Tuesday, February 26, 2019

52 Ancestors - AT THE COURTHOUSE: A Riches to Rags Story

The “surprising” story of the lawsuit between John Wesley Jollett, minister, and his neighbor Monteller Utz caused several readers to observe that surely there was more to the story. Utz had charged Jollett with selling him a worthless horse, yet Jollett prevailed in the case. While I found nothing reported in the local newspapers of the day to explain the outcome, the digital collections of the Library of Virginia offer up plenty of chancery causes involving Monteller Utz, both as Plaintiff and as Defendant, always on the losing end.

Monteller was the beloved son of the wealthy Fountain Utz (pronounced FON TAIN). According to the 1860 census, the elder Utz owned real estate valued at $8420 and personal property valued at almost $31,000. In today’s money, Utz was practically a millionaire. The 30-year old Monteller himself was worth $500 in real estate and $575 in personal property. Very few neighbors - if any - were keeping up with the Utzes. 

On the Courthouse Steps

Yet, in 1873 this happened.
From Chancery Cause Page County, VA
And in 1876.
From Chancery Cause Page County, VA
Then in 1877.
From Chancery Cause Page County, VA
Monteller’s troubles began long before John W. Jollett sold him that horse in 1867. Fountain Utz died in 1861 leaving lifetime rights to his wife, Frances Brown, and thereafter to his son Monteller, also named as executor. But in 1864 Monteller borrowed $1000 from Daniel Dovel who shortly thereafter died leaving the job of collecting on the debt to his executors. Oh, they tried. They finally went to court, but Monteller failed to appear, which in the legal world is viewed as an admission of guilt. His response was that he did not know he needed a lawyer, and that since the debt from 1864 was based on Confederate script, surely the Court would have to figure out how to handle it and let him know. Tsk Tsk, Monteller. That’s not how it works.

In case after case, Monteller Utz’s claim “I didn’t know I needed a lawyer” led to further trouble and mounting debt until finally
M Utz has been declared a lunatic
Official statement by the Court 1873 

Taken Thither

On July 24, 1878, this news article appeared in the Shenandoah Herald.
Monteller Utz in the news 1878 https://jollettetc.blogspot.com
from the Shenandoah Herald 24 July 1878
Woodstock, Virginia
The same article appeared in newspapers in Tennessee, Minnesota, South Carolina, Mississippi, Delaware, West Virginia, and in at least seven newspapers across Kansas. It must have been viewed as a cautionary tale.

Five years later, Monteller Utz was admitted to the Western State Lunatic Asylum in Staunton, Virginia, now known simply as Western State Hospital. His admission papers indicate that the cause of his problem was financial troubles. No surprise there! At the age of about 52, Monteller Utz died June 28, 1885. The cause of death was marasmus, or severe malnutrition. He is buried in the Western State cemetery. 

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

© 2019, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. He sure went through a lot of money in a short period of time if I read this correctly with what his father/mother owned and then the fact he had to borrow money. Maybe he indeed was a touch lunatic (or would that be bipolar these days) and went on money spending sprees. Seems sad in so many different ways.


  2. Well that's certainly an interesting view of this man's life. He wasn't very popular probably, and certainly was his own worst enemy. We could guess all over the place as to how he would be diagnosed by mental health pros today. But he certainly was wrong about needing a lawyer! And maybe a doctor too!