Nicholas Albertson's Will

Nicholas Albertson could read and write English, but he clearly couldn't spell! This will was written in his own hand on July 10, 1816, the day after he signed a deed selling 86+ acres at the north end of his 170 acre plantation to his youngest son, Henry. The spelling is adorable! memrey, ant and an adomany stand out in particular. Try reading it aloud phonetically. Could Nicholas Albertson have spoken with a Dutch accent? His children's names were certainly Dutch - Angleche (Angelica to her great grandson Nicholas Harris), Udick (Judith in the 1850 census), Dirck (Derrick in various records). There are two schools of thought about his parents' place of birth - Amsterdam, Holland or the Dutch settlements in New York. In either case, there's a good possibility that English was not the first language spoken in the Albertson family when Nicholas and his brothers and sisters were growing up, in the middle years of the 18th century.

It's a simple will, an attempt at equitably distributing his property among his children. Sons got land, daughters got cash. The sale of part of the property to Henry the day before was intended to make this will equitable to all of Nicholas' children. Henry was going to wind up with the largest share of Nicholas' holdings, but the privilege cost him $2500, which also put a nice chunk of cash into the estate. Nicholas bequeathes to Henry's older brother Dirck land he had already bought for him to tend, subject to payment of $1000 by Dirck to his sister Udick. The will mentions two lots. One was an island in the Delaware named Thomas Island, the other an adjacent riverfront property of 44 acres, about 1.5 mile south of Nicholas' property. He transfers the rest of his plantation to youngest son Henry, along with the responsibility of caring for his widow and her "ant". Elam gets to keep the $1300 his father had given him, presumably to purchase a farm of his own. We know where Elam's farm was located from the deed written the day before. Why this farm was purchased by Elam using a loan or gift from his father, but Derrick's was owned by Nicholas, is lost to history.

Back to the word that brought us here, which looks like "humslid". This was the most difficult puzzle in the whole will, but I think I figured it out. Here goes: Throughout the entire will, Nicholas' l's and e's have clear open loops. There's at least one uncrossed t, in the word "Eighteen". So the i is definitely an i being both dotted and closed, but the l could be an uncrossed t, making it "humstid". I believe Nicholas intended to leave his homestead plantation to Henry.

Deceased daughter Angleche married a man named Thomas Harris. They obviously had children - Nicholas left $100 to each of them. At least one of them was male, because 80 years after this will was written one Nicholas Harris, an attorney from Belvidere, would be on a committee with the eldest Albertson sister Mary Ellen, to organize the first 2 of a series of family reunions of the Albertson and Aten (Japie's maiden name) clans, held at the house Nicholas built and lived in and on the land around it. Harris would write copiously to an Aten relative. In one letter written after the second reunion (1898), he describes "A quaint China bowl with a known age of 157 years, which was originally owned by Cathalinta (Aten) Insley sister of Derick Aten, who accompanied her father Adrian Aten to Philadelphia when she was seventeen years old, where he bought and presented the bowl to her. She died in the early part of the present century at an advanced age, and the bowl descended from one generation to another, to the present owner Miss Ellen M. Cummins, who prizes this old relic very highly." Cathalinta Insley was Japie's aunt, her father's sister, rendered by Nicholas as "Cathreen Ensley". Born by this account around 1724, she would have been 92 at the time of this will. After she died, the bowl would have remained in the Albertson House in Henry's posession. Apparently Henry's second daughter Sarah took a shine to it. She was born in 1813, so she knew her grandparents Nicholas and Japie, and great great Aunt Catherine as well. I suppose that to her the bowl was a piece of them. The bowl ended up in the posession of Sarah's daughter Ellen Cummins, who lived in a house nearby.

Finally, who was this fourth witness, Susanah Albertson? Nicholas' daughters in law were named Mary, Elizabeth and another Mary. The will's executor Nicholas, son of Garret (Nicholas and Cornelius' oldest brother) married Jane Howell. None of Nicholas' nieces were named Susanah, and there is no record known to me of any of his nephews having married a Susanah. The only Susanah Albertson to be found is a granddaughter of Cornelius. Henry and his brother-in-law John Ferguson were legal guardians of Susanah and her surviving brother Hugh (brother Cornelius, named after his grandfather in accordance with Dutch tradition, died 2 months before this will was written; Hugh and Susannah were also the names of their mother's parents). So young Susanah was around, and it's beyond a doubt that Nicholas knew her well. So was the Susanah Albertson who witnessed Nicholas' will a minor???

She probably was! Susannah Albertson Hay is buried in Jersey Hill Cemetery in Auburn, PA, the same cemetery as her nephew John F.Albertson, Hugh's first son. According to her headstone she died on 4 February 1886 at age 81.1.14. This places her birth in December 1804, making her 11 1/2 at the signing. Most of the census records she appears in support this date, beginning with the 1830 census which records Peter Hay of Knowlton with a wife in her 20s and 2 daughters under 5 (twins born on Christmas 1828, named Anna Maria Best Hay and Sarah Ferguson Hay after their grandmothers). The image below is a splice of two pieces of the census page. Click to enlarge.

As for the pdf's of Nicholas' will, the first is a true scan of the actual paper Nicholas wrote on in 1816 and D. Stuart of the Surrogate Court wrote on in 1818. The second is after I cleaned it up, using in effect digital white-out to pull the letters out of the noise. There are at least 3 sources of damage to the readability of the original. One is that the paper naturally darkens over time. This is most extreme on the left quarter of page 1. This page was apparently folded along the line between the extremely dark area and the rest, with the left part exposed to dirt and sunlight. Enemy number two is folds, which leave thick dark streaks when scanned. The horizontal center fold on the main page of the will made that whole line very difficult to read. I had to turn to the transcript of this will in Sussex County probate records to get the exact wording. The third problem was there before the ink was even dry, the ink itself. There were areas where it blobbed and ran - this was written with quills! I fixed these where I could discern any part of the original stroke. To that degree the image is falsified, in some respects cleaner than the original writers ever saw it.

I'd like to call attention to a tiny moment in Nicholas' conscious life but one most of us can relate to. He had just finished writing out the first line of his will, and murdering the spelling of his home state at the start of line 2. The next word is "being". He didn't like the way the 'g' came out. He fixed it.