One of my favorite wills was written by Pete's great(x7)-grandfather, Benjamin Weaver (1690-1754) of Newport. In it, he left most of his goods (and slaves) to his wife, Hannah Coggeshall Weaver, including a horse, which he stipulated was,
to be kept by my son Thomas in same manner as he keeps such creatures of his own, and to be brought to the door for [Hannah's] convenience whenever she sees cause, without grumbling.Recently, I have been researching the genealogy of Lydia Dyer, the elderly Boston refugee whose gravestone proclaims that she died while attempting "to escape ye abuce of ye Ministerial Troops sent by GEORGE ye 3d to subject North-America to Slavery." On Friday, I visited the Massachusetts State Archives to read her will. As I hoped, the will and its accompanying probate records gave me a great window into the Dyer family dynamics on the eve of the Revolution.
Lydia (Hough) Dyer was born to William Hough and Mary Bricknell on February 2, 1696/7. The family lived in the North End of Boston, where William was a tallow chandler. On December 17, 1717, Lydia was married to Joseph Dyer by Rev. John Webb at the New North Church. The couple had two sons, but only the first, Joseph (b. 1719) survived infancy (he became a cooper). Lydia lived a long and prosperous life in the North End. In May of 1775, during the siege of Boston, she left the city, ending up in Billerica. She died there in 1776.
Lydia wrote her will in 1774, but, owing to the vicissitudes of the Revolution, her estate was not divided until 1780. It was a substantial estate for a woman whose family members were craftsmen, even when one considers the rampant inflation of the 1780s. According to the inventory, Lydia left a "Mansion House and Land" in the North End valued at £17,000, a warehouse on Ballard's Wharf worth £3,000, and 68 ounces of silver plate, including a tea service, porringers, and a silver tankard, worth £1,360.
Lydia left most of her wealth to her grandchildren (her son, Joseph, died in 1780). Of Joseph's six surviving children, Lydia seemed to be particularly fond of her namesake, Lydia Dyer (b. 1757). Young Lydia was actually the third of Joseph's children to bear her grandmother's name — two sisters (b. 1744 and 1751) had also been named Lydia, but had not survived. I do not know whether Joseph's persistence in naming his daughters after his mother stemmed from devotion to her, from a sense of duty, or from an understanding that Lydia might favor a namesake.
Whether Joseph anticipated her fondness or not, Lydia certainly did favor her granddaughter. In her will, after consigning her soul to God and her body to the ground, but before disposing of her real estate, Lydia enumerates the goods she will leave to her granddaughter, including
my Fether Bed Bolster & Pillows with all my Beding both wolling and Linning, and all my W[e]arring Apparel both Wolling and Linnen and my Gold Necklace and buttons and House Linnen with all my Furniture that belongs to meAnyone interested in an in-depth discussion of the ways in which colonial American women created lines of female inheritance, often involving passing moveable objects to namesakes, should read Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's lovely essay, "Hannah Barnard's Cupboard," which became a chapter in her book, The Age of Homespun.
When it came time to divide the rest of her estate, Lydia Dyer made sure that young Lydia would not be forgotten. She stipulated that, after the death of her son, whatever remained of her estate should be divided among his children, "and Lydia Dyer to Receive her Equal Part besides the above mentioned."
Lydia was less generous toward her eldest grandson, William (b. 1745), with whom she may have been living in 1774. In the section of her will detailing the division of her substantial real estate, she decrees,
if my Grand Son William Dyer should bring in any Account against me either for Board or any thing Else then I give him not more of my Estate then five shillings, but if he does not then I will that he shall have his Equal shair with the Rest of my Grand Children.Like Benjamin Weaver, Lydia Dyer seems to have anticipated some uncharitable grumbling from the heir she knew so well, and attempted to reach from beyond the grave to discipline him for bad behavior.
I'm looking forward to getting to know Lydia Dyer better. She did not leave many other documents, but I have some more family wills to read and I will also see if she (or her family) is mentioned in the letters of her neighbor and pastor, Andrew Eliot.