Following in my mother’s footsteps, I set out on an adventure yesterday along with my cousin Anna, to gather more pages to a Biloxi court case that began in 1897. It was this court case, Williams vs Wentzell, that first brought our ancestor James Henry McGallagher to light. Mama first came across the case in 1989 and Anna had done some further research in 2015, but there are still many pages of the case missing from our files and we would like to get more of the depositions since they are providing us with a wealth of information on names and relationships that will help in our genealogy research.
We began our quest yesterday at the Chancery Court in Biloxi only to be told that anything prior to about 1900 would not be housed there and we needed to go to Gulfport. When we arrived at the Gulfport Courthouse, we first went to the Chancery Clerk’s office. They sent us upstairs to the Chancery court and the clerks there promptly sent us back downstairs again, and of course with this being a courthouse, we had to run the gauntlet of metal detectors and security personnel in order to pass from one section of the building to another, a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, I guess. Once back in the Chancery Clerk’s office, they realized we weren’t going to just go away, so they finally sent us to the “Vault Room”. The young lady there wanted to be helpful, but she was really clueless about where to even look for what we needed. After several phone calls, she led us through the maze of records to three enormous volumes of docket books and left us to search through them on our own. Since we already had some record numbers, it only took a few minutes to locate the summary judgement of the court case, but what we really wanted was the file. Of course the guy who would know where to find the file was not in and besides he had been boxing up these old records and no one else would even know where to look for them. We left our contact information and hope to hear back within a couple of days about whether or not the file could be located.
I left the courthouse amazed that Mama had ever been able to stumble across the case in the first place since she had so much less information than we did. I also had a deep sadness that records that contain so much of our local history are buried under the overwhelming pile of data and information that has accumulated over the years. This gives me a deeper appreciation for the efforts of so many people who have put some of these old documents into a digital format and made them accessible online.
Below is a list of key pieces of information the court case has given us:
- Confirmed the names of Mary Louise Wentzell’s siblings and some of their descendents.
- Confirmed that Mary Louise Wentzell was married to a “Henry Gallagher” and that they had a son named Charles.
- Described in detail the property that Holmes and Sarah Wentzell obtained from Charles Eugenius McCaleb
- Gave the dates to the original deed that was conveyed from the McCaleb’s to the Wentzells
- Depositions gave voice to the ancestors and their contemporaries making them more than just names and dates on a page.
What I hope finding more of these depositions will tell us:
- What is the relationship of Charles E MCaleb and his wife Mary Ellen to Sarah Wentzell? This will help us find her maiden name and hopefully uncover more of her ancestors.
- Did Charles, or his half-siblings ever give testimony in the case and did they ever receive a share of the inheritance?
- Is there any mention in any other depositions of what happened to James Henry McGallagher?
- Why did the Wentzell siblings wait nearly three decades to determine ownership of the property in question? Did the value of the land suddenly increase, did the sisters just realize that the property was not in their name, what brought on the lawsuit?
- Are there any other ancestors mentioned in the lawsuit that we are not yet aware of?
