Thursday, January 31, 2013

Was It Fraud?

Benjamin F. Grayson believed that Fielding and James Franklin Jollett committed fraud to avoid repaying a loan that had grown from $22.44 to $46.52 over the course of 17 years. 

A timeline might help clarify the problem:
  • 1855 – Fielding Jollett borrowed $22.44 from Benjamin F. Grayson
  • 1859 – Fielding deeded 200 acres to his son James F. Jollett for $180
  • 1859 – Fielding deeded 37 acres to his son John W. Jollett for $50
  • 1861 – Judgment docketed in the case of Grayson vs Jollett finding Jollett must pay $22.44 plus interest from 1855 plus 55 cents costs until paid
  • 1871 – Grayson filed a complaint against Jollett for non-payment
  • 1876 – Grayson filed amended complaint charging fraud and adding James Franklin Jollett to the complaint

Grayson claimed that James Franklin did not actually buy his father’s land because no money changed hands.  Now, how did he know that for sure?   If payment were made, did it have to occur in front of witnesses at the signing in order for the deed to be recorded?  I don’t know the answer to that.  But given what I DO know, I can understand Grayson’s point of view.  The whole affair looks fishy to me, too.

Let’s go back to 1859.  In March Fielding deeded 200 acres along Naked Creek in Page County to James Franklin.  It is assumed that the younger Jollett was going to take possession, live there, and farm the land.  Maybe while he was still living at home, things looked to be on the up and up.  However, when James Franklin married Lucy Ann Shiflett in November of that year, they moved to Greene County. 

1860 Greene County, VA census
1860 Federal census for Greene County, Virginia
James Franklin and Lucy are living between her  uncle Leland Frazier
and her parents Burton and Nancy Frazier Shiflett

In 1860 and every census after that until 1910, James Franklin was in Greene County living near his in-laws.  In 1866 he was listed as a distiller, a manufacturer of spirits, on the IRS tax assessment roll for Nortonsville, technically in Albemarle County but just one hairy toe over the line from Greene County.  He never returned to Page County. 

1866 tax roll

1866 tax roll

No wonder Grayson was suspicious.

And where was Fielding?  Right where he always was:  

1860 Page County, VA census
1860 Federal census for Page County, Virginia
Fielding and Mary Ann are next to their daughter Lydia Breeden
and son John W. Jollett
farming along Naked Creek in Page County.  In 1850 he claimed his real estate was worth $100; in 1860 he said he had no land but personal property worth $3; in 1870 he claimed real estate again worth $200.  So while claiming “no real estate” in 1860 is consistent with the deed of 1859, assigning a value to real estate in 1870 implies he actually owned the farm.  

Of course, it’s possible James Franklin allowed Fielding to farm the land in his absence.  It’s also possible – but not probable – that Fielding bought it back.  But with all those judgments hanging over his head, it doesn’t seem 1870 would have been a good time to take back the farm. 

1876 ruling Grayson vs Jollett
1876 ruling

This court case dragged on several years.  Grayson’s petition to amend the bill to include James Franklin Jollett as a Defendant along with Fielding was granted in 1876, five years after the original complaint.  

1880 ruling Grayson vs Jollett
1880 ruling

In April 1880 (!!), the case was removed from the Court and sent to the Chancery Causes court.  Other than copies of summonses and prior judgments, there is no more in this particular folder.  Did Fielding ever repay all those creditors?  Surely the outcome is recorded SOMEWHERE. 

But back to the BIG question:  Did father and son conspire to commit fraud?  Had they found the loophole that would ensure the farm remained in the family and confound the efforts of creditors?  Or was Fielding simply doing what many aging parents do by "downsizing" while he was still able?  While the timing of the transfer of ownership certainly raised a red flag, a deed was in fact recorded in Page County.  What's more, the deed preceded any of the complaints by one year, and by two years in the complaint of Benjamin Grayson.  

I’ve watched enough episodes of “Law and Order” and “Matlock” to know it’s impossible to prove what was in someone’s heart. 

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. It's left up in the air.

    Did he; didn't he?

    Is the farm still in the family and are there any Grayson in the area?

    Most of us have ancestors that are quite ordinary, if not boring, and are only of interest to us as the descendent. Your's, however, has provided a quite engrossing tale. I've no doubt it could be used as a plot and written up into an interesting little novella with Fielding as some kind of anti-hero, or maybe, a Robin Hood character.

  2. How intriguing, as you say the outcome must be recorded somewhere.

  3. Such a mystery! I wonder if you'll ever know the answer.

  4. Hairy toes notwithstanding, I'm just amazed that Fielding's son couldn't be pursued in his own county of residence. What an uproar--and for so long!--over what started out as a $22.44 debt. I know that was a lot more money then than it is now, but the effort Grayson put into securing justice for his "cause" must have taken a lot of time. I wonder if he ever saw his loan repaid...

    1. Since you mentioned it, I went back to check, and sure enough some of the summonses were sent to Greene County.

  5. Very interesting...even more interesting if you find somewhere that it was paid off.

  6. Hey, any man that would live between his Shiflett inlaws and outlaws, admit to the IRS he was a MoonShiner, and kept One HairyToe in a Naked Creek has my Jury Vote, InDeed and Confound It!

  7. Hmm, so now I'm wondering if Fielding's son ever responded to those summonses sent to Green County. Do you know if they were sent to him personally or if they were sent to him publically in a newspaper?

    By the way Wendy, this blog post is listed in my Fab Finds post from yesterday. Sorry I didn't let you know sooner. :)

    1. It was an actual summons to be delivered by the sheriff. Since I don't see whether James Franklin and Fielding repaid the debt, I wonder if it's recorded elsewhere OR if the entire folder just isn't available. Page County has their chancery causes online, but maybe they didn't digitize the full contents of each folder.

      Oh, Jana, thanks for the mention once again.