Checklist of documents in the Watts Collection at the Historical Society of Western Virginia, Roanoke, Virginia. To consult these documents, go to http://www.vahistorymuseum.org/ and move the cursor to the “Virtual Museum” tile at the top. Then click “Virtual Collections” on the menu that appears. The documents can be found by a keyword search, or by catalog number using “Click and Search”.
This is an extremely coherent set of documents, all of them dating from June to October 1845 and relating to the law practice of William Watts, with the one exception of 1998.26.357, a sheriff’s bill dated 1843, relating to a case concluded in 1844. The first item is a long letter from John Quarles James, mainly about the Stoner family’s debts, and there are twelve more similar letters from his father, Fleming James, on the same subject, and three other items also related to the Stoners.
June 24, 1845
Letter from John Quarles James, in Richmond, Virginia, to William Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, sending a receipt from John Thompson and Company for $819.58 collected on a bond of Samuel Stoner, indicating a possible error in the accounting, mentioning a pending claim against William S. Minor et al., reporting on prices of a buggy and bolting cloths, giving news of Temple Gwathmey and the tobacco market with reference to Edward Watts’s crop, and sending greetings to the Holcombe and Watts families and friends
Remember me very kindly & gratefully to your Father & Mother & family and give my very best love to Judge Willie Holcombe. Say to Mrs H. that I shall always be too happy to execute those wedding orders concerning which mention was made the evening passed with her. Accept for yourself the assurance of my very high regard & believe me very sincerely & faithfully, Yrs Jno. Q. James
John Quarles James (c. 1821-1850) was in the wholesale dry goods business like his father and other members of the family. “Judge Willie Holcombe” is probably a jocular name for William James Holcombe, born c. 1843, the first son of Anne Selden (Watts) Holcombe (“Mrs. H.”) and James Philemon Holcombe. The “wedding orders” referred to were probably a plan to marry Willie Holcombe with John Quarles James’s daughter, Ella St. Clair James, born c. 1842.
June 22, 1845
Letter from J. B. Alexander in Newbern, Virginia, to William Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, stating that Henry Homer is not at home but that the money to pay his bond is ready, and requesting Watts to send the bond at the first opportunity
June 13, 1845
Letter from William Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, to S. Simpson, in Milton, North Carolina, explaining the status of David Fenton Kent’s note to Thomas A. Griffin, which Griffin had signed over to Simpson, who had given it to Colonel G. Towns to collect for him, and Towns had sent it to Watts
June 19, 1845
Letter from Michael Hart, in Lynchburg, Virginia, to William Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, stating his intention to bring suit against Samuel Stoner and Daniel Stoner in Roanoke County for failure to pay their debts, and also against John Stoner and Albert G. Williams; he urges that there be no delay in filing, because he suspects of Williams of trying to stall
As Mr Saml Stoner has not come down to arrange the several debts I have agt him, I have determined to bring suit forthwith agt him & Danl Stoner in Roanoke Cty, also agt Albert G. Williams & John Stoner in Bedford, and I beg that you will not loose any time in bringing the suit agt Williams as I think he is trying to amuse me to gain a term so don’t let rule day pass. Respectfully your Obedt Sert, Micl Hart
Albert G. Williams was married to Samuel, Daniel, and John Stoner’s sister Matilda.
