Debt Settlement of Thomas Squire Estate, 1686

Item of the Week From the East Hampton Library Long Island Collection

The document, Thomas Dongan’s authorization for the settlement of debts of the Thomas Squire estate in East Hampton, is interesting for a number of reasons, depending on what appeals to the viewer. Aside from appearing antiquated on the surface, the 1686 document itself seems to be very official with its red wax seal and curlicue handwriting. Certainly the phrase “By the Governour” emblazoned across the top cannot be ignored. On deeper investigation, one realizes that this is a probate record. For those unfamiliar, probate records are essentially court records created after a person’s death regarding a court’s decision pertaining to the distribution of property to heirs or creditors and the care of dependents, which might include widows, children, etc.

However, this colonial-era document is a little different (though certainly not out of the ordinary). As indicated, “Thomas Squire, Late Inhabitant of Easthampton in the County of Suffolk upon Long Island Dyed Intestate, and left no visible heir to enjoy his Estate.” The term “intestate” means he passed away without having written a will and, as mentioned, had no evident family to subsequently bequeath his land to.

During the colonial period, the colonies adopted English inheritance law, which largely mirrored the way property and wealth were transmitted in England. Set forth by the English Statute of Wills in 1540, this allowed land to be distributed by a will. In the absence of a will, the court was obligated to appoint someone to administer the estate. In this case, the Governor of the Province of New York, Thomas Dongan, appointed Capt. Josiah Hobart, High Sherriff of Suffolk County, as administrator. His role would have been to inventory and assess the value of the estate in order to pay off outstanding debts and ultimately distribute what remained to possible heirs. It is not known if an heir, in this case, was ever located. If not, Thomas Squire’s estate would have become the property of the crown.

Gina Piastuck is the department head of the East Hampton Library’s Long Island Collection.