Legal Trouble: Martha Washington’s Will and the Early U.S. Courts
· Georgetown and the Federal City ·
Court delays, punishing attorney fees, and prolonged disputes are nothing new in American law, a fact nowhere made clearer than in this account of legal proceedings following the 1802 death of Martha Washington, “The Court Will Come to Order: Dandridge vs. Executors of Martha Washington’s Will,” by Tudor Place Archivist Wendy Kail.
Mrs. Washington’s will, drawn up by Alexandria attorney Charles Lee, named as executors her grandson George Washington Parke Custis, nephews Julius Burbridge Dandridge and Bartholomew Dandridge, and Thomas Peter, the husband of granddaughter Martha Parke Custis Peter and future owner of Tudor Place. The executors wrestled with matters like the assignment of profits from stock and cattle sales, the division of assets named in both her will and that of her (previously deceased) husband, and the evergreen question of whether the practice of law constitutes “a useful trade.”