June 20, 1845
Letter from Fleming James, in Richmond, Virginia, to William Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, regarding efforts to collect a debt from William S. Minor, without forcing Minor to collect his own obligations from the Stoner family, who also owe money to James; he discusses the possibility of accepting bonds, and the possible sale of a piece of land acquired from William McDermid, in order to raise money promptly
June 26, 1845
Letter from Michael Hart, in Lynchburg, Virginia, to William Watts, in Salem, Virginia, stating that Albert G. Williams has confessed judgment in the superior court of Lynchburg, and asking to have the suit against him in Bedford County, Virginia, withdrawn
Account statement of O. A. Strecker of Richmond, Virginia, with the sheriff of Botetourt County, Virginia, for $1.26 for a capias against Housman and Stair
July 7, 1845
Letter from Hunn and Remington, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to William Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, responding to his letter of May 20, and protesting about the delay in receiving payment from David Fenton Kent, asking for information, and requesting Watts to seek damages
July 11, 1845
Letter from Fleming James, in Richmond, Virginia, to William Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, regarding efforts to collect debts from the Stoner family, giving his account of the debts of Samuel Stoner, Daniel Stoner, and John Stoner to his firm amounting to more than $11,000; asking for William Watts and his father Edward Watts to provide estimates of the value of Samuel Stoner’s land holdings; estimating the value of Stoner’s other assets, including negroes, cattle, furniture, inventory of goods, and accounts receivable; it encloses certified copies of Stoner’s confessions of judgment; and it gives conditional consent to leasing a farm to William McDermid
This is a typical page 4 of a letter from Fleming James to William Watts. On the first page, he says typically, “I will reply as particularly & as much in order, as my many pressing engagements will allow” and then writes four pages, using every available space. He underlines frequently, and finds his ideas as he writes, so that he discusses pros and cons of various courses of action, and often adds a post scriptum. At the end of page 3, again in typical style, he writes, “Be good enough, however, to ascertain all about this matter also, & inform me without delay.” The case was complicated. The Stoners had outstanding debts to many creditors, and many members of the family had an interest in their property, mainly land, which had been pledged as surety. James eventually prevailed in his suit, and took possession of a large tract of land east of present Roanoke City, near Bonsack. See the plat in 1998.26.123.
July 5, 1845
Letter from Thomas S. Gholson, in Petersburg, Virginia, to William Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, concerning payments from bonds of S. P. White, and statements of charges by William Watts and James Breckinridge Watts, citing possible errors by the sheriff and instructions for payment; includes a postal receipt signed by Thomas W. Micou, postmaster of Big Lick, for mailing a check for $2250.92
July 7, 1845
Letter from Drinker and Morris, in Richmond, Virginia, to William Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, acknowledging receipt of the statement of settlement of part of their claim of debt with John Stoner, on which they have drawn $144.72
July 7, 1845
Letter from Fleming James, in Richmond, Virginia, to William Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, replying to a recent letter from Watts, which reported that Samuel Stoner was near insolvency. James expresses his surprise, and reports what Stoner had told him about his slave holdings and personal property. He asks for more information about Stoner’s assets and liabilities, including real estate. He explains the status of Stoner’s confession of judgment, and says that he hopes to be paid separately by William S. Minor. He sends copies of documents relating to a shipment of goods to Stoner, which was apparently delayed because it was delivered by the boatman, Daniel Howell, in Lynchburg, Virginia, to D. B. Phelps rather than to McClanahan Crenshaw and Company for reshipment. The letter was carried by John N. Gordon, whom James recommends to Watts
same as 1998.26.361; scanned twice by mistake
July 2, 1845
Letter from Beers and Poindexter, merchant tailor in Richmond, Virginia, to William Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, regarding the breast and waist measurements needed to make clothes for him, and inviting him to place an order
July 18, 1845
Letter from Fleming James, in Richmond, Virginia, to William Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, discussing legal procedures to be used to recover debts from Samuel Stoner and others in his family, including his brothers Daniel Stoner and John Stoner, his brother-in-law Albert G. Williams, and also William S. Minor. James makes an assessment of Samuel Stoner’s ability to pay, using information provided by his son, John Quarles James, and evaluating the possibility that Stoner had conveyed title to some property, including twelve slaves, to avoid paying his debt, and that he had manufactured debts fraudulently. James also notes that James Philemon Holcombe’s claim against Stoner has been settled. He expresses the desire to maintain good relations with the Stoners, and his preference not to resort to a writ of capias ad satisfaciendem, which would imprison Stoner until the debt was paid
August 4, 1845
Letter from Fleming James, in New York, New York, to William Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, hastily replying to a letter from Watts, promising to visit Roanoke County in the autumn and asking Watts to prevent Samuel Stoner from renting or leasing his property and asking for information about the projected sale of Stoner’s personal property, including his negroes
July 21, 1845
Letter from Beers and Poindexter, merchant tailor in Richmond, Virginia, to William Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, regarding the delivery of a suit of clothes Watts had ordered; Watts’s letter having arrived too late to send the suit by his brother, James Breckinridge Watts, it will be sent by packet boat to Crenshaw & McClanahan & Co, Lynchburg, Virginia, for delivery
The Suit of Clothes which you ordered will be finished on Thursday next. We will send them by the Packet Boat on that day to the Care of Messrs Crenshaw & McClanahan & Co, Lynchburg. Hoping they will reach you safe & in due time, We Remn Mo Respy yr Obt Servts [remain most respectfully your obedient servants], Beers & Poindexter, Jean Lambert
Beers & Poindexter was a merchant tailor in Richmond, Virginia, which was in business from c. 1838 to c. 1860; one of principals was William Beers (1801-1870), who was born in Connecticut; a house at 1228 E. Broad St, Richmond, VA, known as William Beers House, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Beers and his family are in the census in 1850 and 1860, his profession given as tailor. The reading of the name of the employee who wrote and signed the letter is not certain, and he has not been identified.
