The will of Elizabeth GOTHAM (1755 – 1827)

Elizabeth left a surprisingly large sum of money, but there is no obvious clue as to how she came to be so well off. Whereas men’s wills usually mentioned their occuation, frustratingly wills of women usually just define them by their (late) husband, or, as in ElLizabeth’s case describe them as ‘Spinster’. Her siblings were a fisherman and the wife of a turner / sieve maker. Yet Elizabeth specified what was to happen to £360 and in total probably left goods etc. worth between five and six hundred pounds. It is hard to imagine she could have saved so much if, say, she had worked as a housekeeper. Maybe she had been left a bequest by a generous employer. Or could she have saved this if, say, she had a successful business as a maker of fasionable gowns? Had she had a wealthy lover who had provided for her? Could the money have been from a fiancee? -seamen’s wills sometimes show their possessions left to a female friend, presumably a fiancee or the woman they were courting. Even if they had prize money it seems to me unlikely she inherited this from a fiancee.

It is interesting to note that whilst Elizabeth wished to use her will to try to encourage her great niece Prudence to marry wisely, permitting to inherit if she married before reaching the age of 21 only if such marriage was

This is the last Will and Testament of me Elizabeth
Gotham of Newton Abbot in the County of Devon Spinster being weake in body but
of sound and disposing mind memory and understanding First I will and direct that
all my just debts funeral and testamentary expenses shall be paid by my Executor
and Executrix in trust hereinafter named and appointed I give and bequeath unto
the Reverend Robert Bradford of Newton Abbot aforesaid clerk and Maria Babb of
the same place spinster All my money securities for money goods chattels personal
Estate and effects of what nature or kind soever of which I may die possessed and I hereby
declare that they the said Robert Bradford and Maria Babb or the survivor of them
his or her Executors or administrators do and shall stand possessed thereof after paying
my just debts funeral and testamentary expenses aforesaid Upon trust to pay thereunto
within twelve months after my decease the sum of One hundred and fifty Pounds of
lawful british money unto my sister Mary Eales wife of John Eales of Newton Abbot
aforesaid Turner or unto such person or persons and in such manner and form as she
the said Mary Eales shall notwithstanding her Coverture direct and appoint in
order that the same may be for her sole and seperate use and benefit and the same
shall not in anywise be subject or liable to the debts engagements or controul of her
said husband – And I hereby further direct that they my said trustees do and shall
out of the said Effects retain the sum of One hundred and fifty Pounds of lawful
british money and lay out and invest the same at interest and pay and apply the interest
and dividends thereof unto my brother William Gotham of Teignmouth in the said
County Fisherman for and during the term of his natural life by half yearly
payments and from and after his decease then that they my said Trustees do and
shall pay over or Assign the said sum of One hundred and fifty Pounds or the
securities on which the same shall be then invested unto and amongst my Nephew
and Nieces Thomas Gotham Mary Heath Ann Jones [appears to be Joanna] and
Patience Hurrell in equal
proportions share and share alike And I hereby further declare that they my said
trustees do and shall out of my said effects retain the further sum of Sixty Pounds of
like lawful money Upon trust to place the same out at interest and pay the interest
and dividends thereof unto or towards the (Elizabeth Gotham) maintenance and
education of Prudence Sanders Granddaughter of the aforesaid Mary Eales until she
attain the age of twenty one years or day of marriage which shall first happen Provided
the same be had with the consent of my said Trustees and on her attaining the said
age or day of Marriage aforesaid Then upon trust to pay or assign the said
sum of Sixty pounds or the securities on which the same shall be then placed
unto the said Prudence Saunders for her own use and benefit or as she shall direct
And in case she shall die before she attains the said age of twenty one Years and
without lawful issue Then Upon Trust to pay or assign the same unto or for the
said Mary Eales in such manner as the One Hundred and Fifty Pounds is
hereinbefore directed to be paid to or for her And I hereby further declare that they
my said Trustees shall stand possessed of the residue of my said Effects Upon trust
to pay and divide the same within one year after my decease unto and amongst
[p.2]
my said Nephew and Nieces Thomas Gotham Mary Heath Ann Jones and
Patience Hurrell in equal shares and proportions share and share alike I hereby
declare that they my said Trustees shall have full power to sell my property
that may be mortgaged to me and to convey and assign the same and that their
receipt shall be a sufficient discharge to the purchaser for the consideration
money therein expressed And I hereby further declare that my said Trustees may
continue the present or vary and transpose from time to time hereafter the securities
on which the sums to be retained by them shall be placed out and that they shall
not be answerable the one for the other or for any loss that may happen to the
Estate or monies that shall come to their hands unless the same be through their
Wilful neglect or default And that it shall be lawful for them to receive and
of the said trust estate all charges and Expenses which may be sustained and
attendant on the execution of the trusts hereof And I hereby lastly nominate and
appoint the said Robert Bradford and Maria Babb Executor and Executrix
in trust of this my Will and hereby revoking all former wills by me made I
declare this to be my last In Witness whereof I the said Elizabeth Gotham the
testatrix have to this my Will contained in two sheets of paper set my hand and
seal that is my hand to the first sheet and my hand and seal to this second and last
sheet the twentieth day of April One thousand eight hundred and twenty seven
[in margin by last line of will: 20 April / 27. ]

Signed sealed published and declared by the said Testatrix } Elizabeth Gotham
as and for her last Will in the presence of us ___________ }
Peter Bradridge
Thos. Maigary(?)

[these names are also in margin on p.1 of register copy; the second witnesses surname appears to be Morgans, although whilst not clear definitely does not look like Morgans on p.2]

This and the preceding sheet contained a true Copy of the
Original Will of Elizabeth Gotham late of Newton
Abbot Devon Spinster deced the same having been carefully
examined therewith by us
Jno Wm Hodges } clk to Walter Prideaux deputy Regs of the
Nicholas Gilley(?) } Archdeacon’s Court of Totnes

The Probate statement (© Crown Copyright) is a long printed form with a few words written in. The main points are in the following extracts:

Maria Babb of the Parish of Woolborough
in the County of Devon Spinster the
Executrix in trust named in the last Will and Testament
of Elizabeth Gotham late of Newton Abbott
in the said County Spinster who died on the
thirtieth Day of April 1827 maketh Oath
and saith that she has made diligent
search and due enquiry after and in respect of the Per-
sonal Estate and Effects of the said Deceased …
and that
to the best of her knowledge, …
the whole of the Goods, Chattels, and Credits of which
the said Deceased died possessed, …
… and without deducting
any thing on account of the Debts due and owing from
the Deceased) are under the value of six hundred
Pounds and this Deponent further saith …

Sworn on the twenty eighth day of May 1827 …

Transcription of official copy of the will, held in the Devon Heritage Centre in Exeter, ref. 1078/IRW/G/495

The copy was collected by the Legacy Duty Office, later Legacy and Succession Duty Office, as part of their work in assessing legacy and succession duties. Most have been destroyed but those proved in the Devon ecclesiastical courts in the Diocese of Exeter in the period 1812-1857 were kept and passed to the DHC to replace those destroyed in WW2.


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