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Floyd v. Thompson

Supreme Court of North Carolina
Dec 1, 1838
20 N.C. 616 (N.C. 1838)


December Term, 1838.

Construction of Bequest

A bequest of slaves to the testator's daughter "for her use and benefit during her natural life, and then to descend to the heirs of her body, if any; if not any heirs, then to her lawful heirs," gives to her the whole and absolute interest in the slaves.

(The case of Ham v. Ham, 21 N.C. 598, approved.)

THIS was an action of detinue for a slave in which, upon the plea of non detinet and issue thereupon, there was a verdict for the plaintiff, subject to the opinion of the court on a case agreed, presenting the following facts: Charles Thompson gave by his will, in 1821, sundry slaves to his wife for her life, and at her death to seven of his children, among whom was a daughter who married the present plaintiff. In a subsequent clause the testator used these words:

No counsel appeared for either party in this Court.

"But to my daughters such part as I have here particularly (617) devised, and such share as shall fall to them according to the meaning and intention of my will aforesaid, I do hereby declare it as my intention that they have the use and benefit thereof during their natural life, and then to descend to the heirs of their bodies, if any; if not any heirs, then to their lawful heirs."

The widow enjoyed the slaves during her life, and after her death a division was made among the remaindermen by themselves and the executors; and the slave, the subject of the present action, was allotted as the share of the plaintiff's wife, and taken into possession by the plaintiff. The wife afterwards died, having had only one child, which died before her; and thereupon the other children of the testator claimed the slave, and the defendant took possession under their title. Upon this case his Honor, Judge Toomer, at ROBESON, on the last circuit, gave judgment for the plaintiff, and the defendant appealed.

The only point in the cause has so recently been before the Court, in the case of Ham v. Ham, 1 Dev. Bat. Eq. Cas., 598, that it is unnecessary to refer in support of the judgment to any other authority. We then looked into all the cases in the books within our reach and felt obliged to hold that in such dispositions of personal chattels as this, the entire property vests in the first taker. When there is a gift of personalty to one and his heirs, or to one for life and then to the heirs of his body, or to his heirs generally, although the term "heirs" is inappropriate as a word of limitation of such property, yet the Court is obliged to receive it in that sense, because it cannot be rejected altogether, and because no other certain or probable meaning can be given to it. There are no means of ascertaining whether the testator meant the chattel to go over to the heirs, properly speaking, or to the executor, or to the children, descendants or next of kin, or if either of the two latter, in what (618) proportions the persons composing those classes should take, that is to say, in families, or per capita, or as under the statute of distribution. With this uncertainty as to the objects of the testator's bounty, and as to the extent of their interests, the words cannot be regarded as designating definitively any particular persons, or as doing more than denoting that they are to take, whoever they may be, in succession from, and not merely after, the first taker. If the subject here had been land, the daughter would unquestionably have the fee; and we think less than the entire property in the slave will not satisfy the words, if they are to be retained, and the Court is not at liberty to blot them out. The judgment must therefore be affirmed.

PER CURIAM. Judgment affirmed.

Cited: Donnell v. Mateer, 41 N.C. 9; Worrell v. Vinson, 50 N.C. 94; King v. Utley, 85 N.C. 61; Leathers v. Gray, 101 N.C. 164.

Summaries of

Floyd v. Thompson

Supreme Court of North Carolina
Dec 1, 1838
20 N.C. 616 (N.C. 1838)
Case details for

Floyd v. Thompson

Case Details


Court:Supreme Court of North Carolina

Date published: Dec 1, 1838


20 N.C. 616 (N.C. 1838)

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