Who gets the children…

One of my five times great grandmother’s was Mary McMullen/McMullin. She married William Buchanan sometime in the 1790s. Before she married William she can be found in court records when she was as young as 5.

In times past if the ‘head of the household’ (that being the father, of course) died, the mother didn’t necessarily become the guardian of her children. Common law dictated that the father and only the father was in control of the estate and persons included in that estate. According to the legalgenealogist.com’s blog post regarding the matter of guardianship, she quoted Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Law of England “a mother…is entitled to no power, but only to reverence and respect.”

This practice is demonstrated quite clearly in the guardianship record for Mary McMullen, whose father James died in 1761 in Shrewsbury, York County, New York. She was 5 in 1762 when the September term of court heard her Uncle John, their father’s brother, requesting that guardianship of her and her brother Robert, who was a year younger, be appointed to Ebenezer Newton and David Kirkpatrick.

“Came into Court John McMullin Brother of James McMullen late of Shrewsbury Township Yeoman Deceased who Died Intestate and prayed the Court to appoint some proper persons Guardians of Mary and Robert McMullin Minor Orphan Children of the said Deceased the former aged Five years in October last, and the latter Aged Four in Feb.y last. It is Considered by the Court and David Kirkpatrick Esquire and Ebenezer Newton of Shrewsbury Township Yeoman are appointed Guardians over the Persons and Estates of the said Mary and Robert McMullan during their Minority or until they shall be of Age to chuse for themselves.”1

Actual court record pages from book.

Their mother Jean was still very much alive as she married shortly after James’ death, a gentleman by the name of Nelson. The last record found for Jean, at this time, is in the May term of court in 1761.2 She was petitioning the court regarding the bequest she received from her husband’s will. She wasn’t happy with the terms and was requesting a one third portion of property and money from the estate. The court granted her petition. At this time we do not know if she was still alive when her children’s guardianship was being decided, or if she had died by September of 1762.

But, my focus is really on the interesting bits found in the two related items located close to the case regarding their guardianship appointment (between another case or two):

“Came into Court David Kirkpatrick Esquire and Ebenezer Newton Guardians of Mary McMullan a Minor Orphan Daughter of James McMullin late of Shrewsbury Township Yeoman Deceased who Died Intestate aged five years sometime in October last, and prayed that the said Mary McMullin may be bound and Apprentice to John McMullin of Fawn Township yeoman. It is considered by the Court, and the said Mary is hereby bound an Apprentice to the said John McMullin until she shall be of the Age of Eighteen years In Consideration Whereof the said John McMullin doth covenant and agree to teach or cause to be taught the said Apprentice to Read the Bible to knit sew and Spin and to furnish and allow the said Apprentice sufficient Meat Drink Apparel Washing and Lodging during the said Term and at the Experation thereof the pay unto her Two suits of apparel one whereof shall be New, and of the value of six pounds, one New Spinning Wheel and one Cow and Calf, or four Pounds in Money, which the said Apprentice shall then chuse.”1

“Came into Court David Kirkpatrick Esquire and Ebenezer Newton Guardians of Robert McMullan a Minor Orphan Son of James McMullin late of Shrewsbury Township Yeoman Deceased Aged four years some time in February last, and prayed that the said Robert may be bound an Apprentice to patrick Poore of East Nottingham Township Chester County Weaver It is considered by the Court, and the said Robert McMullin is hereby bound an Apprentice to the said Patrick Poore until he shall be of the age of Twenty one years In Consideration whereof the said Patrick Poor doth Covenant and agree to teach or Cause to be taught the said Apprentice the Art or Mystery of a Weaver which he now practiseth to Read the Bible to Write and Arithmetick as far as the Rule of Three direct, to furnish and allow the said Apprentice sufficient Meat Drink Apparel Washing and Lodging during the said Term and at the Expiration thereof to pay unto him to suits of Apparel one whereof shall be New and of the value of six pounds, and one new Loom and Tackling of the value of three pounds. And the Court do decree that in the mean Time the said Patrick Poor give Bond, in Fifty pounds with sufficient security to the Guardians of the said Robert McMullin conditioned for the performance of the Covenants mentioned in the foregoing record on his part to be performed and kept.”1

So as would be typical of the times, Mary was to be taught to read, sew and spin, her brother was to be taught the trade of weaving, along with readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic. Thanks goodness the court required their masters to feed, water, and clothe them too.

This is the first time I have run into a guardianship record in my own research. I don’t know much more about the family than this little bit, so I am anxious to delved into York County, Pennsylvania records when I make my yearly trek to SLC this summer.

1 Pennsylvania, probate records, 1683-1994 digital images from FHL; York County Orphans’ Court Dockets 1749-1781 vol. A-D, image 140 of 593; Court Term September 1, 1872 vol. A, pages 231-232.

2 Pennsylvania, probate records, 1683-1994 digital images from FHL; York County Orphans’ Court Dockets 1749-1781 vol A-D, image 111 of 593 Court Term May 26, 1761, vol. A, page 173.

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