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6. From Pillar to Post On the day Robert Motts died, several sheriff’s officers and a black attorney entered his house at 4110 Calumet Avenue. They were intercepted by the undertaker, Daniel M. Jackson, a long-time friend of both Motts and his half-sister, Lucy Lindsay, who lived there as her brother’s housekeeper and trusted companion. The visitors demanded that she surrender the keys to any and all safes and safety deposit boxes that Motts may have had. Jackson told them that Miss Lindsay was in grief and confined to her bed, and added that he would kill the first man who attempted to walk up the stairs and enter her room. They withdrew empty-handed.1 Motts had died intestate. Chicago’s Municipal Court assigned the settling of hisestatetoJudgeCharlesS.Cutting,aconscientiousmemberofthebenchwho only a year earlier had argued before the Chicago Bar Association that the probatecourtshouldbegivenfarbroaderpowers .The caseseemedsimpleenough at first. Only one lawyer, Edward E. Wilson, represented all those who initially presentedthemselvesasnextofkin.Wilsonhadalsobeenthepersonalattorney ofthedeceasedandwaswellknowninRepublicanpoliticalcircles—circlesthat included Cutting. But almost immediately another able black lawyer, J. Gray Lucas, presented a suit on behalf of further claimants to the Motts fortune, the value of which various newspapers estimated at anywhere from $70,000 to $500,000, although there was also talk of mortgages and other encumbrances. Cutting set a hearing for July 28, the last day before summer recess. Family History The hearing lasted long enough for Cutting to deduce that there would have to be some sorting out of the tangled history of the Motts family before From Pillar to Post 139 he could begin dealing with the estate itself, an administrator for which he promised to appoint at the next hearing on September 14. By that time there were even more lawyers in the room, both black and white, for Motts’s brother Fred and his sons had fallen out with Lucy Lindsay over the property that Motts had apparently signed over to her, including the Pekin Theater. Cutting spent the whole day directing traffic as the three factions examined and cross-examined the impressive array of witnesses that Lucas had lined up. By their testimony Lucas hoped to prove that one of his clients, an elderly woman named Anna Elizabeth Motts Jackson, was Motts’s half-sister, and that another client, a striking looking mulatto woman, was the daughter of yet another sibling, Kate Motts, now dead and forgotten these thirty years. A third hearing followed in October, a fourth in November, and a fifth in December. After final arguments on December 30, Cutting at last knew enough of the family’s history to rule on the contested claims of consanguinity . Nearly a century earlier Thomas Cook Motts, born into slavery in Sharpsburg, Maryland, had purchased his freedom, married another slave named Henrietta, and fathered a little girl by her. He left his family to work on a riverboat plying the Ohio River, hoping to earn enough to free them as well. When he returned to Sharpsburg around 1840 he found his wife dead and his little daughter Anna in the care of his sister Jane. He offered to purchase the freedom of both Anna and Jane, but their owner refused. So that night he abducted them both and fled west. The three made their way down the Ohio to Cincinnati, then up the Mississippi to Muscatine, Iowa. There Thomas Motts settled and eventually remarried. His new wife died childless, but his third, Mahala, gave him three children—Robert, Fred, and Kate. The family moved to Washington, Iowa, where Motts, now in the coal business, amassed (and later lost) a fortune of $150,000. In 1848 he was able to send the daughter he had rescued from slavery, Anna Elizabeth, to Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. She was the first African American ever to attend there. When Thomas Motts died while on a business trip to Cairo, Illinois, in 1865, little of his fortune remained to support his family. Mahala remarried, and from this union came Lucy Lindsay. It must have seemed unlikely to Judge Cutting that such a tale, coming from a past so distant and dark, could possibly be verified to the satisfaction of a probate court. Yet that is just what attorney J. Gray Lucas managed to do. Witnesses testified that Robert Motts had lodged with his half-sister Anna Elizabeth and her husband when he first came to Chicago, and that her daughter Gertrude always called him “Uncle Bob.” When all of...


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