Below is a transcription of the lawsuit pages we have already obtained:
Ellen Williamset. Al
As depositions } Charles Wentzel
Received opened and filed at 9 o’ clock March the 12th AD 1887
G S Hewes clerk Case 316 Page 101
Harrison County, Chancery Court
Process – Summons Publication, Alias Summons, Publication
Ellen Williams et. Al Vs Charles Wentzel
Page 101 case 316
Bill of complaint filed 1st March 1886 by Posey & Bowers Sols of complainants, leave to answer in 60days from March 9th 1886 M. 3 P. 606. Answers filed August 20, 1886. Depositions filed March 12th 1887. Motion filed March 15th 1887. Order M 4 P 45 by publication issued May 5th 1887 & summons, returnable at Rules, 1st Monday in June, 1887. Copy of summons as published mailed in post office at MS postage paid May 13th 1887, addressed to Oscar Letten New Orleans, LA, to Francis Letten, New Orleans, Charles Gallagher Grand Bay Mobile Co. Ala and Robert Wentzell, Grand Bay Mobil Co Ala. Answers filed June 6th, 1887. (Motion filed Set 16, 1887 order M 4 p 69) Affidavit of now residence filed Oct. 27th, 1887. Summons by publication issued Nov 1st 1887 to Clara Herrington, Oscar Letten, and Charles Gallagher returnable at Rules 1st Monday of Dec 1887 and Alias Summons issued same day at Mississippi City Post office on the 7th day of November AD 1887, postage paid addressed Oscar Letten New Orleans, and are addressed Frances Letten, New Orleans, Letten, and one addressed Charles Gallagher, Grand Bay P. O. Mobile County Alabama and one addressed Charles Gallagher Bayou La Batre, P. O. Box Mobile County, Alabama. Depositions filed January 26th 1888 Motion August 1889, Motion overruled M4 P. 179 order to set down August 16/89 order continuing cause M4. P 181 Pro confess Decree M 4 P234 motion Aug 30/90order to set down filed August 13/90 Suggestions of death dismissed M 4 P240 Note of evidence filed August 13/90 Decree of dismiss Aug 14/90 M 4 P250 Motion filed Feb 12/91 Decree Feby 12th 1891 M4 P 280 Map filed Augt 3/91 Motions Aug 12/91 Decree Aug 12/91 M 4 P318 Report of Comms Feb 3/92 Motion Feby 8/92 Decree of sle Feb 9/92m 4 p348 Note of sale issued Feby 6/92Sale April 18/92to J T Mayberry $900 Refund of sale is exhibit filed Aug 20 1892 M 4 Motion to set aside Decree Aug 6/92 Decree Confirming Sale August 2nd 1892 M4 motion to set side decree Aug 6/92 oder to take up motion under advisement M4 P4? Disclaimer of Wintzel filed Aug 21st/92 Decree over-ruling motion M4 pge 447 Bill Cost fee received filed statement of Distribution.
State of Mississippi Harrison County in the Chancery Court of Harrison Ellen Williams et. Al (complainants) VS Charles Wentzell Defendant
To the Hon Chancery Court of Harrison County,
The complainants respectfully show to the court as follows:
That they are the next of kin and heirs at law of Sarah Ann Wentzel, deceased, who died in Biloxi in the County of Harrison of the state of Mississippi. The she died intestate and left at her death a parcel of land which will be particularly described herein and that said complainants are heirs at law of said deceased Sarah Ann Wentzell viz-
- Ellen Williams is a daughter of said Sarah Ann Wentzell decedent of the County of Harrison and state of Miss and is entitled to 1/8 share of the land hereinafter described
- Maria Wentzell, a daughter of Sarah Ann Wentzel deceased, now Maria Herrington having married John C Herrington, now deceased, this complainant resides in the said county and state and is entitled to 1/8 share in said land
- George Wentzel, Jr., Charles Wentzel and Laura Wentzell who are grandchildren of said Sarah Ann Wentzell deceased and who are entitled to the share of George Wentzell deceased – They are residents of said county & state and are entitled by representation to the share of George Wentzel, deceased which is one eight of undivided part of the land hereinafter described
- Clara Wentzell, now married to Justus Herrington, who is a daughter of said Sarah Ann Wentzell – complainant now bears the name of Clara Herrington and is a resident of the state of Florida and is entitled to 1/8 undivided share in said land
- Oscar Letten and Francis Letten who are grandchildren of said Sarah Ann Wentzell, deceased, who was a daughter of said Sarah Ann Wentzell, deceased. They reside in the state of Louisiana and they are entitled by representation of the right of their deceased mother, Sarah Wentzell, to 1/8 undivided part of said land
- Charles Gallagher who is a grandson of the said Sarah Ann Wentzell deceased and who is a son of Mary Elizabeth Wentzell who was a daughter of said Sarah Ann Wentzell, deceased- it is said mother married Henry Gallagher and is now deceased and said Henry Gallagher is also deceased and complainant was the only issue of said marriage, resides in the county of Mobile and state of Alabama and is entitled by representation to his mother’s share which is an undivided 1/8 interest *author’s note: the relatives’ memories were faulty as Charles’ father was named McGallagher – not Gallagher AND Mary Elizabeth re-married a Simonson and had three more children. She also helped finish raising her younger brother, Robert.
