Jesse Bendall, A Vintage Vignette

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Jesse Bendall
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
May 25, 2008

In 1825 Jesse James Bendall acquired the land north of Highway 72 and west of Jeff Road from Gabriel Anderson, 157 acres in all. In 1832 he bought another 151 acres from James Awbry, increasing his holdings north to Capshaw Road. His land extended west from Jeff Road across today’s Christopher Drive almost to Hilliard Road. Jesse died May 22, 1845, so he didn’t own the land very long. However, he left an unusual Last Will and Testament, and he is buried on his land, at the northern end of Christopher Drive. Since he was never married and had no local relatives, it is likely that he is buried with some of his slaves, as his tombstone is surrounded by about a dozen graves with uninscribed fieldstones. This well-maintained little cemetery is on land owned today by Col. William Fiorentino, and it is located between his house and his business, the Steel Prize Stables.

Jesse’s will was written in 1834. It is preserved in Probate Court archives, penned on several sheets of parchment that are hand stitched together, creating one large sheet when unfolded. When Jesse wrote his will, he purported to be “of perfect mind and memory” at age 53. Jesse stipulated thirteen “items”. The first was that all of his just debts be paid. The second was that his brother Isaac should have “first choice of horses, saddle, and bridle”. He was also to get a white trunk (of unspecified contents), “all of my wearing apparel”, a small trunk of “my old letters, receipts, and accounts of sales”, all books, pocket pistols, and other things lost in a worn seam of the stitching. It is believed that the lost data bequeathed 1/6 part of the “next proceeds” of the estate “in money”. Such fraction would fit where the next five items were to Isaac’s children by his first wife and to Jesse’s other siblings, or their children, each grouping of whom were to receive 1/6 part of the estate’s “next proceeds” (assumed to be from sales of a crop yet to be made). The other siblings were named as sisters Sally Anderson, Elizabeth Zills, Judith Adams, and Barbara Jones. The will specifically named eleven nieces and nephews to receive inheritances from Jesse.

The next item specified that Jesse’s slaves be sold, particularly naming Nancy, Fanny, Solloman, Donnel, and Henry. Another item designated that Nancy and Solloman were to be given $15 each, while Donnel and Henry were to be given $10 each. The last four items stipulated that any other personal property and the land would be sold to be equally divided upon final settlement into the six parts for heirs previously given. This was to be done after provision was made for paying William East as Jesse’s agent to make the last crop on the land if Jesse died after March 1 of any year. East’s payment was to be “whatever any two good disinterested men shall say his services are worth”. East was also to hire as a hand to assist in managing the farm “an industrious single young man for up to $10 per month … to live in my house in the same manner as I now live myself.”

Finally, Jesse’s will designated that his brother Isaac Bendall of Sussex County, Virginia and Thomas Brandon of Huntsville, Alabama were to be his Executors. The will was entered into probate July 25, 1846. Jesse’s tombstone epithet reads “Here lies an honest man”, reflecting the high opinion of him held by his neighbors and executors. Oddly enough, data shows that Jesse James Bendall was related to notorious outlaw Jesse James, as well as to President Zachary Taylor and Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as author Mark Twain – each relationship perhaps somewhat indicated in the will by mention of books, Jesse’s name, and apparent community leadership and trust.

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