Wilson v. Holt

Decision Date21 December 1887
PartiesWILSON v. HOLT.
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

Appeal from chancery court, Montgomery county; JOHN A. FOSTER Chancellor.

Bill in equity by heir of husband, claiming under marriage contract to establish his interest in wife's lands, with account of rents, and for partition.

The bill in this case was filed on the twenty-ninth January 1883, by Waldo P. Wilson, only surviving child and heir at law of Dr. Robert S. Wilson, deceased, against James L. Holt R. W. Sharp, J. C. Gibson, and G. H. Gibson; and sought, principally, to establish and enforce complainant's right and title to an undivided half interest in a large tract of land near the city of Montgomery, which he claimed under the provisions of an alleged antenuptial contract between his father and Mrs. Emeline S. Chambliss, then the widow of David Chambliss, deceased; also a partition of the lands, or a sale for partition, and for an account of rents against the defendants, who were in possession of different portions of the land, claiming under purchases from the administrator with the will annexed to said Emeline S. The land in controversy belonged to said David Chambliss at the time of his death, in February, 1860. By terms of his will, which was duly admitted to probate in Montgomery, and a copy of which was made an exhibit to the bill, said David Chambliss devised and bequeathed his entire property, real and personal, to his widow, and only grandchild, Sallie David Chambliss, one-half to each, and directed that it should be kept together "until the said Sallie David becomes of age or marries," when it was to be equally divided between them; with a further provision that, if the said Sallie David should die "before she becomes of age or marries," then her half of the property was to belong to the widow, her grandmother. On the eleventh November, 1861, Mrs. Emeline Chambliss, the widow, married Dr. R. S. Wilson, the father of the complainant; and they lived together as husband and wife until his death, which occurred about the twenty-ninth November, 1865. At the time this marriage was contracted, Dr. Wilson had a former wife living in Georgia, but she had procured a divorce from him by a decree in chancery rendered in Liberty county, in that state, in 1859; and he had also procured a divorce from her by decree of the chancery court of Montgomery county, Alabama, on twenty-second February, 1861. Dr. Wilson had two children by his former wife, a son and a daughter, who lived with their mother in Georgia. At the time of his death, the daughter was about 16 years old, and the son about 13; and the daughter died a few years afterwards, while still in her minority, unmarried, and intestate, leaving the son sole heir and distributee of his father's estate. Sallie David, the grandchild of David Chambliss, died in May, 1862, then being only four or five years old. After the death of Dr. Wilson, letters of administration were granted to the widow, and, after her resignation, W. G. Waller was appointed administrator de bonis non, and made a final settlement of the estate. The widow afterwards married David Campbell, and died in May, 1873, having duly executed her last will and testament, which was admitted to probate in said county of Montgomery. Letters of administration on her estate, with the will annexed, were granted to B. F. Noble, who in November, 1876, obtained an order to sell the lands for distribution, on the ground that they could not be equitably divided without a sale. Sales were made under this order,-one on the eighth January, 1877, and the other on the third March, 1879,-at which James L. Holt became the purchaser of a large part of the land, and J. C. and G. H. Gibson of another part, each of them going into possession under his purchase; and the Gibsons afterwards sold and conveyed to the defendant Sharp.