- Robert Wentzel who is a son of the said Sarah Ann Wentzell, deceased – he is a resident of the county of Mobile and state of Alabama and is entitled to 1/8 undivided interest in said land.
The foregoing persons are the complainants in this suit that we represent and are entitled to seven-eighths undivided interest in said land that the remaining undivided one-eighth interest in said land belongs of right to Charles Wentzel, the defendant, who is a son of Sarah Ann Wentzell deceased and that said defendant Charles Wentzell resides in Biloxi in said county & state , that he has for several years past been in the possession and occupancy of said land holding the possession thereof as a tenant in common of the said land with complainants as the next of kin and heirs at law of Sarah Ann Wentzell deceased and by no other right or title thereto, that said Charles Wentzell has selected the part of said land which is most desirable and valuable and occupies the same as his special allotment on part of said land and refuses to make any fair & equitable division of said land between himself and complainants over that said land is capable of being divided into eight parts or shares and this allotted to all the heirs of said Sarah Ann Wentzell, deceased, without destroying or greatly impairing its value of the value of said eight separate shares – That said land of which Sarah Ann Wentzell, deceased, died, seized and possessed in more particularly described as follows to which a lot of land in the corporate limits of the town of Biloxi founded on the north by the Back Bay of Biloxi on the south by the Front Bay of Biloxi on the east by Oak Street one of the streets of the town of Biloxi and on the west by the land of Nelson Johnson- That said land was described in the deed of conveyance from Charles E. McCaleb and Mary Ellen McCaleb to the said Sarah Ann Wentzell by their deed of conveyance dated the 7th day of October AD 1842 as follows a certain lot piece or parcel of land situate lying and being within the limits to county boundaries of the county of Harrison fronting on the Pass of Biloxi to which commencing at low water mark on the said pass of Biloxi where a large stone is buried by which is implanted a red cedar post marked “W” on the east side thence along the shore of said Pass one half arpent to another red cedar post marked “W” ……(rest of line was not copied) to the Back Bay of Biloxi thence along the shore of said Back Bay of Biloxi one half arpent thence south to the place of beginning. A copy of said deed is hereto attached marked exhibit A which complainant prays may be taken as a part of this bill.
And complainants pray that said Charles Wentzell may be summoned as a defendant to answer this bill of complaint that commissioners may be appointed by said court to view inspect and examine said land & report whether said land can be fairly and equitably divided into eight parcels or lots between said heirs at law of Sarah Ann Wentzell without greatly impairing its value and complainants pray that said commissioners may be directed to so divide the said land into eight several shares if it be found practicable so to do fairly and equitably and to allot said eight separate shares between the above described persons entitled there to report how they have allotted the same hereafter described.
But if said commissioners should report that said land cannot be equitably divided into said several shares without greatly impairing its value, then that the court may decree a sale thereof and a division of the proceeds to and between the parties entitled thereto and complainants further pray for such other and general relief as may be equitable or adapted to the ….unreadable……are the next of kin and heirs at law of Sarah Ann Wentzell, deceased, who died in Biloxi in the county of Harrison and state of Mississippi. That she died intestate and left at her death a parcel of land which will be particularly described herein and …. Unreadable…..
