About 1980, at the Maryland Hall of Records, looking for I don’t remember what, I stumbled on Archibald Boyd’s deposition. Even before I had read enough of Boyd’s and the other five depositions to understand what they were about, I was excited by their close-up of Prince George’s gentry right after the American Revolution. When I had read all six, I saw that besides an astonishing fragment of history I had found a literary work, a representation of the events on the day Captain William Berry executed his will as seen from four points of view. I couldn’t wait to tell people about it, but soon I realized that telling them about it wouldn’t amount to much, that what I wanted was to share my experience, and that the way to do that, bizarre as it might seem, was to present the depositions as a play. This is that play.
This book presents, on facing pages, a transcript and a photocopy of the depositions and Thomas Stone’s petition that started the proceedings. The transcript differs from the photocopy in two respects. First, it changes the order of the parts (which evidently is random). It moves Stone’s petition from the end to the beginning, and it changes the order of the depositions from Steuart-Boyd-Brookes-Marshall-Priggs-Cooke to Steuart-Boyd-Marshall-Priggs-Brooks-Cooke. So the first four center on the drafting and execution of the will, and the last two on later events. Second, to eliminate some of the repetition, mostly of accounts of William Berry’s conduct, it abbreviates the record by about fifteen percent. The parts deleted can always be found on the facing page. So, to put matching content on facing pages, Lynne MacAdam made pages of varying length.
Dr. Edward Papenfuse, Archivist of the State of Maryland, used Captain Berry’s Will in his course What is History? I am indebted to him for the copies of the record and the transcript he made and had made, for criticizing and encouraging the work, and for all the Archives has done. I am indebted to Lynne MacAdam, the Archives’ webmaster and editor for electronic publications for being patient with my absent-mindedness, indecision, and awkwardness with computers, and singlehandedly transforming a rough typescript into this little book.
© Maryland State Archives, 2000