The Final Estate Settlement of EPHRAIM FOWLER: Darkas, Mahala, Dorcas, and Charlotte

After Ephraim Fowler’s death in 1822, there was no rush to settle the affairs of the estate he left to his ten children. All but three of his sons and daughters had married and left home by 1820, and it is likely that only the two youngest children, Ellis and Betty, were still in the home when his will was written in 1822.

Ephraim Fowler surely knew that he was in failing health when he penned his will on February 8, 1822. On the same day, he sold fifty acres of land to his eldest son Jasper.  He was getting his affairs in order.

The home and land upon which Ephraim and his family lived were left to sons Stephen and Ellis as per the will.

Two of his daughters. Lydia Hames and Sarah Hames, and their husbands were offered, in exchange for money, the land and homes they already occupied by provisions in Ephraim’s will.

Twenty five years would pass before final settlement of the estate was completed.

For reasons not known, daughter Sarah Fowler Hames and her husband John Hames began the process of the final estate settlement in 1846 when she sold her one eighth share of the estate to her son-in-law, William Bevis—married to their daughter, Zilla Hames.  John and Sarah Fowler Hames gave their consent to William Bevis to do everything in his power to settle the estate. It would be three years later, in 1849, when the remaining heirs followed suit.

What follows is evidence of the events that transpired beginning on the day Ephraim Fowler signed his will until the last of the estate was sold to William Bevis.

I will also attempt to follow the lives of the four important women who were intertwined within the estate settlement: widow Nancy Fowler, slaves Darkas/Dorcas b. 1796, Mahala b. 1829, and her daughter Dorcas Eleanor b.1848.

In addition to wife Nancy, there were ten living children mentioned in Ephraim Fowler’s Last Will and Testament of 1822:

  • Jasper
  • Lidia
  • John
  • Polly (Mary)
  • Sarah
  • Stephen
  • Milley
  • Caty
  • Ellis
  • Betty

The names of a few slaves are also found:

  • Bob
  • Jane
  • Darkas and her unnamed children

I believe that the sons and daughters of Ephraim Fowler were mentioned in their birth order, with the exception of Betty who was not included in the group. Betty was mentioned early in the will and given special gifts.

The wording of “Ellis and Betty remain with their mother” leads me to believe that these were the two youngest children, unmarried and still in the household in 1822.

The Union County SC census of 1820 enumerated the following persons:

  • Male 45 + Ephraim
  • Female 45 + Nancy
  • Male 10-15 Ellis
  • Female 10-15 Caty
  • Female <10 Betty
  • 3 Male slaves < 10
  • 1 Female slave <10
  • 1 Female slave 16-25 (Darkas?)

I deduct from the information on the 1820 census and Ephraim’s will of 1822 that the family unit was comprised of Ephraim, Nancy, Caty, Ellis, Betty, and five slaves…..the elder female slave being Darkas and her four young children: Jane, Bob, and two unknown.

Caty’s absence in any documents beyond 1822 (the final settlement papers of Ephraim’s estate 1846 to 1849, Mary Fowler White’s estate settlement of 1861, and Stephen Fowler’s estate settlement of 1866) leads me to speculate that Caty was in the family home in 1820, had married and moved out by 1822, and had died without heirs before 1846.

The apparent lack of heirs could indicate that Caty died in childbirth shortly after her speculative marriage. Or she died as a young unmarried girl.  Whatever the reasons, I can find no evidence of Caty’s existence after 1822.

Daughter Betty was alive and well during the three years of the final estate settlement, 1846-1849, but she was not included in the affairs. She had married, moved to Alabama, and was raising a family during that time. Perhaps it was her absence from Union County that explains her lack of involvement, although she was summoned from Alabama to South Carolina when the estate of her brother Stephen Fowler was settled in 1866. It is possible that she had sold her share of the estate to a sibling previous to the final settlement. My opinion is that it was a case of “out of sight…..out of mind.”

Documentation will follow to backup the following observations and statements:

  • Previous to October 1, 1849, Lydia Fowler Hames, Stephen Fowler, and four of (deceased) John Fowler’s children, Thomas Fowler, Charity Fowler, Rebecca Fowler Burgess, and John Fowler had sold their shares of the estate to James Farr.
  • Previous to October 1, 1849, Washington Fowler, son of John Fowler (deceased) sold his one fifth of one eighth share to David Gallman.
  • April 4, 1846: Sarah Hames Fowler and husband John Hames sold her one eighth share of the estate to William Bevis.
  • July 5, 1849: Three children of (deceased) Ellis Fowler Mary Jane Fowler, B. Elbert Fowler, and Julia Fowler Sprouse — sold their shares to their brother Henry Richard Fowler.
  • October 1, 1849: James Farr sold to William Bevis the shares that he had previously bought from Lydia Hames Fowler, Stephen Fowler, and four of the children of John Fowler.
  • October 1, 1849: David Gallman sold to William Bevis the one fifth partial share that he had bought from Washington Fowler.
  • October 10, 1849: Mary Fowler White sold her one eighth share to William Bevis.
  • October 29, 1849: Henry Richard Fowler sold to William Bevis the one eight share that he solely owned after buying the shares of his siblings.
  • November 7, 1849: Milly Fowler Millwood and husband James Millwood sold to William Bevis her one eighth share.
  • November 7, 1849: Susan Fowler (daughter of Jasper) sold her one eighth share to William Bevis.

