Whipple Aldrich vs. Joesph M. Hernadez
About This Case
In 1857, the Florida Supreme Court considered the case of John B. McHardy and the Creditors of Robert McHardy (deceased) v. the Surviving Executor of Robert McHardy. The case came to the high court on appeal from St. Johns County.
This case involves questions arising from the estate of Robert McHardy, a wealthy planter, surveyor, and resident of Spanish Florida from the 1790s to the time of his death in the 1820s. At the time of this trial before the Florida Supreme Court, as a result of the original parties having passed away, the case pitted Joseph M. Hernandez, representing McHardy’s will, against Whipple Aldrich, representing the creditors of McHardy.
The central concern in this case was the distribution of payments due to Robert McHardy from the U.S. government as compensation for damages to his property during the Patriot War (1812-1813). During the Patriot War, armed men from Georgia invaded and occupied parts of northeast Spanish Florida. In the short term, the Patriots hoped to destabilize Spanish Florida; in the long term, they hoped to secure the region for future American settlement.
McHardy’s plantation was attacked during the fighting and as a result he applied for compensation from the U.S. government. Much of this phase of the case involved determining exactly what McHardy lost in 1812-13. The documents indicate that McHardy lived on a plantation about 44 miles south of St. Augustine. He owned 21 slaves who produced “15 lbs. of clean sea island cotton to the acre” as well as corn, peas, and potatoes. The total amount claimed by McHardy was $10,000.
Two separate groups of heirs made claims against the estate of McHardy. The first group included McHardy’s children with his first wife; the latter were the children from his second marriage. The court found that only the first group could make claims relative to the settlements from the Patriot War. The second group could not, owing to the fact that McHardy remarried in 1813 and the property of his second wife (specifically slaves) did not arrive in Florida until 1815, and therefore could not have suffered damage during the Patriot War.
Robert McHardy appointed John Rodman as the executor of his estate in 1822. McHardy died shortly thereafter. John McHardy then became the executor in about 1838. Because of McHardy’s complex estate, creditors and heirs remained unsatisfied several decades after the patriarch’s death. According to the case file: “Indeed…the administration of the estate remains now, after the lapse of near forty years, to be commenced.”
After a lengthy case, the court found in favor of the executor of McHardy, who presumably settled the debts on the estate and distributed the remaining funds to the heirs of Robert McHardy.
This case provides anecdotal evidence on the cultivation of Spanish Florida in the early 1800s. It also demonstrates the complications that often arose from settling complex estates in antebellum Florida, some involving disputes that stretched back to the colonial period.