Ten Letters 1702 – 1720 of Hannah Sylvester, a Shelter Island heiress, who maintained her second husband’s affairs (Giles Sylvester 1657-1707) while he was alive and later fought for her rightful share of her husband’s estate with the executor, William Nicoll (1657-1723), after Giles Sylvester’s death. Included in this correspondence is a receipt for the sale of a male slave originally bought from Benjamin Faneuil for twenty pounds sterling.
Hannah (Savage) Gilliam Sylvester (1643 – 1722) was married twice: first to Benjamin Gilliam in 1660, then to Giles Sylvester in 1685. She had one child, a daughter by Gilliam, Hannah M. (Gilliam) Phillips. See: “Vindication of New England,” presumed author Increase Mather, reprinted in “Andros Tracts,” Vol. II. Boston Births, Baptisms, Marriages and Deaths, 1630 – 1699, p. 15.
William Nicoll (1657-1723) was a royal patent holder to 50,000 acres on the South Side of Long Island, with his home at “Islip Grange.” At the time of this correspondence, he was the Speaker of the General Assembly. By 1695, Giles Sylvester the eldest son of Nathaniel Sylvester, had inherited four-fifths of Shelter Island after three of his brothers died. He then sold one-quarter of Shelter Island to William Nicoll (in 1695?), with whom Giles Sylvester’s widow, Hannah Sylvester subsequently engaged in this correspondence.
(Note: Hannah Sylvester addressed her letters variously, to “Nichols,” “Nickols,” “Nickhols,”and “Nichol.” They were sent to William Nicoll, who signed his name as “WNicoll.”)
Hannah Sylvester, ALS, February 23, 1702/3, written to William Nichols [sic] in New York, 1 page, 32 cm, ink on paper. Very damp-stained. Mrs. Sylvester is writing for payment of an overdue debt owed her husband, insisting graciously but firmly that Mr. Sylvester owes some 200 pounds and his creditors have grown impatient, so she is seeking payment from Mr. Nichols.[sic] Her husband was in Rhode Island at the time of writing.
Hannah Sylvester, ALS, April 14, 1707, written to William Nichols [sic], 1 page, 32 cm, ink on paper. Mrs. Sylvester acknowledges Mr. Nichol’s news of her husband’s death in his letter of February and about the settlement of his estate. Mr. Nichols was the executor, but Mrs. Sylvester writes not much is left, as her husband was not a good manager. She demonstrates familiarity with legal procedure.
Hannah Sylvester, ALS, July 7, 1707, written to William Nichols [sic] 1 page, 31 cm, plus a note of the verso, ink on paper. In reply to his letter of May 31, with his kind promise of assistance. She plans to sell all her interest in the Island (Shelter). She says her husband concealed his circumstances from Nicoll out of shame not “lack of friendship.” “… excuse my prolixity writing I fear not legible and a trembling which of late has seized me…”. She answers his letter about her late husband’s habits and reduced circumstances. Her familiarity with legal procedure is evident.
[Hannah Sylvester] William Nicoll, ALS, March 6, 1709, written to Hannah Sylvester from New York, as the executor of her husband’s estate, 1 sheet, 2 pages, with marginal writing, fold separations, some text loss, very faint writing.
Hannah Sylvester, ALS, October 27, 1708, written to William Nicoll, severely damp-stained, 2 pages. She thanks him for his payment. Detailed discussion of her family legal history “… about seven or eight years since Mr. Sylvester [her late husband] took out letters of administration one what part of Mr. Middleton’s estate … and the judge of probate to sue Mr. Sylvester the bonds being for 200 giuan (guineas?) by my brother Capt. Ephraim Savage …”.
Hannah Sylvester, ALS, November 1, 1709, written to William Nicoll, 1 page. A blunt letter begins: “Having long awaited for the performance of your promise to send me what is my due from Shelter Island but find a failure: I am forced to do as the — Judge. Consider Sir if eat [it] may long be the case of some of yr use our Saviour’s rule do to all as you would be done unto, you are a mortall and must dye how soon you know not, do — — [paper and text loss] the widdow are precept given by our Commander and ought to be practiced —, were not my necessities urgent, & would not give you (nor my self), this trouble but though as necessity has no law I find it ought to have hands and a tongue, so many scores of pounds — as you have from S I and not afford the widdow of yr doner a Living is inhumane my title to it is as good as yours, though you may out with me the wise Judg of all the Earth not be blind, to him I appeal, I find you turn away yr ear from the laws of the widdow, please to excuse my freedom I had better eye my mind then that any evil potion remain favor me with an answer, I am, Sir, yr servant, Han. Sylvester.” A remarkable letter of an astute and determined colonial woman in early eighteenth century America, recently widowed demanding her just due.
