Executors of Reel v. Reel

Decision Date30 June 1821
Citation8 N.C. 248
CourtNorth Carolina Supreme Court

Evidence is admissible of the declarations of a testator made at any time subsequent to the execution of the will, which goes to show that the testator believed the contents of the will to be different from what they really are, or declarations by testator of any other circumstances which show that it is not his will, are admissible.

FROM PITT. The following is the case as it appeared reported to this Court in the statement made by the court below:

This was a case of a contested probate of a will between the executors and one of the heirs and next of kin, the paper-writing purporting to have been published and declared as the testator's last will and testament in the presence of two witnesses; they declared on examination that the will was executed at the house of William Blackledge, in New Bern, between sunrise and breakfast time on some day in August, 1815; that they were called to the house by William Blackledge for the purpose of attesting a paper, where they found Blackledge and James Reel alone; that they either saw James Reel write or heard him acknowledge his signature; that they did not at the time know what was the nature of the instrument, but subscribed it as witnesses in James Reel's presence. They believed that James Reel was not drunk but sober; that they had no conversation with him;remained but a few minutes, and left Reel and Blackledge together. One of the subscribing witnesses stated that he believed on his entering Blackledge's house Reel met him at the door and asked him to witness the paper; that the witness, from a fear that he might be signing some obligation or instrument whereby he might incur liability, attempted to look over the instrument before fixing his signature, when Reel intimated to him not to do so, and said that it was nothing that

could hurt him. It appeared further in evidence that Reel left Blackledge's house that morning before breakfast; that the will was left with Blackledge, and after Reel's death was produced by Blackledge, enclosed in an envelope with three seals. The will was in the following words:

"In the name of God; Amen:

"I, James Reel, of Craven County, being of sound and disposing mind and memory, do make and ordain this my last will and testament, in manner and form following:

"Imprimis—I direct that all my just debts be paid.

"Item.—I give the sum of two hundred dollars to the children of my brother, John Reel, to them, their executors, administrators and assigns forever.

"Item.—I give to my brother, Levi Reel, one hundred dollars, to him, his heirs and assigns, forever.

"Item.—I give to my sister, Sally Wintly, fifty dollars, to her, her heirs and assigns forever.

"Item.—I give to my sister, Alicia Willis, in Georgia, one hundred dollars forever.

"Item.—I give to my sister, Polly Ernull, one hundred dollars forever.

"Item.—I give to my nephew, Aaron Ernull, the debt he owes me and one hundred dollars, besides a reasonable reward for his trouble in superintending my business to him and his heirs forever.

"Item.—I give to my nephew, Robert Reel, and my niece, Susanna Pringle, each five dollars, forever.

"Item.—My friends William Blackledge and Vine Allen, having heretofore borne the greatest burden of the expenses and labor in supporting the Republican cause in the county of Craven, and being myself of the same political principles and very desirous of having them supported, I, the better to enable them to continue their support of these principles, do give to them, their heirs, executors, administrators and assignsforever, the whole of the residue of my estate, both real and personal, except so much as shall be necessary to pay two-thirds of the expenses of building a Baptist meeting house, at such place in the neighborhood as a majority of the Baptists of the same sect of which my parents were, shall appoint or pitch upon, and to be paid as soon as the other third of the cost of the building shall be properly secured by the members of such Baptist church. My desire is that no sale be made of any of the property, but that the legacies be paid out of the debts due as they are collected, and if there be not enough due, then that such as my executors cannot pay out of that fund be postponed

payment till the income of my estate shall pay them, and my executors to have choice in paying whatever legacy first they please.

"Lastly.—I constitute William Blackledge and Vine Allen, sole executors of this my last will and testament, and revoke all other or former wills by me heretofore made.

"In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and seal.

"This 23 August, 1815, at New Bern.


"Signed, sealed, published and declared by the testator as his last will and testament in presence of us:

"Thomas C. Masters.

"David Lewis.

"As a part of this my will I further give to my nephew, Radford Ernull, the debt he owes me and fifty dollars to him, his heirs and assigns forever.

"As witness my hand and seal, this 23 August, 1815.


"Acknowledged by the testator at the same time, with the foregoing as a part of this his will.

"Thomas C. Masters.

"David Lewis.

"As a further part of this will I give to my nephews, Moses and Allen Ernull, each twenty-five dollars, and to Stephen Ernull I give the amount he owes.

"As witness my hand and seal, this 23 August, 1815.


"Acknowledged, etc., as before:

"Thomas C. Masters.

"David Lewis."

On the part of the defendant many witnesses were brought forward who swore that James Reel lived in the county of Craven, some miles from the town of New Bern; some of themstated that he had always been a man of a very weak understanding, and from his youth up addicted to intoxication; that his habits of intemperance had exceedingly impaired the little understanding he had from nature; that a short time before the date of the will he had been confined with a severe fit of sickness, after his recovery from which his habit of drunkenness became, if possible, more inveterate; that he always became intoxicated when the means could be procured, and by one witness he was represented as the greatest drunkard

he ever had seen. Two of the witnesses stated that in New Bern, a place which he often visited, and where they frequently met with him, they never had seen him sober; and one of them further swore that he had never seen him in the town, when in his opinion he was in a state competent to dispose of his property with reason and intelligence. These witnesses admitted he was parsimonious, disposed to use trick in his bargains, asking too much for what he had to sell, and unwilling to give the value for what he bought. The defendant further proved that James Reel came to New Bern at the election on the second Thursday in August, 1815, and remained there several days afterwards, during all which time he was seen drunk; that some time after the election he came drunk to the house of one of the witnesses, who resided in New Bern, and remained there during the night; he then talked of his disease; said his home was a terror to him; while others slept he was walking; sometimes he thought himself in Tennessee, sometimes in England, and sometimes in the West Indies; he expressed a fear that the house of the witness was haunted; that he should be taken and carried away through the window in the night; he spoke of a design to travel for his health and to make William Blackledge and Vine Allen trustees to manage his business during his absence. On the morning of the succeeding day, Reel did not appear to have been relieved by sleep, but talked as incoherently as on the pre-ceding night, and left the witness to seek for Blackledge, after repeating his design of making Blackledge and Allen his trustees. This witness, who had known Reel from his childhood, was so struck by his strange demeanor as to express at the time an opinion that Reel was becoming crazy or was about to die shortly. On the same day, this witness again met Reel coming down the street that led from Blackledge's house, evidently intoxicated, and was informed by Reel that he had not completed his business, but would do it if he thereby was caused to remain a week longer. It was further proved that, in the afternoon preceding the morning on which the will was executed, Reel went to the house of Blackledge, and there spent the night; that he and B. were in the front room, alone, and that in the course of the evening Reel went into the supper room, sat at the table and took supper with the family; that at the table he talked of making his will and leaving Blackledge heir to his property, and that he was then intoxicated. It was proved that Reel had been taught at school to read and write, and the elements of arithmetic; that he could calculate with figures, read writing badly; that if sober he might possibly with much...

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