"...being of sound and disposing mind and memory...":

Reading Wills

Wills are fascinating documents that can give students many ideas about life in the past. Social, political and economic information can be gained by reading and discussing the plans for the disposal of an estate. The wills of Governor Joseph E. Brown and of his wife, Elizabeth Brown, who lived in the Governorís Mansion in Milledgeville for eight years [1857-1865] exemplify their responsibly frugal life style and their obvious concern for the care and maintenance of their loved ones and properties.

These are the links to the images of the wills of Joseph and Elizabeth Brown:
Joseph Brown's Will
page 1 page 2 page 3 page 4 page 5
page 6 page 7 page 8 page 9 page 10
page 11 page 12 page 13 page 14 page 15
page 16 page 17 page 18 page 19 page 20
page 21 page 22

Elizabeth Brown's Will
page 1 page 2 page 3 page 4 page 5
page 6 page 7

Activity 1: Social, Political and Economic Influences
Upon the completion of this activity, students should be able to:
  1. Describe the similarities and differences in the property possessions and the disposal of those possessions by a man and a woman in the 19th century.
  2. Discuss social, political and economic facts concerning the 19th century gained through the reading of the wills.

QCC Objectives:
Grade 4: Topics/Concepts: A11, A12 Skills: A2, A3, A6, A8, A9
Grade 8: Topics/Concepts: D20, H44, Skills: A1, A2, A4, A6, A7, A11, A12, B14 B15

Suggested Lesson:
  1. Make a copy of the wills for each student.
  2. Divide the class into groups of four to read the wills or allow students to independently read the wills.
  3. As a class, allow the students to list similarities and differences that can be found in the wills.
    (Reminder: It was unusual for a man in this time period to allow his wife to have as much control over his estate as Joseph Brown granted to his wife. Upon comparison with other wills from the same time period, men usually designated a guardian for their wives and left the majority of their property to male heirs. This is significant because women could not own or dispose of property in many states in this time period. Bring to the attention of the students that Joseph Brown's will details his business, property and family requests while Mrs. Brown's will mentions small favors and loved ones in detail. It is also interesting to note the identities of the executor/executrix.)
  4. 4. Ask each student to identify a social, political and economic idea that can be gathered from the document for later class discussion and comparison.

Activity 2: Writing a Will
Upon completion of this activity, students should be able to:
  1. Demonstrate creative writing skills through historically based information.

QCC Objectives:
Grade 4: Topics/Concepts: A11, A12 Skills: A2, A3, A6, A8, A9, B15
Grade 8: Topics/Concepts: D20, H44, Skills: A1, A2, A4, A6, A7,A11, A12, B14 B15

Suggested Lesson:
  1. Ask the students to list their favorite or prized possessions.
  2. Using the wills as a guide, instruct the students to write a will using the 19th century language found in the wills of Governor and Mrs. Brown. Remind the students to be as specific as Mrs. Brown's will about their property.

Click here for the Fourth Lesson, Sending for the Doctor

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If you have any questions or comments about the Mansion,
please contact Jim Turner either by phone or e-mail-

(478) 445-4545 / jim.turner@gcsu.edu

or by mail -

The Old Governor's Mansion
120 South Clarke Street
Milledgeville, GA 31061



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