August 5, 1845
Letter from Fleming James, in New York, New York, to William Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, regarding the next steps to be taken to recover money owed by Samuel Stoner; complications include Stoner’s wife’s dower, his mother’s interest, and prior claims by others
August 6, 1845
Account statement and receipt from John H. Gibb of White Sulphur Springs, Virginia (now West Virginia) to William Watts for $32.18 for three weeks and one day of support and lodging
September 8, 1845
Letter from Fleming James, in New York, New York, to William Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, reacting to the news of the death of Samuel Stoner and discussing the consequences for his efforts to recover money owed by Stoner. Samuel’s brother John Stoner has laid claim to part of the land, apparently 171 acres thought to have been conveyed to William McDermid. Samuel’s mother and his widow are presumed to have dower rights in the land. James asks Watts to consult with his father, Edward Watts, about the effect of these claims on the value of the property, and to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent the land being sold or conveyed. He asserts that his claim for a debt of $25000 should have priority because the confession of judgment was registered first, and that the value of the property should exceed $35000
New York 8th Sept 1845
Wm Watts Esqr, Big Lick, Roanoke County, Va
Dear Sir, I am somewhat startled by the contents of your letter of the 1st inst, which has just reached me under cover of one from my son. Your letter announces the sad intelligence of the death of Saml Stoner, & the effect which that event is likely to have upon our interests, as it invests his wife, comparatively a young woman, with right of dower in all his landed interest.
The Stoner family were part of the large German migration southward down the Shenandoah Valley. The first to arrive in the Roanoke area was Daniel Stoner Sr (1770-1838), who was born in Maryland, where he married in 1792 Mary Dagen (1774-1858). They had ten children: John, (1793-1887), who married Elizabeth Gish; Anna (1796-1871), who married William McDermid; Rebecca (1797-1867), who married Jonathan Hardy and moved to Indiana; Mary “Polly” (1800-1866), who married Benjamin Crumpacker and moved to Indiana; Susannah (born 1804), who married David S. Nininger; Samuel (1805-1845), who married Catherine Ammen; Eliza (born 1810), who married Charles H. Carper; Daniel Jr (1811-1888), who married Matilda Campbell; Matilda (born 1815), who married Albert G. Williams; Lucinda (1820-after 1880), who married William S. Minor.
John, Samuel and Daniel Jr were to some degree partners, but Samuel appears to have been the dominant brother. The 1840 census shows him living in Roanoke and owner of 35 slaves, a number that tends to confirm Fleming James’ high estimate of his wealth. Besides their land and farming, they operated a store. Besides the three brothers, three brothers-in-law – William McDermid, Albert G. Williams, and William S. Minor – lived and farmed in the same neighborhood, probably on land obtained through their wives.
