The Will of John Grice

Born March 28, 1718 in Halifax, North Carolina, John Grice is one of my seventh great grandfathers. I’m related to him through my maternal grandmother’s family, the Hammocks and the Cherrys. As with most southerners in the eighteenth century, John was a farmer. He received two land grants in North Carolina, one in 1753 for 225 acres and another in 1756 for 325 acres. The first was near a place called White Oak along the Flat River and the other along both sides of South Hyco Creek, probably in the area where Hyco Lake exists today.

John and his wife had several children, their oldest, Moses, is my sixth great grandfather. By 1764 it seems John’s health was failing and he saw fit to prepare a will for the benefit of his family. I was able to find a copy of it in the North Carolina Wills & Probate Records. It begins this way:

“In the name of God, Amen, I John Grice being in a low state of health but of perfect mind and memory at present, thanks be to God for it, and so as I believe all men must die, I have thought proper to make this my last will and testament that is to say that first of all I recommend myself to God and my body to the earth from whence it came and as for what earthly goods it has pleased almighty God to bless me with after my decease, I bestow as follows: First of all, I give to my son Moses Grice, my land and plantation wherein I now live to him and his heirs and fifty shillings proclamation money…”

It goes on to list several other family members benefiting in various amounts of money and personal items including a “small looking glass” bequeathed to his wife. Interestingly, there is no mention of any slaves in the will which seems unusual for the time for a landholder with over five-hundred acres. Perhaps most of the land was not under cultivation. In North Carolina slavery tended to be confined to planters with large crops of tobacco and rice. Given the amounts of money listed in the will are modest, the Grice’s may not have been producing one of these “cash crops.” Or, perhaps they were morally opposed to slavery.

One of the most interesting things is John’s reference to “proclamation money.” This is the way all cash amounts are described throughout the will. During colonial times, there was a shortage of British silver in the colonies. The British government did not want silver flowing from the United Kingdom to the colonies, they wanted the net flow of silver to be in favor of the mother country. As a result, very few British silver coins were in circulation in the colonies. To compensate, colonists used other silver coins, the main one being the Spanish Real, which was cut into eight pieces to make up smaller denominations – the “pieces of eight” often associated with pirates. This coin was also called a “dollar.” So, while they “kept books” in pounds, shillings and pence, day to day commerce was in some other currency, primarily Spanish “dollars.” To facilitate trade (in favor of the crown), in 1704, Queen Anne issued a “proclamation” setting the exchange rate for the Spanish dollar at six shillings when circulating in the colonies. The trouble was, there was only about four-and-a-half shillings of silver in the Real. This proclamation was unpopular in the colonies, as you can imagine, since it allowed traders to purchase 6 shillings worth of goods for only 4.5 shillings in actual silver – which did create a nice surplus for the mother country. This forced exchange rate was called “proclamation money” which is why my sixth great grandfather was set to inherit “50 shillings proclamation money” or a little over eight Spanish dollars.

John Grice died sometime between the making of his will in March, 1764 and its probate in October that same year at which time the family property passed to my sixth great grandfather Moses Grice.

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