A generous contributor from Texas, Linda Houck, has recently provided me with some great information about James W. Nance (1831-1885) and his family. James W. Nance was the eldest son of Josiah Crenshaw Nance (1804-1865), who was in turn the eldest son of William Howe Nance (abt. 1779-1837), who was a son of David Nance (abt.174?-1780). The probable connection of this line to the earliest American Nances is explored in my article, Unbreaking The Circle.
James W. Nance and his brother Constantine P. Nance were early settlers in Milam County, Texas. Constantine returned to Tennessee after the Civil War to care for two of his sisters, orphaned by the death of their parents; James W., however, stayed in Texas.
According to "History and Genealogy of the Nances", by Davidson Nance (1936), James W. Nance was known as "Murfreesboro Jim". I have no other source for this, and can only speculate that it was a reference to the fact that the family's Tennessee home was in the Murfreesboro area.
Linda began exploring this little bit of Nance history because she was researching the String Prairie Cemetery in Milam Co. where many of her ancestors are buried. Through her research we discovered that a James Nance, born ca. 1831, originally owned the land where the cemetery is located. James Nance was also briefly mentioned in a letter she had from her great- great-grandfather, Demetrius E. Young, to his wife, Martha [Blair] Young, who was waiting at home in Milam Co. [where they had moved to from Tenn. ca late 1850's] while he was fighting in the Civil War. James was evidently a friend and neighbor of Demetrius Young, who did not survive the War. Linda obtained a copy of James Nance's will, which she located in the Milam Co. Texas courthouse, and she also sent me these excellent pictures of the Nance cemetery. Thanks, Linda!
Will of James W. Nance, 1869
MILAM COUNTY PROBATE BOOK C - Pages 185-190 - Dec Term 1885
Estate of James Nance, Deceased
The State of Texas, Milam County
To the Hon Pickney S. Ford County Judge, Court of Milam County sitting in matters of probate.
[The first paper is a statement by James W. Nance's daughter when she filed the Will after his death in 1885].
Your petitioner Berthenia M. Nance who resides in Milam County, Texas would respectfully represent unto your honor that heretofore to wit, on the 13th day of January 1885, James Nance who was a resident of Milam County, Texas departed this life at his residence in said Milam County: that said James Nance died seized and possessed of an estate both real & personal in said County & State & elsewhere of the probable value of three thousand dollars: that said James Nance long prior to his death ? viz.: on the 20th day of November 1869, being of sound mind & above the age of twenty one years, viz., thirty seven years of age did make & publish in writing his last will & testament which said last will & testament was wholly written & signed by him the said James Nance & which is here with annexed & made a part of hereof.
That in said will, the said James Nance constituted & appointed no one as executor to carry out the provisions thereof: that petitioner is a child & an heir at law of said James Nance deceased & is over the age of 21 years of age & of sound mind & entitled to letters testamentary under the will aforesaid, that testator provided in his said will that no action should be taken in the court of the county over the said estate in said will disposed of, other than to record said will & its final settlement. Petitioner alleges that she is in no wise disqualified by law from accepting the appointment of executrix of the will of her said deceased father. Wherefore premises considered your petitioner prays for citation as the law directs & that said will be admitted to probate & that your petitioner be appointed executrix thereof in accordance with the terms of the law & as in duty bound will ever pray ~
Berthania M. Nance
By J. F. Knox, her attorney
Filed Oct 5th 1885, W. D. Paden ? CCMC Texas
[NOTE: What follows is the Will of James W. Nance, dated Nov. 20, 1869. He was 38 years old at the time. It is apparent from the statement his daughter filed when the Will was offered for probate after his death in 1885, as well as from the casual comments at the beginning of the Will, that it was something James W. Nance wrote up himself, informally (this is the meaning of the phrase which appears later, "holographic will"). It is unusual to find a Will written by such a young man, so many years before his death, but it is important to bear the context in mind when considering this Will. James W. Nance's wife had died young, at the age of only 26, just a year and a half before this time. This would certainly have brought James W.'s attention to his own mortality. In addition, his previous Will (he refers to it here) probably mentioned his wife, and thus was out-of-date by this point.]
November 1869 20th Saturday.
A cool frosty morning & I feel very bad- tho my back pains seem to have subsided ? my lungs & stomach are very sore & annoying ? wish to bank potatoes for the winter ~ I here insert my will & last testament which is in lieu of afore formally written.
In the name of God, Amen;
I, James Nance knowing the uncertainty of life [to the mind of mortals] and the certainty of death, and feel disposed to bless God for his manifestation of mercy toward me, in this for prolonging my unprofitable life and now granting me a calm reflecting mind to write this my last will & testament. I therefore declare it to be as follows, my house tract of land I live on in Milam County, State of Texas containing 203 3/5 acre, I wish divided between my three children Berthenia Margaret, James C. R. and Josiah C. Nance with lines occurring parallel with the original league lies so that sixty of our acres including my present residence as division No. 1 be set apart to James my eldest son. Also one acre including my grant which I give to each of them alike. The next adjoining on second division to contain seventy acres, I give to Josiah my baby boy and the third division of seventy two and three fifth acres I give Berthenia my daughter.
