In April, 1875, the New York Sun reported that Anthony Smith, commonly known as Anthony Jones, died in New York at the age of 70. Smith was a former slave who had run-away from the Wilderness of Virginia. During his life in New York Smith had accumulated a considerable estate but had neglected to write a will. Lacking a legal heir, the New York Court System took control of his affairs.
On his death-bed interview, Smith told the story of his life. Once the property of William Jones, owner of the Ellwood Manor estate in the Wilderness of Spotsylvania, His master William Jones had become a widower in the 1820s and several years later William remarried Lucinda Gordon who brought with her to Ellwood Mansion a personal slave, Patsey.
Anthony eventually wooed Patsey and with the consent of their owners they took up housekeeping on the Ellwood Manor grounds. Four children were born to the couple, but only one, the fourth, survived. About the time of William’s death in 1845, Anthony ran-away from his then pregnant wife and the Ellwood estate. He was captured, returned to Fredericksburg and sold to a new owner.
After a trip to the South with his new master, Anthony again escaped and made his way to New York City, where he lived out his remaining years. Following the Emancipation, Anthony attempted to restore contact with his family back in the Wilderness, but with limited success. Patsey did retain one of his letters and later cited it as proof of their marital relationship.
The story as related above was published in the New York papers sometime after Anthony’s death. It was soon picked up and published by Richmond, Virginia papers. As a result, two sets of claimants to Anthony’s fortune came forth to the New York Court. One, the remaining sister and brother of Anthony declared extreme poverty. They were represented by J. Horace Lacy, their former owner through his marriage to Betty Churchill Jones, William Jones’ second daughter and heir to Ellwood.
The second claimants were Patsey, his first wife, along with the sole living child who was born after Anthony’s first escape. They were represented by lawyers Alexander & Green of Fredericksburg. When interviewed by the New York court, Patsey explained that she had waited a number of years following Anthony’s departure before taking in a new partner. Though partnered, she claimed to have been the wife of Anthony (citing the letter she retained) and therefore a legal heir to his estate.
The New York Court wrestled with the judgment for nearly a year. They recognized that New York and Virginia laws on marriage differed considerably in the pre-war era. Numerous testaments and affidavits were heard or submitted. Many of the claimants appeared before the referee at least one time. In the end, based on Patsey’s proof of their pre-war marital relationship, the court sided with Patsey. She received the estate, then valued at $20,000, cash and property.