Monday, October 3, 2016

How a codicil to Charles Carroll's will broke up a friendship and a family

John H. B. Latrobe (1803-1891), son of famed architect of the US Capitol, Benjamin Latrobe (1764-1820) left West Point when his father died in New Orleans to start a more lucrative career as a lawyer.  He studied law under Baltimore's Robert Goodlow Harper (1765-1825), and became friends with his son, Charles Carroll Harper, grandson of the very wealthy Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Carroll signed his will - which fairly divided his estate between his two daughters and his son's family - a few months after his only son died in 1825, as did his son-in-law Harper. Trouble came when Carroll's other son-in-law Caton requested Latrobe, a striving young lawyer, to write the codicil a year before Carroll died at 95, which favored the Caton/McTavish side of the family, and resulted in decades of litigation before it was settled.

People felt Charles Carroll's mind had deteriorated a bit ["imbecile"] and had been tricked by the family who lived with him - Richard Caton, who married his daughter Mary, never seemed able to be financially strong. To get Carroll's business Latrobe agreed to write the codicil disinheriting any who would contest the new terms giving the Caton side more money and property.

Charles Carroll Harper (1802-1837) and his cousin Charles Carroll III (inheritor of Doughoregan Manor) and their side of the family lost out to the Catons.  Although John H. B. Latrobe had studied law under Robert Goodlow Harper, and was very good friends with his son Charles, he didn't seem to think his actions resulting in decades of litigation was the reason for the rift that developed, and blamed Harper's wife for the loss of the friendship. His father, famed architect Benjamin Latrobe, built an amazing spring house in 1812 for his good friend Robert Harper's "Oakland" country home. 

Latrobe's side from: John H. B. Latrobe and His Times, 1803-1891. Baltimore 1917, by John Edward Semmes -

In his diary 19th February, 1834, he writes "A page in my life:"

"What I am about to record gives me pain; so much so that I have more than once hesitated to proceed with it. But I owe it to myself—to my children—to leave some record of circumstances which from others may receive a very different gloss from that which I will give to them.

"My bosom friend was Charles C. Harper. His father, General Robert G. Harper, was my father's friend and my friend. When I left West Point, where I was educated, I entered his office as a student at law. I was on terms of the most intimate footing in his family. I had a place always at his table. He gave me his countenance. He spoke kindly of me in the world. His confidence was mine. In truth I owed everything to him. I followed him to the grave. I designed his monument and I wrote his epitaph. Charles Harper, his son, was about my own age and became my bosom friend.

Upon commencing the practice of the law during General Harper's [the lawyer for his father-in-law, Carroll] lifetime, I had obtained the business of Charles Carroll of Carrollton and his family, which I enjoyed until the death of Mr. Carroll in 1832. Charles Harper went to France, as Secretary of Legation to Mr. Rives. While he was in France, Mr. Carroll gave to his grand-daughter, Mrs. McTavish [Emily Caton McTavish], the Folly Farm on Doughoragan Manor. The world talked much of this at the time and I wrote the gossip of the day to Charles, advising him to come home and attend to his own interests.

During his absence Mr. Caton, Mr. Carroll's son-in-law, brought me one day a memorandum from which to prepare a codicil to make void the legacy of any one of the distributees who should dispute any of Mr. Carroll's previous acts. … Mr. Taney who had done such things heretofore was in Washington… That he [CCarroll] was imbecile was, I knew, asserted by some. I did not believe it, however.

I immediately wrote to Charles Harper what had been done by me, explaining to him all the circumstances. I told other gentlemen, the friends of Charles Carroll, Jr. of Homewood. I made no secret of the codicil.

contrary our friendship was, if anything, more intimate than ever during the year 1832. I designed the addition to his house at Oakland. I was constantly there, took my child there, and when I became engaged to be married to my present wife, Miss Claiborne, he was for a long time the only confidant that I had. … I went to Natchez and got married. On my return I found Mr. Carroll dead.

and although he did think, as he now said, that I should not have drawn it, yet he explicitly declared that it made no change in his feelings. We went up the Potomac together, slept in the same bed, and our friendship knew apparently no change. In the spring of 1833 Mrs. Charles Harper returned home from Charleston, and I called upon her.

He has sacrificed his friend to his wife; and if his wife demanded the sacrifice he could not do otherwise. I feel most deeply the loss of his friendship. I cannot supply his place. Never did I intentionally violate one tie of friendship, never forget an obligation. His conduct showed he did not think that I had done so, until other influences than his own good feelings worked upon him, and he became to me an altered man. I cannot bear him malice, though I think he has wronged me. [Really??  Harper wronged HIM?] I can but wish him well. I hardly think his heart acquits him."

"I think that I was employed in 1831 to dock the entail of Dougheragan Manor, "The Manor," so called parexcellence, of Charles Carroll. A deed of bargain and sale to his grandson, with a covenant to stand seized to the use of Mr. Carroll for life, did it. But the family was a divided one. A portion of it denied Mr. Carroll's competency to do any lawful act concerning his estate, and, as I knew how matters stood, it was my intent that the circumstances attending the execution of the deed should be such as should clear my reputation as a lawyer in the event of its ever being assailed. There never was perhaps a deed previous to the signing of which more pains were taken to satisfy bystanders of the capacity of the maker. The scene was an impressive one. There were many visitors at the Manor. The Judge who was to take the acknowledgments, the late T. B. Dorsey, was one of them. All gathered in the back parlor on the right of the hall at my request, and, seated in his easy chair in the center of the room, a man of ninetyfour, with a clear, though thin and passing voice, Mr. Carroll, without being aware of the object of the conversation, waited to speak of the motives that induced him to break an estate that had existed for generations, and of the scope and effect of the instrument he was about to sign. Subsequently, in the course of the litigation that followed Mr. Carroll's death and growing out of his will, the deed here referred to was spoken of, but its validity was never assailed, although portions of the will of prior date were regarded as the act of a man of an unsound mind."

©2016 Patricia Bixler Reber
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