The Mountain Laurel
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A Raw Irishmen From The Green Isle

By Mary B. Kegley © 1991

Issue: August, 1991

Editor's Note: Reprinted from the Wythe County Historical Review, Number 40, July 1991, a publication of the Wythe County Historical Society. Back issues of the Historical Review may be obtained for $2.50 plus postage and handling, by non-members of the Wythe County Historical Society. To obtain back issues or membership information, write: Wythe County Historical Society, PO Box 721, Wytheville, Va. 24382.

While doing research for the Wythe County history, and reading the cases filed in the Circuit Court, I [Mary B. Kegley] found one entitled Rice vs. Collins which may be of interest. Although some of the papers are missing from the lawsuit file, the outcome was determined from other records. The paper filed by Rice (the Bill of Complaint) is recited in full below.

"To the Hon. Samuel Williams, Judge of the Circuit Court for Wythe County:

"Humbly complaining showeth your Orator, Griffin Rice, who represents that in the year 1882 he immigrated to this country from the County Kerry, Ireland; that at that time he had not quite attained his majority. That prior to leaving Ireland his life had been spent in school & college, he was a stranger to work of any kind, and never had a business transaction of any nature whatever. Orator was in truth a 'raw Irishman from the Green Isle.'

The time of your Orator in this Country was spent in 'knocking about' working upon different farms and trying to learn 'how to farm.' A few years ago, he purchased a farm of ninety-six acres on Cripple Creek for which he paid $1200. In a short time he became engaged to be married, & from this time his troubles began.

Orator had become intimate with one James Collins, the Defendant in this suit. This man was treated by Orator as a brother and regarded as a true friend. When Orator informed him of his intention to marry, then Collins began to enlighten him as to the customs of the country. Among other things that it was customary for Americans when about to marry to convey all their property to some friend, in order to prevent the future wife and her people from taking it away from him, & turning him out of doors as they had the right to do, under our law. With such tales he plied your Orator & many more equally as false. To your Orator however, who looked upon Collins as his best friend and advisor they were accepted as true, being too ignorant to know better & having too much confidence in Collins to doubt him.

Orator would further state that from bad habits he had fallen into, using intoxicants and opium, he was greatly under the influence & control of Collins.

Orator states that just a day or so before he was to be married, he was persuaded by Collins to come to Wytheville; while here he was led to drink considerably & while in a condition of intoxication he was taken to a lawyer's office and induced to sign a paper the contents and nature & force of which he knew no more about than an infant. In a few days he married. Upon taking his wife to his home, where Collins & family already lived with Orator he was quietly informed by them that there was no room for her; that they would support him, but the deed he had made them did not require a support for her. Orator was astounded. Upon investigation he discovered that the paper he had signed was a deed dated February 23, 1892, a copy of which is here filed by which in consideration of 'esteemed love & affection' he had conveyed to said Collins & after his death to his heirs, all his property upon condition of support and maintenance.

Orator avers that even if the deed had been honestly obtained, the conditions have wholly failed, as Collins the grantee & his family have made it so disagreeable for Orator and his wife that they have had to leave their own home. Orator would further state that no lien is retained upon said deed for said support etc. Orator avers that said deed was secured by fraud, misapprehension, mistake, constraint, and that he was not competent at the time of making a deed, that the same is void and should be set aside. Being without remedy save in a Court of equity, Orator prays that James Collins be made a party Defendant to this Bill and required to answer, an answer under oath being waived, that upon a hearing your Honor will grant a decree setting aside said deed & such other general relief as his case may require & to equity may seem proper. May SPA issue etc. and will ever pray etc. Signed J.L. Gleaves for Complainant."

The deed records show that Rice purchased the 96 acres on Cripple Creek on April 26, 1890, from the executor of Elizabeth Wallace, deceased. The land joined R.H. Gleaves, George W. Gleaves, J. Spraker, and land of J. Watson Painter, then owned by I.J. Leftwich.

On February 20, 1892, Rice conveyed the land to Collins as stated in the suit. On February 27, 1892, he married S. (Sallie) E. Shrader, daughter of Henry and Mary J. French Shrader, who was 17 years old. Rice was 31, a farmer, born in Kerry County, Ireland, son of J.D. and B.G. Rice. They were married by J.C. Repass.

There was no result given in the lawsuit, but a deed on record dated November 19, 1892, recited the details of the suit and the former deed, and in the November deed Griffin Rice and his wife, Sallie, released all interest in the tract of land to Collins for $500, discharging Collins from all conditions in the deed. Each party was to pay one half of the costs of the suit. The deed was recorded December 13, 1892.