Sarah Fowler Hames to William Beavers (Bevis)

November 7, 1849 was the final date of the estate settlement. William Bevis now was sole owner. But why exactly did this mean?

Interestingly, no mention was made of land, no measure of acreage, given.

Instead, William Bevis bought human life. The document of 1846, whereas Sarah Fowler Hames and John Hames began the settlement process, indicated that the estate consisted of two negro slaves, fifty year old Dorcas, and seventeen year old Mahala.

Was fifty year old Dorcas the female slave Darkas mentioned in Ephraim’s will of 1822 and was Mahala her daughter?

The estate documents of 1849 specified that two negro slaves were being sold— Mahala and her child Dorcas Eleanor. No mention was made of the elderly Dorcas. Had Dorcas died in between the years 1846 and 1849? I think so. And was Dorcas Eleanor born after the 1846 document which may explain why she was not specifically mentioned until the 1849 documents? I think Dorcas was born in 1848.

The 1850 Union County Slave Schedule shows that William Bevis owned two mulatto slaves— a twenty one year old female (Mahala? Yes!) and a two year old female (Dorcas Eleanor? Yes!)  The information is a good “fit” and indicates that these two slave women may have been the first that William Bevis had owned.

Mulatto is a word that describes a person of mixed white and black ancestry.  Were Mahala and Dorcas Eleanor descendants of Ephraim Fowler or his sons?

The Union County Slave Schedule of 1860 for William Bevis lists the following slaves:

  • female age 31 Mahala
  • female age 12 Dorcas
  • female age 10 Charlotte
  • male age 9
  • male age 6
  • female age 4
  • female age 1

 

On July 7, 1937, Caldwell Sims of Union, SC went to the County Home and interviewed Caroline Bevis, daughter of William Bevis. The interview was later published in a book edited by Elmer Turnage. The book was a compilation of interviews of former slaves and slave owners.

In the voice of Caroline Bevis: “Two darkies waited on our table that night, Dorcas and Charlotte.”

Were these two women, Dorcas and Charlotte, the two older daughters of Mahala? Yes.

It is somewhat amazing that we are able to trace a slave woman named Darkas/Dorcas born circa 1796 and mentioned in Ephraim Fowler’s will of 1822 to a document selling her in 1846, and learning of her probable death before 1849 due to her absence in the documents of 1849.

It is equally amazing that we perhaps “know” that she had a daughter named Mahala born circa 1829 who was sold in the estate transactions of 1846 to 1849.

Even more so miraculous is that we can trace Mahala’s known daughter, Dorcas Eleanor b. 1848, through the 1849 estate documents and Mahala’s probable daughter Charlotte and the unnamed children from the 1860 Slave Schedule.

The reference of Dorcas and Charlotte in the interview that Caroline Bevis gave in 1937 allows us a rare glimpse into the lives of typically hard to trace enslaved people.

In the 1870 Union County census, William Beavis, wife Zillah Hames Beavis, daughters Caroline and Amanda Beavis were living only four households away from Charlotte Beavers, age 21 and black. Was this Charlotte, daughter of Mahala? Yes.

William “Bevis” was William “Beavers”and William “Beavis” in legal documents. The misspelling of names in the 1800s was common.

Former slaves often took the surnames of the men who owned them. It is not a far stretch of the imagination to assume that the Charlotte Beavers living near the William Beavis family was the former slave of the Bevis family.

Do I intend to look for Mahala, Dorcas, Charlotte, and the other children? Yes.

I leave Nancy Fowler, widow of Ephraim for last.

It has been written that Nancy became the common law wife of Benjamin Hodge after the death of Ephraim. This couple left Union County and traveled to Tennessee and Missouri.

Nancy Fowler was mentioned several times in the estate settlement documents of 1846 to 1849. It was stated that the Ephraim Fowler estate was “in the hands of Nancy Fowler.”

The “widow Fowler” was also mentioned in another unrelated document.

Nancy Fowler was recorded in the 1850 census living with her daughter Lydia Fowler Hames. I do not know if Nancy moved from her home into the household of Lydia, or if Lydia moved back into the Ephraim Fowler home with her mother.

I do not know with whom Benjamin Hodge left Union County, but it was most definitely not Nancy Fowler, widow of Ephraim.

Nancy Fowler was an old woman in 1850, and her absence in any documents beyond that year indicates that she died during the next decade.

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