Colonial Massachusetts Probate Question

+4 votes

Question regarding the Chronology of a Hardwick, Worcester Co, MA probate in 1757.

My ancestor, Samuel Church's estate was probated in April 1757; He died intestate.. 

Circumstantially, it would seem that my ancestor Samuel Church died the year before  “while in service” in the French and Indian War in Capt. Samuel Robinson’s Company which served in the Crown Point Campaign. This company served from February 18-December 24, 1756.  

In colonial Massachusetts, how long did it take the court to begin the probate of the estate of the deceased? If a person died, was it immediate?

If a person, such as my potential ancestor, died in service during a campaign in the French and Indian War, could there be a delay in the probate process? I guess what I am trying to say is it unreasonable to think that a man dies away from home in a campaign in up state New York in say September 1756. His company does not return home until December. The details of his death are made known to the court and finally, 4 months after the deceased’s company returns home, his estate begins the probate process? Is this possible


Would a more likely scenario be, a man dies in service, say September 1756. A letter is sent home by the deceased’s commander. The deceased’s widow, or “next of kin” immediately notifies the court and the “probate process immediately proceeds?”

Any thoughts, links, ideas on this would be greatly appreciated. Currently, all I have is circumstantial evidence This evidence suggests the following:

  • Samuel Church, age 40 (b. 1716) joins a company of men to fight the French in 1756 which served from Feb-Dec 1756.
  • Samuel Church died during this campaign. Perhaps (for timeline convenience, towards the end of the campaign, Oct-Dec1 1756)
  • By the time the news gets back to Hardwick, Worcester, MA, the widow/next of kin notify the busy court but winter and being busy etc, the court waits until April 1757 to being the probate proceedings?

Is this hypothesis realistic? Or is it more realistic that the court, upon hearing of the death of a person, would IMMEDIATELY being the probate proceedings? Any help would be greatly appreciated. Cheers, Nate

WikiTree profile: Samuel Church
in Genealogy Help by Nathan Pyles G2G2 (2.8k points)
Individual letters, one at a time, wouldn't be sent. Casualty lists after a battle would be sent to headquarters, then individual families notified. Then, if heirs and executors are not living together, they would need travel time . And keep in mind all the travel was by horse. Steam boats and trains didn't exist.
Probate didn't happen until someone in the family initiated the process. If the person died at home, a will might be filed for probate pretty quickly, but I've also seen some estate administrations that weren't started until years later.

Thanks Eddie for your advice on this.

If the my Samuel Church died around Lake George area, it would not have taken very long for the family to be notified, once the army decided to le the family know. For example, In the Jeffery Amherst's campaign of 1759, private Constantine Hardy (from Worcester, like my Samuel Church hailed from) received a letter at Crown Point  from his brother in Westborough, MA (200 miles away) and it only took 13 days for Constantine to receive the letter. See;page=root;view=image;size=150;seq=5;num=3

I guess what I am wondering is, why would there be a delay in the probate process... If Samuel Church died say, 1 Oct 1756 near Lake George, NY and it took 2 weeks for the news to reach Hardwick, MA, that would be mid October. Why would the probate be initiated in April the following year, 1757?

Thanks for your response, Ellen!

So the family, initiates the process... Would it be reasonable to think that since Samuel Church died intestate (at age 40 while on the campaign), his wife and children didn't file the probate until 6 months or so? You mention that you have seen probates filed until years later. Do you know why that was? I am just trying to get an educated hypothesis if indeed my Samuel Church whose estate is probated in April 1757,  is ontologically one and the same as the Samuel Church who served in the 1756 campaign and died there.

Again, I appreciate your help on this so much. Cheers, Nate

First: if Samuel Church died ~1756, and his wife was Damaris, it seems highly probable that that record for Samuel Church ("late of Hardwick ... deceased") and (what appears to be) "Dameris" Church, "of Hardwick, widow," applies to your profile. Note: that may not have been the initiation of the process. That document was the appointment of Damaris as administratrix, and was filed (it appears) after it was determined that Samuel lived in, and owned "stuff" in the county. She was given 3 months to submit the inventory to probate court, etc.

Thanks Bruce for reaching out.

