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William Hawkins' Fraud

Privacy Level: Open (White)

Date: 1821 to 1841
Location: Culpeper and Rockingham Counties, Virginiamap
Surnames/tags: Hawkins Nicklin Caldwell
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When William Hawkins' father Matthew Hawkins died in 1821 William was reported by family to be residing in an unknown western state. Joseph Nicklin was appointed administrator of Matthew Hawkins' estate and guardian of his four minor children on 15 Oct 1821. One month later, on 22 Nov 1821, Nicklin, his wards, and the three of the adult children of Matthew Hawkins (John, James, and Semphronia) sued William Hawkins (their brother) in Culpeper County Chancery Court. Their goal was to discover William's location to elicit his response to their complaint bill pending before the court seeking to sell Matthew's real estate and slaves. Unable to locate William, the court approved an order for the sale of Matthew's land and slaves on 19 Jan 1822.

Word of his father's death, or the courts interest in his whereabouts, apparently made its way to William and he appeared at the auction of Matthew's land and slaves held in Woodville on 10 April 1822. William Hawkins purchased slave Peter on terms requiring full payment within twelve months with interest. William became indebted to the estate of Matthew Hawkins for $450 due on a penal note bearing date 10 Apr 1822 and payable 10 Apr 1823. William Yowell was security. William lacked cash to make the purchase and could not satisfy the debt after the year elapsed. However Nicklin allowed William to offset part of the purchase price by using his anticipated share of his father's estate, estimated to be $200.

On 11 June 1823 William executed a Deed-of-Trust with Reuben M. Strother for the benefit of Joseph Nicklin. The deed was structured such that William sold slave Peter to Reuben M. Strother for $1 with conditions stipulating that if William failed to pay Nicklin the $250 balance and interest, Nicklin could recover slave Peter and sell him on 1 Jan 1824 in Woodville after advertising the sale for 30 days. This effectively allowed William to retain physical custody of slave Peter while Strother became the legal owner.

William Hawkins promptly hired out slave Peter to David Caldwell of Rockingham County. Yet William failed to make any payment on his debt. In time, William sought to purchase a 1/2 interest in a horse owned by Caldwell. William lacked funds to execute the purchase so he agreed to lease slave Peter to Caldwell for $60/year (presumably a good deal) to offset the purchase price of the horse. At a future date Caldwell bought slave Peter from William Hawkins for $450. William did not own Peter and had no right to sell him. Further, William did not pay off his debt to Nicklin with the proceeds. Nicklin sued both William Hawkins and David Caldwell to recover the debt owed.

Caldwell claimed he had no knowledge that prohibited William Hawkins from selling slave Peter to him and that he executed a legal transaction in which he conveyed full payment. Two witnesses disputed Caldwell's claim of "no knowledge", one of which was John Hawkins, William's brother. In part of a case, Joseph Nicklin v William Hawkins, John Hawkins was deposed by Nicklin and in response to the question, Did you know whether I had a Deed of Trust on negro Peter that was owned by your brother William? John answered affirmatively and also said my brother at the time made my house his home. John Hawkins stated Caldwell was aware of William's conflict per the Deed-of-Trust before the sale because the issue was discussed among them.

Time passed with no resolution. It appears Nicklin may have been putting pressure on Strother to satisfy the debt. On 24 Dec 1828, a letter was recorded in the Madison County Courthouse from Reuben M. Strother to David Caldwell. Strother was requesting slave Peter be delivered to him or his agents according to his interest in the Deed of Trust. Caldwell claimed he sold slave Peter in Richmond, Virginia, 3 years after his purchase.

William Hawkins was still a resident of Culpeper County on 17 Mar 1829 after which he left the state of Virginia having effectively defrauded his siblings of part of their inheritance.

Joseph Nicklin had an active case against David Caldwell depending before the Chancery Court of Rappahannnock County on 22 Sep 1841.


  • Beans v Nicklin, 1839, Rappahannock County Chancery Court, Library of Virginia, Chancery Records Index 1842-005, no. case 308, microfilm roll 56, image 491.
  • Moffett v Hawkins, 1839, Rappahannock County Chancery Court, Library of Virginia, Chancery Records Index 1842-006, no. case 309, microfilm roll 56, image 550.

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