The bill alleged that an antenuptial contract in writing was executed by and between Dr. Wilson and Mrs. Chambliss; "a substantial copy of which" was made an exhibit to the bill. This instrument, as shown by the copy, was dated November 11, 1861, signed by both of the parties, but without any attesting witnesses, and contained the following provisions: "(1) That all property, of every kind and description, owned by said Emeline S. at the time of said marriage, shall be and remain her separate estate, free from all claims thereto by the said Robert S. Wilson or his heirs; and that the said Emeline S. shall have full power and authority to dispose of the same, by will or otherwise, as she may deem proper. (2) In like manner, all property owned by the said Robert S. Wilson at the time of the said marriage shall remain his individual property, free from any claim thereto by said Emeline S. or her heirs. (3) The property of said Emeline S. which she now owns, and which is secured to her as aforesaid, consists in an undivided one-half interest in the estate of her former husband, David Chambliss, deceased; the other undivided half belonging to her granddaughter, Sallie David Chambliss, and to which the said Emeline S. may become entitled in the event of the death of the said Sallie David Chambliss. Now, it is further agreed that, in the event the said Emeline S. shall become entitled to the undivided half interest of said estate now owned by said Sallie David Chambliss, the same shall inure and belong to the said Robert S. Wilson, and thereafter the said Robert S. Wilson and Emeline S. shall own and hold the estate jointly and equally; and, in consideration thereof, said Robert S. Wilson agrees that in the event of his death, the said Sallie D. Chambliss surviving him, she shall share in his estate as a full heir at law." The bill alleged that, when the widow became administratrix of the estate of Dr. Wilson, she acquired the possession of all his papers, "and among them the original or duplicate original of said antenuptial contract;" that she never delivered this paper to her successor in the administration, but destroyed the same; that the complainant came to Alabama in November, 1882, and then first heard of said marriage contract, and of its destruction; that the several purchasers at the administrator's sale of the lands had notice, knowledge, or information of said contract, and that the land only brought about one-half of its market value in consequence of that fact. The defendants filed a demurrer to the bill, assigning several specific grounds of demurrer, and also moved to dismiss it for want of equity; but their demurrers and motion were overruled by the chancellor, and his decree was affirmed by this court on appeal. Holt v. Wilson, 75 Ala. 58-68. They afterwards filed answers denying the execution and validity of the alleged marriage contract, and requiring proof thereof; denying validity of the marriage between Dr. Wilson and Mrs. Chambliss, on the ground that he then had a wife living in Georgia; and claiming to be entitled to protection as bona fide purchasers for value without notice. On final hearing, on pleading and proof, the chancellor dismissed the bill; holding that the evidence was not sufficient to establish the execution and contents of the alleged marriage contract, and that, if established, it only created an equity against which the defendants were entitled to protection. The chancellor's decree is now assigned as error by the complainant.

Troy, Tompkins & Loudon and Watts & Son, for appellant.

Sayre & Graves, Rice & Wiley, and Williamson & Holtzelaw, for appellee.


1. If the marriage contract, alleged in the bill to have been executed antenuptially between Mrs. Chambliss and Dr. R. S. Wilson, on November 11, 1861, be satisfactorily proved by the testimony, it created an equitable title in favor of said Wilson to an undivided one-half of the land in controversy, which he subsequently held as tenant in common with her, although she was his wife. This was decided on the last appeal of this cause. Holt v. Wilson, 75 Ala. 58. The complainant shows that he, as the sole surviving heir, is entitled to this interest of his father, if anything.

2. A strongly controverted issue is the existence of this alleged contract. That a marriage contract of some kind was executed between the contracting parties on the day of and just before the marriage seems to us to be very certain. This is proved by the witness Elliott, who was present at the ceremony of the wedding, and, by request, signed the contract as one of the attesting witnesses; his wife, now deceased, according to his best recollection being the other witness. He was, at the time, in the employment of Mrs. Chambliss, supervising her plantation as overseer. It is quite natural that his presence should have been invoked for such a purpose. We see nothing to cast suspicion on his testimony, and there is much in the record, as we shall show, to corroborate the probability of its truth. A more difficult inquiry is as to the certainty of the contents of this agreement. It is proved that, just before this marriage, Dr. Wilson procured a marriage contract to be drawn up by Col. Troy, then and now a practicing attorney at the Montgomery bar. The contents of this agreement are proved with great precision by Mr. Troy and he gives reasons for his retentive recollection of its purport, which seem to us very satisfactory. The interest acquired by Dr. Wilson under this contract was a contingent remainder in an undivided one-half interest in the estate of David Chambliss, devised by him to his infant granddaughter, with a remainder to Mrs. Chambliss, his surviving widow, upon a contingency which has since happened. The will of the testator shows the exact nature and quantum of this interest thus bargained for. It was a fact to excite the attention of...

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