Daniel Dill’s probate file has a gap of nearly six years, spanning the duration of the Civil War plus a year each before and after. Finally in December, 1866, Daniel’s friend and neighbor Frederick Bromberg made a petition to the court. He asked to be appointed as the administrator of the long-dormant estate.
His petition1 gives a brief chronology [ref 1290]: that Lewis Ayers had replaced Edwin Gould as administrator, and that Ayers himself had died in September 1866. Bromberg stated that Daniel owned a house and had some Confederate treasury notes, now worthless. The judge approved Bromberg as administrator and ordered yet another inventory of the estate. The estate now included the house (estimated value $7000), some promissory notes, and the worthless confederate currency in the amount of $2509.50 – very suspiciously close to the amount that Gould owed before the war had started!
For four more years the estate was in limbo. Bromberg dutifully paid taxes and made repairs the house as requested by the tenants. The value of the house in the tax records probably shows an economic reality of post-war Mobile. Real estate prices escalated rapidly and in February of 1868, the value of the house stood at $12,000 [ref 1308]. Fifteen months later, it was only worth $6000 [ref 1299].
In February of 1870, Bromberg paid a bill in the amount of $250 to the law firm of Manning & Walker for services related to the case of Chastang v. Dill [ref 1297]. It was this case that had prevented settlement of the estate for 15 years. The question before the court was whether Daniel Dill truly owned the property – or whether an old Spanish land grant had been ignored, a grant that gave the property to John Chastang back in the 1782.
Meanwhile, the children of Daniel’s brother Mercer sent a letter to the court [ref 1325]. They identify themselves as the “children and heirs of Mercer Dill, deceased…Mercer was a brother and heir at law of Daniel Dill.” More genealogical gold here as the names of the children are listed: Francis J.T. Dill, Juliann Johnson (formerly Juliann Dill), Jane Sutton (formerly Jane Dill), John W. Dill, Tricia Weser (presumably formerly Tricia Dill) and Catherine Frazier (presumably formerly Catherine Dill). Their letter makes the reasonable request that the estate be settled as soon as possible.
Bromberg submitted his accounts to the court in May, 1870. Besides the house, the estate had cash in the amount of $2,990, received mostly from the rent income for the house with the storefront on Dauphin Street.
The last document in the file is Bromberg’s letter of June 23, 1870. Here are the key excerpts:
At the time of his [Bromberg’s] appointment…a brick store house on the north side of Dauphin Street between Royal and Water Street was turned over to his possession as real estate of Daniel Dill.
At the time of his appointment there was an action of ejectment pending in the circuit court of Mobile County in which the heirs of one Chastang were plaintiffs and in which said Dill had been made defendant…
That he was advised by his counsel that said Dill had good title to said property at the time of his decease and that said Chastang heirs had no good title thereto.
That at the present term of the court the said action of ejectment came on to be tried and contrary to his expectation a verdict was rendered in favor of said plaintiffs and against the defendant your petitioner for the recovery of said house and lot and damages to be levied of the goods and chattels and assets of said estate in the hands of the administrator to be administered. Your petitioner further shows that judgement having been rendered against your petitioner as such administrator in said suit unexpectedly the effect thereof is to make the said estate insolvent as there are not assets sufficient in his hands to be administered of sufficient value to satisfy said judgement. The said property was valued by the jury at six thousand dollars the improvements valued at three thousand and judgement was rendered for seven thousand dollars damages besides costs in favor of said plaintiffs on said verdict and the property itself being received. The estate is necessarily insolvent under the effect of said proceedings.
…there is no property of said decedent to be administered other than the said real estate which was claimed to belong to said estate and recovered as aforesaid. In consideration of all which your petitioner prays that such proceedings be had for the settlement of said estate as an insolvent estate as is provided by law.
Years of proceedings, four administrators, a dozen or more heirs, three slaves, 368 pages of probate records and it all ends with a whimper. Dill’s property is handed over to the Chastang family; his monetary assets are also surrendered to them for damages and legal costs.
The case of Chastang v. Dill can be found in many old law books now available for download on the internet. Google Books has a copy of the court case here.
We’ll conclude with a couple of interesting footnotes about our cast of characters.
Frederick Bromberg continued with his store in Mobile until his death in about 1885. His sons and grandsons continued the business, moving it to Birmingham, Alabama around the turn of the century.
The business still exists today as a fine jewelry store in Birmingham. It is the oldest continuously operating business in Alabama, and is believed to be America’s oldest known family-owned retailer.
Read more about Bromberg’s in this feature article, with quotes from Frederick’s great-great-great grandson Ricky Bromberg.
If we want to look for a hero in this story, I guess Frederick is about as close as we can get2. It seems like it was pretty decent of him to manage the estate for nearly five years and he seems to have done so honorably.
We also find something interesting in Edwin Gould’s family tree. His middle daughter Julia was married to a Robert O’Connor who died in 18903. Julia remarried a few years later. Her new husband? Fred Chastang. I don’t know how Fred was related to the heirs of John Chastang. But maybe Edwin Gould’s grandchildren got their hands on some of Daniel’s property after all…
In my next and final post in the series, I’ll summarize what we’ve learned about the Dill family, the follow-up clues for further research, and some closing reflections on this fascinating side story in my family history.
1All references to the probate file are image numbers from Ancestry’s online version. See Original Will Records, Daniel Dill, Pigeon Hole No 85, Files 9-41, 1814-1946, Index, 1813-1957; Author: Alabama. Orphans’ Court (Mobile County); Probate Place: Mobile, Alabama.
2I regret to report, however, that Bromberg was a slave owner before the war. Did you see tonight’s episode of “Finding Your Roots”? Comedian Larry David’s Jewish ancestors were also slave owners in Mobile. So weird that all these European immigrants (including Festorazzi), took to being slave owners with such ease upon their arrival in America.