So... if I understand you correctly, the chronology is something as follows:

  • Samuel Church dies (my theory is in the 1756 campaign in Capt. Samuel Robinson Co, Ruggles Reg. that went from Feb-Nov 1756)
  • His Widow Damaris Church, and her 6 children (half of which are young adults) learn of Samuel's death, most likely within a month of his decease, so most likely sometime towards the end of 1756.
  • Damaris Church, with the help of her adult children begin the Probate process with the Worcester Co Probate Court.
  • By April 1757 (potentially 6 months AFTER the death of Samuel Church), Widow Damaris is appointed Adminstratrix of the estate by the court.
  • Samuel Church's assets are appraised etc... in May 1757

Am I correct in what I think your suggesting? I was thinking this as well, but I didn't want to jump to conclusions because it was "convenient".  This seems reasonable to me, especially when, to my knowledge, there were not any other Samuel Church's living in Hardwick in 1756... Again, thanks for taking the time to help me out. Cheers, Nate

It's human nature to try to understand what may have happened, Nathan. Making guesses and assumptions is an inseparable part of documenting genealogy. I.e., it's the process of concatenating sourced information with logical or probable conclusions.

[ See my edit at the end of all this stuff :-) ]

In keeping with wikitree guidelines for citing sources, I would suggest clearly indicating sourced statements; using inline references [ <ref>...</ref> ]. You can certainly state your assumptions regarding that information along with that.

At present, you're missing some very important references: 1) his birth-date and place, 2) his marriage to Damaris, and 3) his presence or residence in Hardwick. The birth info is needed to tie his approx. death and age at death to the Samuel Church of that profile. The marriage information and his residence in Hardwick is needed to tie his wife's name to the probate process which took place in Hardwick in 1757 (i.e., 1, he was married at the time of his death, and 2. his wife's name was Damaris).

Then you can separate sourced information from your assumptions, perhaps something like:

Samuel Church was born<ref>birth reference</ref> in Hardwick, Mass, on birth-date. He married<ref>marriage-reference</ref> Damaris Billings on marriage-date in marriage-place, assumed to be the same man.

Samuel served<ref>History of Hardwick reference</ref> during date-range and under so-and-so, etc. He apparently died during that period at about the age of 40. From his age at death, and being of Hardwick, it is assumed he is the same man. (your own words)

On Apr 26, 1757, Damaris Church, "widow" of "her late husband Samuel Church, late of said Hardwick yeoman," posted bond<ref>probate reference</ref> blah-blah-blah. It appears likely that this Samuel Church is the same man that died in service blah-blah-blah.

I try to avoid guessing at why people do things ;-)  but you seem to be concerned that the time between his death and the date of the probate records is important. Perhaps to convince yourself or others that those probate records are his? If so, a better approach may be to present citations that make it probable. That is, he's likely the man who died in service at such-and-such an age. Samuel was married to a womman named Damaris, lived in Hardwick, and a Damaris Church is listed as a widow of a man name Samuel Church, "late of Hardwick." The probate records mention children of Samuel and Damaris Church, and other records provide the same names as children of "your" Samuel and Damaris. That way, you don't have to guess what may have happened to justify your conclusions. It ends up being: "It's highly improbable that there was another Samuel married to a woman named Damaris with children named such-and-such who died about the same time."

Also, there's another citation that you don't have for the appointment of Damaris as administratrix. With the post-bond document it's sort of redundant, but I'll provide it later if it seems important. Gotta run.

EDIT: I guess what I'm saying is: make assumptions supported by the facts, rather than justifying the facts based on assumptions. It appears that you can put together a pretty convincing case for Samuel's death in service, and the action of his wife and children after his death. Then, given the highly probable case that his probate was at least several months after his death, you can, if you like, do some research about how long probate took in colonial times in Massachusetts, how deaths were reported during military actions of the time, etc. But do that to justify your assumptions, not the sources.

You NEED not and SHOULD not make assumptions to justify the sources you use.

Thanks Bruce.