The State of Mississippi Harrison County
Pursuant to the annexed notice, this day appeared before the undersigned clerk, commissioner in chancery at the time and place therein state William Jordan, B R Clemens, James Maycock and Charles Wetzell the witnesses therein named summoned to testify in behalf of the defendants in certain cause now finding and undetermined is the Chancery Court of Harrison County wherein Ellen Williams et. als are complainants and Charles Wetzell et. al defendants. Wm M Jordan one of said witnesses being first duly sworn, deposes as follows to wit:
Q – Where do you reside
A – in the town of Biloxi
Q- How long have you resided there
A – Fifty-one years
Q – Are you acquainted with Ellen Williams, the complainants, and Charles Wetzell the Defendant in this suit
A- I am
Q – How long have you known Charles Wentzell
A – Since 1837
Q – Where has he resided since that time
A – In Biloxi
Q – Are you acquainted with the premises or land upon which Charles Wetzell resides
A – Yes sir
Q – How long has he resided upon the land upon which he now resides
A – Since previous to the year 1861
Q Where abouts in the town of Biloxi is that land situated
A- Adjoining Summerville near Point Cadet
Q- Has he resided there continuously since before the year 1861
A He has, except during the war, when his family resided there
Q Who resided there previous to Charles Wetzell
A I think James Williams lived on the land in a little log house
Q Have you any knowledge of any adverse claim to the land
A None except the heirs of Sarah Ann Wetzell
Q- Which of the heirs of Sarah Ann Wetzell have you heard set up a claim to the land
A _ Maria Herrington and Ellen Williams
Q – When did you first hear them assert that they had an interest in the land
A – I cannot say when it was, since 10 or 15years ago.
Q – When have you heard them since that time assert that they had an interest in that land
A- I have heard them frequently Maria Herrington only a short time ago say she had an undivided interest in her mother’s property & Ellen Williams also
Q – Do you know the land bounded as follows- East by Oak Street, West by Nels Johnson, South by the Gulf of Mexico having a front on the Gulf of 96 feet
A- Yes sir, I know all about it have been over it a hundred times
Q- Is the property above described, the property upon which Charles Wetzell resided previous to 1861 and now resides upon
A – Yes, it is the same property
Q – Can an equal division of the property described be made between eight heirs without impairing the value
A – It cannot
Q – Have you ever heard Maria Herrington & Mrs. Williams claim any interest in the particular property described
A – I never heard them say which property, they included the whole tract when they were talking to me as I understood them.
Q – What are about the ages of Mrs. Maria Herrington and Mrs. Ellen Williams
A – I think that Mrs. Maria Herrington must be about 45 years and Mrs. Ellen Williams about 42 or 43 years
Q Have any of the heirs of Sarah Ann Wetzell been in possession of or lived on the land described in the foregoing testimony except Charles Wetzell, since the time you say he went into possession of the land.
A – None that I know of
Q – Who has kept the premises in repair since Charles Wetzell went into possession
A – Charles Wetzell
Q – What is the probable value of the improvements or repairs made by Charles Wetzell since he has been in possession
A – It is worth $200 at least I don’t believe that would pay for it
Q what gave rise to the conversation between Ellen Williams and Mrs. Herrington, as stated, with you on a recent date as to their interest in the land described.
A – They came to me for the original deeds and told me that they had employed Mr. Posey
Q – About how long ago was that
A – About a year ago more or less
Sworn and subscribed before me this 26th day of Jany 1888 } W. M. Jordan
T S Hewes Clerk of Commissioner
Q Do you know the entire tract of land of which Sarah Ann Wetzell was the owner and occupied and resided on at the time of her death extending from the Gulf of Mexico to the Back Bay of Biloxi and of which the lot of land now occupied by Charles Wetzel is a part.
