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No More Mr. Nice Pilgrim

By Daniel Hubbard | December 1, 2013

Last week I wrote a bit about Mayflower passenger George Soule. One thing that I mentioned was that he wrote a will that names his children. He did his genealogical duty. What I didn’t mention was a very interesting detail of his probate.

George gave, or had already given, something to each of his surviving children—not unusual. He left the bulk of his estate to his eldest son—not unusual. He named his eldest son to be the executor of his estate—also not unusual. Then something changed.

He wrote that he had already given his younger sons all of his lands in Dartmouth and a pair of daughters had received his lands in Middleberry. He began to give away the rest of his estate naming two other daughters who were to receive 12 pence each. That left eldest son John as the last sibling to be mentioned. He and his family were thanked for their care and the tenderness and love that they had shown George during the latter’s decline. John’s bequest was simple. He was to receive “all the Remainder of my housing and lands.” It was to be a very significant amount. Of George’s significant estate, John would receive everything except for twenty-four pence that would go to two of his sisters. John was to be his father’s executor as well. At least that is what is contained in George’s will of August 11, 1677.

By September 20 something had happened. It must have been dramatic. George is silent about the cause but on that date he added a codicil to his will. It is short and to the point. John and his family, who had been heralded for their loving aid to his father just under six weeks earlier, were suddenly seen very differently—

If my son John Soule above named or his heires or Assignes of any of them shall att any time Disturbe my Daughter Patience or her heires or Assignes or any of them in peaceable Posession or Injoyment of the lands I have Given her…then my Gift to my son John Soule shall  be voyd and that then my will is that my Daughter Patience shall have all my lands in Duxburrey And shee shalbe my sole executrix…

I wonder. What was it that caused George to suddenly change his attitude toward his son’s family? I’d like to be able to look back in time and see the argument or learn of the discovery that gave a dying man the jolt that made him add that codicil. As with many a genealogical riddle, I can see a hundred different versions of the story but may never know the one hundred and first version that contains the truth. What would cause him to write that if his son or practically anyone associated with his son should “disturb” his daughter or her family then John would get nothing and his sister, who had already received land, would inherit everything else as well? John would also suffer what could only have been seen in the seventeenth century as the humiliation of being displaced as executor by his sister. The eldest son ousted in favor of the youngest daughter was not something that would have been lost on John or on Plymouth society as a whole. For whatever reason, his father drew a line and warned his son that if he or anyone in his family crossed it, economic retaliation and social disgrace would follow.

By the following February, George was dead.

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