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"A Dangerous Fellow"

William Woodbridge (1780-1820)

William Woodbridge was the ninth oldest of ten children of Dorcas March and Dudley Woodbridge and a sixth-generation descendant of George Abbott and Hannah Chandler. (See the blog titled Salem Wharves, Family 513 for additional information.) William was born in Salem and relocated to Savannah, Georgia where he was a successful merchant.

As might be expected as a wealthy resident of a Southern state in the early nineteenth century, William Woodbridge was also a slave owner. The probate records provide a glimpse into the matter-of-factness of owning other human beings. William Woodbridge’s probate record includes a petition requesting the sale of the Negro man Sawney who is the property of the estate. (The petition is pictured above.) “Your petitioner sweareth that there is in jail in this county, a Negro man named Sawney, the property of the estate of William Woodbridge deceased. That said Negro man is a dangerous fellow, that his character is notoriously bad, and in consequence of his bad conduct, said estate if William Woodbridge, together with estate of Mary Wylly, have sustained great losses – namely by the running away of other Negroes supposed to have been enticed by him and by running away himself.” The petitioner goes on to state that Sawney needs to be removed from the area and requests to sell Sawney. The petition is signed by H. Tuppen attorney for the administrator. Apparently, seeking your freedom makes you a dangerous person. The probate record does not provide any information on the fate of Sawney.

The probate inventory includes a list of “Negroes belonging to William Woodbridge” and the value of each. Sawney is valued at $350; Fred $300; Sam $300; Billy $250; Peter $300; Dan $200; Hagus $250; Sophia and her child Tom $400; and Marie and her four children Fanny, Lizette, Ruth, and Jenny $450. The estate accounting also includes amounts received by the estate for hiring out these persons for work. For example, there are several entries for wages of Sam and Billy of $60 for the quarter for working at the rice mill. Sam and Billy did the work and their wages went to the estate.


Estate Records, Wills, Estates, Administrations and Bonds, Alphabetically Arranged, 1777-1852; Author: Georgia. Court of Ordinary (Chatham County); Probate Place: Chatham, Georgia

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