Captain Berry's Will
Debauchery, Miscegenation, & Family Strife
Among 18th Century Gentry


On 1 July 1784 a messenger brought word to Dr. Stewart that Captain Berry was so sick he thought he was going to die. Having received similar messages before, Dr. Stewart probably attended some patients in and near Bladensburg before starting the five-mile ride to Captain Berry's plantation. When he arrived, probably in three or four hours, Captain Berry was dead.

Captain Berry had never married, and his brothers and sister thought that the will he had made a year or two before left most of his estate to them. Soon, however, they discovered that on 2 June 1784, a month before his death, he had made another will and that it left most of his estate to William Berry Warman. As soon as possible they had Thomas Stone, Esq., submit a petition to the Orphans' Court.

To the Worshipful Justices of the Orphans’ Court of Prince George’s County:

Richard Berry, heir at law [and brother] to William Berry, late of said County dec’d; Benjamin Berry, Zachariah Berry, Elisha Berry, brothers to the said William; Thomas Owen Williams and Mary his wife, which Mary is sister to the said William Berry; and Mary Berry, mother of the said William Berry, humbly show that the paper now exhibited in this Court dated the twenty-third [sic] day of June in the year seventeen hundred and eighty-four as the will of the said William Berry ought not to be received and taken as the testament of the said William Berry for that the said William Berry at the time when the said paper is alleged to have been by him signed, was not of sound and disposing mind and memory; that the said William Berry was, at the time when the said paper is said to have been signed, in a state of inebriation so as to be deprived of his usual and common understanding and recollection; that the said William Berry about a year before the said paper is said to have been signed, when he was perfectly in his senses and had his full recollection and understanding, made and regularly executed a last will and testament whereby he disposed of his estate, real and personal, among his brothers and sister, your petitioners, except five hundred acres of back land and fifty pounds sterling left

Source: Prince George’s County Register of Wills (Orphans’ Court Proceedings) 1777-1790, f. 124, MSA C 1275-1

© Maryland State Archives, 2000