In the early 1840s, signs of the Stoners’ financial distress begin to appear the Watts papers. One online family tree speculates that business worries and the threat of bankruptcy hastened Samuel’s early death in August 1845; it is equally plausible that failing health contributed to the decline of his business. In this letter, James puts Stoner’s debt to his firm at $28,000; an equivalent figure in 2010 would lie somewhere between $833,000 and $14,000,000.
It took two years for the case to be decided, because there were other creditors, whose claims also had to be adjudicated, and because the Stoners argued that the interests of certain heirs and wives were not legally pledged as security for the debts. Samuel Stoner left a widow and eight living children, including a daughter born posthumously; and the widow of Daniel Stoner Sr was still alive. In the end, Fleming James won the title to most, if not all, the Stoners’ land. The last of many letters on the subject will be 1998.26.448, dated 6 September 1847, in which James praises William Watts for defeating John Stoner’s claim to 171 acres of the land, thanks him for his services, and asks him to send a bill for everything he is owed.
September 9, 1845
Letter from Fleming James, in New York, New York, to William Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, discussing arguments against John Stoner’s claim to a property deeded by Samuel Stoner, deceased, to James’s firm, relying mainly on the fact that John had not contested Samuel’s ownership for more than twenty years. He also inquires about the views of Samuel Stoner’s widow, who he thinks might like to own some property in fee simple. He asks what Stoner’s mother’s opinion is. He suggests that an additional lawyer be employed, because of Watts’s uncertain health, and mentions Alexander P. Eskridge and James Foote Johnson
September 17, 1845
Letter from Fleming James, in Richmond, Virginia, to William Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, including a copy of a subpoena from the Roanoke County Court, dated August 30, 1845, signed by the clerk of the court, Frederick Johnston, to answer a charge brought by James Howel, David Gish, and Hiram Haden. James states that he does not know these men, except for Gish, and therefore does not know what the charges relate to, but concludes that it must concern the tract of land bought by James’s firm from William McDermid, but held in Fleming James’s name. James also reports the opinion of Peachy Ridgway Grattan that John Stoner’s claim to a tract of land sold by Samuel Stoner to James’s firm is worthless, but the advice that Watts should nonetheless gather supporting evidence. James further discusses plans for this land, suggesting that the widow of Samuel Stoner should be encouraged to plant a crop of wheat, which will enhance the value of the property
September 22, 1845
Letter from Fleming James, in Richmond, Virginia, to William Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, outlining his proposal to have Catherine Ammen Stoner, widow of Samuel Stoner, continue to farm her late husband’s land, pending a determination of her dower rights, or else to buy the rights from her for cash, and suggesting a method for determining the value. He also discusses further efforts to prevent John Stoner from disposing of any property of Samuel Stoner, deceased, until James’s rights can be legally established; James reports that his Richmond lawyers, Peachy Ridgway Grattan and Conway Robinson, think John Stoner’s recordation is valid, but James continues to think it could be challenged. He authorizes Watts to engage Alexander P. Eskridge and Gustavus A. Wingfield to assist in presenting the case in Botetourt and Roanoke Counties, Virginia. He discusses the pros and cons of letting William McDermid rent the land he sold to James. Finally he asks a number of questions about the value of land sold to Hannah, and of other land belonging to Samuel Stoner, and about the sale of his personal property
October 8, 1845
Letter from Fleming James, in Richmond, Virginia, to William Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, complaining about the slowness of communications and suggesting that Watts ask his post office about it, announcing plans to be in Roanoke County for Samuel Stoner’s estate sale unless Watts has obtained a postponement, and asking for news of the intentions of the two Mrs Stoners, widow and mother, regarding their dower rights
October 10, 1845
Letter from Fleming James, in Richmond, Virginia, to William Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, enclosing an injunction signed by Judge Philip Norborne Nicholas to stop the sale of Samuel Stoner’s estate; discussing the bond needed for the injunction to be issued which has been provided by John N. Gordon but James asks Watts to provide it if need be; outlining a plan suggested by a friend to administrate on Stoner’s estate; commenting on relations with the widow of Samuel Stoner and with William McDermid (Stoner’s brother-in-law); and commenting on James’s eventual trip to Roanoke to be present at the Stoner’s estate sale