A – Yes
Q Can that entire tract of land be divided into eight parts without greatly impairing its value
A – I do not see how it could, the two front lots North and South are worth more than the balance, that about the railroad is not worth much
Q – Could not that tract of land be divided into eight parts unequal size of the part so as to make each part equal or nearly equal in money value to the other parts thus making up in the larger sized parts the lots of least value the difference between them and the smaller lots of larger value thus make the lots equal or nearly equal in money value though unequal in quantity or size
A- I don’t think it could
Q – Wasn’t the house in which Charles Wetzell now resides on this land at the death of Sarah Ann Wetzell
A – Yes sir
Q – About when did Sarah Ann Wetzell die, and didn’t she reside on this land at the time of her death
A – She resided there at the time of her death but I can’t say as to the date of her death, which was a number of years ago
Q – Did not her husband Holmes P Wetzell reside on the land after her death and until the time of his death
A – They both lived there and died there but I do not know who died first.
Q – Did not any other children of Sarah Ann Wetzell live on this land after her death
A – Some of them lived with Charles Wetzell, he partly raised them, on the place, two or three of them
Q – Is not the James Williams who you say lived in a log house on the land before the war the husband of Ellen Williams one of the complainants
A – He is
Sworn to and Subscribed before me the 26th day of Jany 1888} W M Jordan
T S Hewes Clerk of commissioner
Q – What were the names of the children who you say were partly raised by Cha Wetzell
A – Robert and George
Q -They were the only ones who lived with him
A – They were the only ones I knew
Q – Were Mrs. Williams and Mrs. Herrington married previous to the death of their father and mother
A – I think they were but I am not certain
Sworn to and Subscribed before me the 26th day of Jany 1888} W M Jordan
T S Hewes Clerk of commissioner
- R. Clemens, another of said witnesses being duly sworn deposes as follows to wit:
Q – Are you acquainted with the parties complainants and defendant to this suit
A – I am and have known Charles Wetzell sine 1844 and the others since about 1860
Q – Where do you reside and how long have you resided there
A – In Biloxi since 1843
Q – Where does Charles Wetzell reside if in Biloxi how long has he resided there
A – Ever since I have known him he has resided where he now resides on the corner of Oak and Fourth Street in Biloxi
Q – Does he or not reside upon the same premises that his father and mother resided upon in their lifetime and which property is the subject of this suit
A – He does
Q – How many years has he occupied claimed and held peaceable and undisputed adverse possession of said premises described as follows bounded East by Oak Street, West by Nels Johnson, South by the Gulf of Mexico having a front on said gulf of 96 feet
A – He has had peaceable possession of that since the death of his father in 1855 or 1856 up to the time this suit was brought
Q – Who has kept the place in repair since Charles Wetzell has been in possession
A – Mr. Wetzell has for I have loaned him money on several occasions to do so
Q – What is the probable value of the repairs done on the place since Mr. Wetzell has been in possession of it
A – Well sir, it must be ovr$300 for I know I have loaned him over $200 for that purpose
Q – What were the nature of the repairs done by Mr. Wetzell on the premises
A – I know of new sills under the entire house twice and the roof twice beside gallery floors, fences etc.
Q – What would have been the value of the original improvements now without such repairs
A – there would not be anything now
Q – what is the provable value of the improvements as they now stand without the land
That is a hard question to answer. They might be of the same vale to a person living on the land but if I was going to buy it I would not give $50 for the improvements
Q – Who has paid the taxes on the property since Mr. Wetzell has been in possession of it
A- Since the first taxes were paid after the war, I have paid them for Mr. Wetzel up to now.
Q – What is the probable amount of the taxes, in aggregate, paid by Wetzell
A – I think about $84
Q – When did you first ever understand that anyone else other than this defendant clamed any interest in the land claimed by this defendant
A – I never heard of any until I heard of this suit being brought
Q – Have any of the heirs of Sarah Ann Wetzell ever been in possession or occupied any of the land described in your testimony
A – None of them to my knowledge
Q – Which were the names of the children of Sarah Ann Wetzell who resided with and were raised by Charles Wetzell
A – Robert and George
Sworn to and Subscribed before me the 26th day of Jany 1888} B R Clemens
T S Hewes Clerk of commissioner
Q – Wasn’t the defendant, Charles Wetzell, living upon this land with his mother, Sarah Ann Wetzell at the time of her death and did ne not continue to reside on it after her death.