Hannah Sylvester, ALS, May 22, 1710, to William Nicoll, ½ page, with insect damage, paper loss and text loss. “though you have long stopt your ears against my complaint I hope you will at Last consider my neces[s]ity and send me my due of Mr Sylvester’s estate, I am in great ward of it, I have a daughter Coom or Cooming to York in the Constant man of war, her husband commanded one of the Queen’s vessels, but dyed before he had been long in that post, so know not how her circumstances — would — — — she is in a strange place Let cho— — — — to take care of her as such a — — wish always be grateful Sir if you have any friendship left for me Mr Sylvester let her not want any thing, my trembling hand forbids my inlargement, I only beg ye performance of many years promises to send me my due I am Sir your servant Han[nah] Sylvester may 22 1710.”
Hannah Sylvester, ALS, June 19, 1711, 1 page. Written to William Nicoll about her inheritance which she testily refers to: “… part you in mind of my interest which I fear is forgot and wo[u]ld not urge a thing which is your assertion, could I wish friendly to find out another way, so was due, as for what reports pas[s] of my having some estate of Mr. Sylvester’s in my hand his tal[l]ey I have written at long about it by Coll Rodney, and if can speak with this bearer shal[l] inform him all I know as to the hous[e]hold stuff all his father left was prised [priced] at but one hundred pounds which you may find by looking over his papers, and how it was discovered & have in my Last given yo[u] an acct, six years to consider my condition and send me what I have so long waited for, I have rec’d five years pd Mr. Sylvester’s and have ear Lang to find your hart so tender as to pitty the widdow, and send me a far greater — — — — — [paper loss] withdraw down a pleasing one yrslf and posterity, and wil[l] oblige Sir yr servant Han[nah] Sylvester June 19 1711”.
Hannah Sylvester, ALS, June 15, 1715, written from Boston to William Nichol. 1 page, damp-stained, ink on paper; regarding her share of her late husband’s estate; rent on land due, and money due from “a negro male, he was sold and delivered and a bill of sale given the third day of September 1697 … I have sent my oath yet I did not know him to Mr Benjamin Fannuel [sic] to be worth twenty Pound in this Colony …”. With a draft signed by William Nicoll (1657-1723) dated 28 June 1715 “to pay Capt Wm Owin the sum of twenty pounds in current New York money and his receipt shall be your discharge…”.
Hannah Sylvester, ALS, November 13, 1720, 1 1/3 pages on 1 sheet. Written to William Nichols on Long Island from Hannah Sylvester in Boston: “Mr Nichol/ Boston Nobr ye 13
Sir I rec:d yours of ye fifth of September, I very much wonder if you should insist upon my giving you an acct of a Personal Estate I have in my hands of Mr. Sylvester’s, w[he]n I had some years sent an account under oath yt I did not know Mr. Sylvester to be worth Twenty Pound in ye Colony, when he died an oath was deposited in the hands of Mr Benj. Faneuil, is there some disaffected person who had made it their business to persuad you I brought away a great deal from The Island, as a great many Brass pans, used to cool their milk, in a ch I do protest, I niver saw or knew anything of ym yt as a Proviso yt I had been invested, with things of so much value as you do believe me to Be; I think my thirds of the income would come to a great deal more; you say you have niver Seen me since your Friends death is very true: but you must give me leave to remind you: of a letter back you wrote me some time since wherein you promist me yt so soon as the Island brought it in you would remit my Part. & if you pay my part // Part of the income to Cap Jno Braddock yearly. Pray dont faile for I am disappointed of almost Every other support you are sensible that Deed of Gift would Mr Brinley shew and you in— & a greater part of ye estate & yet I ever made, the Ste keept it from me after a Clandestine manner, so long as life would let him, I heartylie condole you on so great a misfortune; as losing the use of your hands so wishing you all — & begging you not be unmindfull of my condition I rest your servant Han[nah] Sylvester”.