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1835: Love and Law in Ohio County Part 3

In Community, Community Contributorsby OC Monitor Staff

**This piece was submitted as part of our Community Contributor series.

By Gavin Richardson / OC Monitor Community Contributor

The following is the third of a four-part series about an 1835 trial taking place in Ohio County. The first part can be found here and the second part here. According to Richardson, “the deposition list for the case reads as a kind of “who’s who” of founding Ohio County families.” The conclusion of this four part series will be posted Friday morning at 5 a.m. on ocmonitor.com.

OHIO COUNTY, Ky. — The mother of John B. Ford was Ann Ford, or Nancy Ann Bennett Ford, daughter of “Governor” John Bennett, the Ireland-born Revolutionary War soldier who left Maryland for Ohio County in about 1798. Ann herself was called to testify, in what must have been a difficult deposition, she being the mother of both the deceased and likely the plaintiff, Samuel J. Ford.

Her testimony contradicts that of her sister- in-law Cynthia:

“Next morning after the death of John B. Ford, in a conversation with Mrs. Cynthia Ford and Miss Permelia Ford about the money of John B. Ford, Mrs. [Cynthia] Ford said that she knew nothing about any money left by John B. Ford. Miss Permelia Ford said that John B. Ford had paid her $10 to buy a suit of mourning, and she did not know of any more money that he left, or whether he left any more or not.”

Here Ann Ford does not show any knowledge her son was about to be married to Permelia. Perhaps the fact John wished to furnish Permelia with mourning weeds was enough to imply a relationship, or perhaps Ann does not speak explicitly about the alleged engagement because she is simply not asked about it.

Regardless of the status of Permelia and John’s relationship, from the formal answers and depositions, a discrepancy emerges about how Cynthia Ford represented the deathbed “gift” of John B. Ford, ranging from not knowing anything about a gift at all, to suggesting that it was only $10 for mourning clothes, to acknowledging that it was a $160 “absolute, unconditional” gift to her daughter.

Perhaps this discrepancy simply reflects an innocent, evolving knowledge of the exchange. However, a late detail in the deposition of Elizabeth Benton may suggest Cynthia Ford was the prime mover behind concealing the $160.

According to the deposition, when Elizabeth and her husband Erasmus counseled Permelia to give the money to a third party until its rightful ownership could be resolved, “[S]he said she would do so–that she wished to do so before, but her mother was not willing.”

Another witness, Rachel Barnett, also contradicts Cynthia’s testimony and asserts that Permelia heard no words from John B. Ford when he handed her the money:

“The next day after John B. Ford was buried, I saw Miss Permelia Ford at the house of Mr. Erasmus Benton. I told her that I had understood that John B. Ford had left her thirty dollars, as well as I now recollect. She replied that he had not, that when he thought he was about dying, he asked her to bring him his money; that she did so, that he took the money and looked at it, then [rolled it] up carefully and handed it to her, and that she supposed he wished her to put it away and take care of it, as he said nothing to her when he handed the money to her.”

This is a far cry from the impassioned speech Cynthia claims John uttered when giving the money to Permelia to “do [her] some good.”

Rachel Barnett’s husband Thomas adds a further detail, suggesting even Permelia was surprised to hear Cynthia’s claim John B. Ford had explicitly given her the money:

“This deponent further states that after he got to Mrs. Ford’s, that Miss Permelia Ford wanted this deponent to take the money that John B. Ford had left and take care of it until some person should administer upon his estate. This was in presence of her mother, who said nothing at that time. But some short time afterwards and on the same day, Miss Permelia asked me the second time if I would take the money and take care of it. The old lady then objected to my taking the money, observing that John B. Ford had given all money that he had to Permelia and told her to keep it for her own. I thought at the time from the countenance of Permelia that that was the first time that she had heard of the money being given to her.”

One might forgive plaintiffs Samuel J. Ford and Henry Stevens for being suspicious of Cynthia’s testimony. Fraud by a grieving widow is still fraud, nonetheless.

Two possible interpretations of this situation emerge, and they are starkly opposed.

For those sympathetic to Cynthia and Permelia, one could argue the lawsuit brought by Samuel J. Ford and Henry Stevens is a profoundly heartless act against a mother who has recently lost a husband, and against a teenage girl who has just lost her fiancé.

Despite the fact Cynthia had a large household of young children she had struggled to feed the previous spring, the plaintiffs seem intent on taking away the only measure of financial security this family had now that both of their male providers have died—that measure being a gift of $160 from John B. Ford to his beloved just days before their wedding. One senses Cynthia’s impatience with the lawsuit when she complains of being “improperly dragged … into this court.”

On the other hand, for those sympathetic to Samuel J. Ford and Henry Stevens, one could highlight a pattern of narrative inconsistency about John B.’s financial “gift” as evidence of fraud.

Cynthia Ford’s story shifts about the amount and purpose of the gift, and daughter Permelia confirms her mother’s engagement narrative only in the most tepid of terms. Cynthia also seems to have been initially resistant to turning over the $160 to a third party, and ultimately may have done so more out of an interest in hiding assets from estate administrators than keeping the money safe until a proper investigation could be conducted.

Indeed, this very allegation is leveled at Permelia in the original complaint to the court:

“Your orators would further state that the aforesaid Mrs. Ford’s daughter, for the purpose and with the intent of defrauding your orators administrators as aforesaid, entered into an arrangement … with a certain Richard P. Wall and placed a large sum of the money before mentioned in his hands, taking from him a note or receipt for the money as though it was their own.”

Gavin Richardson is a native of Hancock County, Kentucky, with family roots in Ohio County as the son of Beverly (Ford) Richardson and grandson of Grace (Moore) Ford and Charles E. Ford. Gavin earned a B.A. in English and Classics from Vanderbilt University and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Illinois. He is Professor of English at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. He is married with three sons, and is the great-great-great-great grandson of John W. and Cynthia Ford profiled in this essay.

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