I will work on adding sources that Samuel Church was living and active in Hardwick, MA during the 1740s-1750s, I haven't done that yet because I am still fairly new to wikitree and haven't got around to it. The purpose of my question is that I am writing a biography of Timothy Church, the son in law of Samuel Church. What I know and can prove with sources is

  • Samuel and Damaris Church were married in Hadley, MA 14 Nov 1734, per Hadley Vitals.
  • They had 9 kids, including my 6th great grandmother, Abigial Church (who became the wife of Timothy Church, whom I am writing the biography on) which are proved through Hardley and Hardwick vitals, as well as Lucas Paige's History of Hardwick, MA.
  • Abigail Church conceived a son with Timothy Church, Rueben in June 1756 out of wedlock. Deduction and Hardwick vitals and  Rueben Church's Revolutionary War pension record
  • A Samuel Church (age 40) of Hardwick served at Ft. Edward in Captain Samuel Robinsons Company, Col. Timothy Ruggles Reg. The Campaign lasted from Feb-Nov 1756. This is from  MA Officers & Soldiers in the French & Indian Wars 1755-1756 and Temple's History of North Brookfield, MA.
  • This 40 year old Samuel Church of Hardwick died in the campaign. This is taken from Paige's History of Hardwick,
  • Abigail Church, daughter of Samuel Church and Damaris Church gives birth to her son Reuben out of wedlock March 1757. Hardwick Vitals and Reubens Rev.War pension.
  • Samuel Church of Hardwick, husband of Damaris Church, father of Abigail Church and father in law to Timothy Church (all of Hardwick) was dead by April 1757 and subsequently his children received an inheritance.
  • Timothy Church and Abigail Church decided to get married in Hadley, where he is from. They make their marriage intent in12 May 1757. Hadley vitals
  • Timothy Church and Abigail Church are married 9 June 1757 with a 3 month old boy.
  • In August the Siege and subsequent massacre of Ft. William Henry happens at Lake George, NY and Timothy Volunteers to aid Brigadier Daniel Web at Ft. Edward leaving his new wife and child back in Hardwick.

This is the narrative I have so far and during 1756 and 1757. As you can see, there is a lot going on with this family and while tempting to just spin the tale to make it sound good, I want to have the facts correct for my biography, as well as wikitree, obviously. It would make the narrative quite interesting (if provable) to have my Samuel Church away fighting French and Indians and his daughter gets pregnant out of wedlock and then he dies while in service and they don't have time to sort through it all....

This is why I am so interested in this probate of Samuel Church. I have very little to go on with the historical record, so far, and I am trying to see if I'm missing something that connects My Samuel Church of Hardwick, husband of Damaris Church, father of Abigail Church etc... with the 40 year old Samuel Church of Hardwick who served in Robinson's 1756 campaign and died.

Anyhow I hope this helps with my rational with this timeline. Why I am guessing and questioning here is to see if its possible that the 2 Samuel Church's of Hardwick, MA  are ontologically one and the same and the next step is for me to prove this for the biography I am writing. Again, Bruce, thanks for your critique and I will try and get these sources on wikitree asap.

Nathan - I may be able to shed some light on the delay between the time that your Samuel Church died and when his estate was probated.  It may have to do with Samuel's cause of death.  In reading the book "Archeology in Fort Edward" edited by David R. Starbuck, published 1995 by Adirondack Community College, Queensbury, NY, pg. 11-13 contains the following:

       "The east barrarks were about finished in late November (1755), although all the required chimneys had not been completed.  It was January of 1756 before the soldiers were able to enjoy the warmth of a barracks hearth.  War was officially proclaimed in 1756, with orders to send the British Regulars to Fort Edward.  Upon the arrival of the British soldiers, many Provincials were ordered to strike their tents and move to the island.  The camp was laid out on the island with tents and huts set up in "irregular order."  A blockhouse was constructed that would quickly serve as a general hospital.

     Sickness was beginning to take its toll on the army.  Lt. Col. Ralph Burton, in a letter to Lord Loudon dated August 26, 1756, wrote, "at Fort Edward about 2,500 men, between five and six hundred sick.  Bury daily five to eight men and officers in proportion (Huntington Library and Art Gallery).

     Smallpox began to rage through the army, reaching epidemic proportion by spring of 1757.  As a result of this deadly disease, orders to build a smallpox hospital and storehouse for provisions were issued in May of 1757."

     Smallpox may have been Samuel Church's cause of death.  If so, there may have been restrictions against anyone leaving the area.  It was highly contagious and no one would have wanted to be responsible for taking the illness to others.

1 Answer

0 votes
Here is interesting article on Wills, Probate and intestates in Colonial times
by Sandra Vines G2G6 Mach 3 (39k points)

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