Will of Levin Denwood, 1725, Somerset County, MD: Releasing 16 Enslaved People

Levin Denwood, a member of the Quakers in Accomack County, Virginia, was one of those affected by the 1660s law passed in Virginia requiring Quakers to join the Anglican Church.

When the opportunity arose to settle in Somerset County, Maryland in the 1670s, he took it and moved his young family from Virginia to their new home.

Levin Denwood’s name and will caught my attention for two reasons. I’ve spent hours reading the tax lists of Somerset County and Levin Denwood’s name is at the top of the Monie Hundred list, followed by the names of 14 enslaved people:

Source: Archives of Maryland Online

Next door to Levin Denwood is his widowed daughter, Betty Gale, and grandson, George Gale.

The second thing that caught my eye when I happened upon the will of Levin Denwood is the way it began. The standard format of the era for wills is In the name of God Amen, I, so and so. of (place) being in sound mind, but weak of body. . . ., then thanking Almighty God for his/her soul and earthly possessions it hath pleased God to give them.

Levin Denwood’s will doesn’t begin that way and my first thought was that he either was non-religious or perhaps a Quaker. Being a Quaker was just a passing thought because I was aware that Quakers opposed all forms of slavery and this man had 14 slaves!

Digging a bit, I learned that from the late 1600s into the early 1700s, Quakers were somewhat divided in their beliefs about the institution of slavery. It wasn’t until the middle of the 18th century that, as a group, Quakers came to oppose slavery and speak out against its practice.

Levin Denwood was apparently of the portion of Quakers who at least accepted slavery as an economic need. He was a very wealthy man and many hands were needed to tend to his plantation.

Will of Levin Denwood
Somerset County, Maryland WB EB9:102-104
Source: FamilySearch

I Levin Denwood of Somerset County in the Province of maryland being of a sound mind and memory do make this my last Will and Testament in manner & form following. Viz Imprimis I Give and bequeath unto my Daughter Betty Gale  & her heirs & assigns for ever my now Dwelling Plantation called (Black?) Land on Monney Creek Containing eleven hundred Acres & one Tract of Land called Stony Ridge being adjacent to the afsd Tract of Land together with all my other Lands adjacent to either of the other afsd Tracts –

Item I Give & bequeath all my Lands & Marshes Lying on or near the upon Straights in Dorchester County to be Equally Divided into two parts the one Half I give to my Daughter Betty Gale and her heirs & assigns for Ever & the other Half I give to my Grandsons Thomas & George Denwood & their heirs & Assigns for ever –

Item I give & bequeath unto my Sister Sarah Hicks one Guinea

Item I give & bequeath unto my Sister Rebeccah Covington one Guiney

Item I Give and bequeath unto my Daughters Betty Gale & Eliz Waters Fifteen pounds to be by them disposed off among Friends commonly called Quakers. I also give to the Betty & Eliz & their heirs & Assigns for ever one Acre of Land Lying between Wiccocomico & Money whereupon there now is a Quaker Meeting House & the said Meeting House to be kept for that purpose.

Item I give and bequeath unto Martha & Mary Woolford the two Daughters of my cousin Levin Woolford & their heirs & Assigns for ever the Right title Interest & Estate which I leave in or to two parcells of Land Lying between Rock Creek & the Devils Island Throughfare with my Late Brother in Law Woolford & I purchased between (ly?)

