Uriah Edwards in his still

Perhaps the most intriguing and entertaining story in my family centers around my sixth great-grandfather, Uriah Edwards, and his family.  Uriah was born in Denbighshire, Wales in 1714.  He immigrated to America along with several of his brothers around 1735, eventually settling in Virginia, where he married Mildred Head, became a successful planter, and raised a family.  At least one of Uriah’s brothers, Robert, went on to live in New York.

The first clue I had that Uriah was an interesting character was in a deposition taken on July 4th, 1839 in Franklin County, Kentucky. The document was a testimony made by his son, Benjamin, on the behalf of Uriah’s daughter, Rebecca Edwards, my fifth great-grandmother, to establish proof that she had indeed married Reuben Hawkins, a soldier in the Revolutionary War, so that she could collect his pension.  In his testimony, Benjamin stated that when it was time for Uriah to go to the parson’s to witness Rebecca’s marriage, he refused, choosing to stay behind in his still and continue making whiskey, as he didn’t approve of Rebecca’s choice of husband.

Why didn’t Uriah approve of Reuben Hawkins?  This was a tantalizing question and one I feared would never be answered.  Fortunately, I did eventually find an explanation and it was far more interesting than I ever dreamed it could be.  It was in a news clipping from the Denver Post dated August 1st, 1901, entitled, Fortune For Denver Man.  The article detailed the story of a 93-year-old man named Richard S. Barnes who had recently inherited some money that had been due the heirs of Uriah Edwards.  It went on to say that Uriah had built privateers (pirate ships) in service to the king of England before the American Revolution and that in reward, he had been given 300 acres of land near New York City, but this was later reduced to 60.  Unfortunately, instead of using the land themselves, the Edwards family leased out the property for a 99-year term that expired within the lifetime of  my 3rd great-grandmother, *Sarah Jane (McKendrick) Crutcher Sheets, who died in 1893.  This is significant because I found a news article in the Frankfort Roundabout (Kentucky),  dated March 28th, 1891, that included her name as one of the Edwards heirs that attended a meeting in that city to consult on the details of the inheritance.

Richard S. Barnes inherits

Richard S. Barnes inherits

What does all of this mean?  First of all, it provides the answer as to why Uriah didn’t approve of Reuben Hawkins as a husband for Rebecca.  Uriah was a Tory, otherwise known as someone who was loyal to the British king.  As a soldier in the American Revolution, Hawkins was an original Yankee– standing in opposition to everything in which Uriah believed.  Second, Richard S. Barnes did indeed inherit some money from the Edwards estate.  The amount of Barnes’ inheritance is unknown as it wasn’t disclosed in the Denver article.  However, in 1891 the Frankfort Roundabout reported that the value of the estate was worth $300 million dollars and in 1901, the Denver Post reported that it was worth $1,000,000,000.  Yes– that’s right. There are nine zeros after the 1.  Just wait.  It gets better.

This brings up other intriguing questions.  If my third great-grandmother, Sarah Jane, was a known heir in 1891, why didn’t her children or grandchildren receive any of the inheritance in 1901?  In the 1891 Frankfort Roundabout article, several other heirs were listed as being in attendance at the meeting.  Why didn’t any of them receive the money?

Further research on this mysterious inheritance turned up in newspaper articles from around the world proving that it has been in contentious debate among hundreds– if not thousands of heirs for almost 250 years.   One article states that the term of the 99-year lease of the property expired on July 19th, 1871.  People from New Orleans to California, Canada to Tennessee, Wales to New Zealand made claims to the estate and all of them were featured in different local and national newspapers.   Other than the 1901 Denver Post article, all of the news items seem to agree that the property originated with Uriah’s brother, Robert Edwards– not Uriah himself.  Robert, it seems, was a pirate for the British king and after receiving the property from the Crown, was eventually lost at sea, so the rights to the estate reverted to his brothers and their heirs– although Robert may have had some progeny of his own back in Wales, since some of the claims to the New York estate have been made there as well.

Incidentally, the last reported value of the Edwards estate that I saw was in an article in the real estate section of a newyorkmag.com issue (Feb. 22, 1999) entitled, This Land Is MY Land which appraised it at $680 billion.  I’m sure you’re wondering why this particular property is worth so much.  The answer is simple– it is located in lower Manhattan, the site of Wall Street, Trinity Church, and the World Trade Center, arguably the most valuable real estate in the world.

Oh– and the original annual payment for the 99-year lease of this property?  £1,000 and one (1) peppercorn.  I suspect there aren’t enough pounds and peppercorns in the world to pay off all of the Edwards heirs today…

*Ironically, my great-great grandfather, James G. Crutcher, who was the son of Sarah Jane (McKendrick) Crutcher, and a direct descendant of the Edwards family, missed out on another inheritance as well.  During a visit to the Kentucky Historical Society, I found a letter that detailed a search for the heirs of the Chambers family, including James and his three living sisters in 1895.

Update:  Since this story was first published, I’ve done more research and uncovered more details.  Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is that I was wrong.  There’s no proof that Barnes or anyone else has ever received any money from the estate. (BR– Sept. 13, 2015)