. He did not leave a will.
Next post: George Fox’s widow Mary has her day in court.