Item whereas James Hill late of this county hath purchased of me one moiety of my sd. tract wch the sd Thos hath in possession

Item I Give &  bequeath one Hundred pounds Sterling to be equally divided between my Grand Children Thos Denwood George Denwood Betty Denwood Mary Denwood Esther King & Priscilla Gillis & Levin Denwood if he Should live to be Eighteen years of Age- – – – – – – – – – – – –

Item I Give and bequeath unto my Grand Sons Thomas & George Denwood and their Heirs and Assigns for Ever my Plantation Manocan whereon my Son Arthur Denwood Lives and to either with all other my Lands lying on Manocan or Contiguous to the sd Tract & the Moiety of my Forest Land not before disposed of

Item I Give & bequeath one third part of ye Remaining part of my Estate be it of what nature so ever unto my Daughter Betty Gale & her Heirs & Assigns forever —

Item I Give the other third of my Estate to be equally divided between my Grand Children Thos Denwood George Denwood Betty Denwood Mary Denwood Esther King Priscilla Gillis and my Great Grand Child Levin Denwood if he Sahll arrive to ye age of Eighteen years & their Heirs & Assigns for ever. And And where as one of my Daughters lives at a Great Distance from me as its Possible She may Die some Small time before me & I have no notice of it by wch means her Children will not be intituled to any part of my Estate for (?) whereof & also the trouble of making Wills hereafter In case Either of my Daughters Shall happen to die before me then I do give & bequeath such part of my Estate as I have herein Given to (Such?) Daughter to to Such Person or Persons & their heirs  & Assigns for Ever as would have possessed & enjoyed it in case Such Daughter should have survived me

(this my will being made) & died Intestate Lastly I Nominate & apoint my Daughter Betty Gale & my Grandson Levin Gale Exrs of this my Last Will & Testament hereby revoking all form or Wills & Testament (illegible words lined out) heretofore by me made in Testimony whereof I have Hereto Set my hand & Seal ye Twenty first day of April 1725

Levin Denwood (Seal)

At the request of the Testator did in his presence Subscribe the Same as Witnesses – Richard Waters, John Bacon, Mark (his N mark) Noble, Abigail Waters

Be it remembered that upon the sd Twenty first day of April Seventeen Hundred & twenty five tis further declared by me the sd Levin Denwood within mentioned that if any of the Legatees within Shall commence any unjust Lawsuit for or abt my Estate and (?) to Hinder this my Will to take effect according to the here Intent & meaning of it that then Such person Shall Lose what is Left him or her & not be Entituled to any part or Interest whatsoever in my Estate but intirely Barred from having any of it In Testimony whereof I have hereunto Set my Jand and Seal the day & year within.

Levin Denwood (Seal)

Signed Sealed Published in Presence of us who did at the request of the Testator in presence Subscribe the Same as Witnesses
Richd Waters, John Bacon, Mark (his N mark) Noble, Abigail Waters

May ye 9th 1726 Then Came Richard Water John Bacon & Abigail Waters Subscribing Evidence to ye within Will who made Oath upon the Holy Evangelist of Almighty God yt they Sae ye within named Levin Denwood ye Testator Sign & Seal ye written Instrument as his last Will & Testament that they heard him publish and declare ye same so to be and that at ye time of his So doing he was of sound disposing mind & memory to ye best of their knowledge Sworn before me ye day & year above written –

John Tunstall Depty comr of Somerset County
Recorded in Lib W3 no1 Foll 507 by Geo: (Plater?) Regr.
Recorded in Liber EB No 9 folios 103 & 104

Test (Esme?) Bayly Reg W. S.E.

I wonder if being Quaker was the reason for omitting the names of his enslaved people and what would happen to him after he died?

Those for whom he was taxed both in 1723, 1724 and 1725include: Hercules, Bussa, Joe, Samson, Ceasar, Munday, Peter, Robin, Jacob, Jenny, Pallina, Merando, Penelopy and Holiday.

The 1726 list isn’t extant. By 1727, Betty Gale is taxed for 16 enslaved people, as follows:

However, the only names that match up are Jacob, Caesar, Paulina, Peter and Jenny.

Instead, we have: Jo, Jenny, Steven, Dublin, Messenger, Rose, Bendah, Bess, Phebie, Grace and Mall.

It appears that Betty either sold most of the enslaved people owned by her father or else she gave them different names. I wouldn’t think that renaming them would be a very common practice, though, and it’s much more likely that some went on to other plantations and she then bought more enslaved people.



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