A – That I don’t know
Q Did he not fail to pay the taxes of one year and permit the land to be sold for the non-payment of taxes and didn’t he become the purchaser of that tax sale.
A – Not that I know of
Q – Did you not hear him say that he had permitted the land to be sold for non-payment of the taxes and that he had bought it at that tax sale
A – No sir
Sworn to and Subscribed before me the 26th day of Jany 1888} B. R. Clemens
T S Hewes Clerk of commissioner
Charles Wetzel, another of said witnesses being first duly sworn deposes as follows, to wit:
Q – How long have you resided upon occupied and been in possession undisturbed, claiming as your own, adversely against the whole world, a certain lot of land situated in the town of Biloxi, a part of the subject of this suit and described as follows bounded East by Oak Street, West by Nels Johnson, South by the Gulf of Mexico having a front on said gulf of 96 feet
A – Ever since 1853
Q – How long have you resided upon it with your family
A – since 28th November of 1855 when I married
Q – How came you in possession of this property
A – I was living there on the death of my father and being the eldest I was the only one to take possession and I continued to lie there.
Q – How came the deed to be made to your mother from McCaleb
A – The land was a present to me from Charles McCaleb for whom I was named and the deed was made to my mother to prevent my father from selling it who drank a good deal and was disposed to squander the property
Q – wo paid the money $250 mentioned in the deed
A – No one that I know of. None was paid Mr. McCaleb told me.
Q – How long have you paid taxes on the property described?
A – since 1851 of which the taxes receipts here with filed for the years 1875, 1876, 1877, 1878, 1879, 1880, 1881, 1882, 1884, 1885, 1886, & 1887are a part
Q – When did you first ascertain that these complainants clamed an interest in said land, claimed by you, as described in the foregoing testimony.
A- Not until a few days before suit was entered and I received the summons
Q – Where has Ellen Williams lived during the last 20 years or more
A – In Biloxi
Q – How often have you seen her during that time
A – About once a month
Q – Did she or not at any time notify you that she claimed an interest in the land claimed by you
A – She never did in her life
Q – When did Mrs. Maria Herrington live for the last 18 or 20 years
A – For about the last 18 years she lived in Biloxi
Q – When did she first notify you that she claimed an interest in the land described in the foregoing testimony
A – A few days before this suit was instituted
Q How old was Mrs. Ellen Williams and Mrs. Maria Herrington on the 1st day of March 1886.
A – Mrs. Williams was about 48 and Mrs. Maria Herrington was about 52 years old
Q – ow much of the land claimed by you is fenced
A – 335 feet of the South end of the land, 96 feet front
Q – Have any of the other heirs except Mrs. Williams and Mrs. Maria Herrington, up to this time, set up any claim to the land described in your testimony to your personal knowledge
A – No sir, not one of them. I saw all of them but one, Francis Letten, and they said that they would have nothing to do with it, that the property was mine.
Sworn to and Subscribed before me the 26th day of Jany 1888} Charles Wentzell
T S Hewes Clerk of commissioner
I, T. S. Hewes, Clerk of commissioner in Chancery of the chancery court of the county of Harrison in the state of Mississippi do hereby certify that W. M Jordan, R. B. Clemens & C. M. Wentzell the witnesses named in the notice annexed hereto, appeared before me on the time and place specified therein and testified as before stated, which depositions, being by me taken down in my own hand writing and being read over to said witnesses were by them approved sworn to and subscribed as stated.
Given under my hand & official seal of Mississippi City this 26th day of January A.D. 1888 T. S. Hewes, Clerk