And as my debts are so small that when those are paid which due to me, they will be fully canceled. My will is that there shall be no sale of my property of any description and that the Court have nothing to do with my estate of affairs but to record this my will and its final settlement by some proper person who I hope to be able to mention hereafter who shall be paid therefore a reasonable compensation for his labor, done in a reasonable time and not by a percentage off my little children. My patrimony from my father?s estate I will to my three children equally, my hogs, cattle, my wife?s horse and mine, if found, besides all the other things what was their mothers or me, I will to them equally to be kept together ?till the oldest becomes of age, so that the increase and profits thereof may be applied to giving them, my children, a liberal education [in good select schools, if possible, if not, then the best schools to be found where they can obtain a high moral training, but not sectaranized ] which I judge if properly attended to will amply sufficient to do it. I wish them thoroughly taught the principals of a sound education and to fear God and not man, to be entirely above doing a mean thing. My compass & chain & other books & apparatus for surveying I give the first preference to my son James, but if he fails to fit himself of its use and Josiah does qualify himself for then it shall be Josiah?s. My father?s Bible & hymnbook that came to me, I give to James. The Bible their Mother gave me, to Josiah. The brass clasped Bible I gave her & their Mother?s testament to Berthenia. My watch to my boy that does not get the compass. All my other books & household & all other property of which I am now possessed or shall be possessed of I give to them equally and I exhort them to take heed to the exhortation I gave them appended to a former will. And now when death shall come, a messenger from God to take me from my children, I shall commit them to God?s grace and a providence believing he will deal kindly and bountifully with them and watch over them for good and present them to his glory in Christ, Jesus the Lord and bid them farewell. Written and signed by my own hand this November 20, 1869.
James Nance, [signed]
Filed Oct 5, 1885
W. D. Paden, Co. Clk Milam Co.
The State of Texas
Estate of James Nance, Deceased
In County Court of Milam County, State of Texas
On this 7th day of Dec AD1885, came on to be heard in this court the application of Berthenia M. Nance for the probating of the last will & testament of James Nance, deceased and appearing to the court that due notice of said application had been given and thence upon cause T. S. Henderson and Miles Wilburn residents of Milam County State of Texas, all credible witnesses who having been duly sworn in open court declared that they were personally acquainted with his handwriting which was also generally known by his acquaintances; that said James Nance is now dead that they verily believe said instrument in writing now exhibited to them in open court and purporting to be the holographic will of him the said James Nance, which said will bears the date the 20th day of Nov 1869 and was filed in this court on the5th day of Oct 1885 and any part thereof to be wholly written by him the said James Nance. That said James Nance was at the time said will purports to have been written and signed by him over the age of 21 years and was of sound and disposing mind and memory.
Also appeared in open court, Miles Wilburn and Berthenia M. Nance who having been sworn say that James Nance departed this life on the 13th of January 1885, within the jurisdiction of this court, to wit, in Milam County, State of Texas. That the offered paper writing purporting to be his last will & testament was found after his death in his trunk among his valuable papers. And it appearing further to the court that the court has jurisdiction of the estate of said testator and that testator executed said will with the formalities and --------- and under the circumstances required by law to make it a valid will and that said will was never revoked.
Nance cemetery - Milam County, Texas --
This photograph shows the small Nance Cemetery, located in the eastern part of Milam County, TX, in which are buried James W. and Celia (Allen) Nance, their son James C. Nance, and their daughter Mary E. Nance. The cemetery had been overgrown until recently when someone cleared the land. There is one medium sized columnar stone, which has names on three sides. A couple of the individual tombstones have been broken and repaired some time in the past..which makes it look like more gravestones than are there. The man in the photograph is Linda Houck's 85-year old father.
On one side of the column, there is the inscription:
James Nance born April 18, 1831 -- January 13, 1885.
Celia R. Nance, born Jan 23 1842 -- Mar 2, 1868
On another side, it reads:
James C. Nance, son of J. & C. R. Nance, June 16, 1862 -- Dec. 15, 1881.
Also on the same side, under James' name, there is:
Mary E. dau. of J. & C. R. Nance, Sept 16, 1865 --July 12, 1866
The third side reads:
"Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, and the people who he hath chosen for his own inheritance"
The fourth side is blank.
James W. Nance's daughter, Bethenia Margarite Nance Wilburn and
her husband M. S. Wilburn are buried in the Little River Cemetery also in
eastern Milam County, Texas, not too far from the Nance Cemetery and the String
Their stones bear the information:
Bethenia Wilburn, 1860--1940
M. S. Wilburn, 1847--1898
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