William Brent, 1775-1848
Will, 1848

Photograph of the District of Columbia Courthouse, 1913, by Harris & Ewing
District of Columbia Courthouse

Col. William Brent died on 15 December 1848 in Washington, D.C. where he had lived most of his life. Despite the fact that he was a lawyer and that, as Clerk of the Court for the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, he spent thirty-eight years in a courthouse, he failed to write his own will.

On the 13th of December, 1848, as he lay on his deathbed, he expressed his last wishes to some of this family. This is considered a noncupative will - one given orally before witnesses. On the 19th and 20th of December these witnesses appeared in court to make statements regarding what they heard William Brent say regarding his estate. Two sons, Thomas William Brent - the oldest of all William's children - and John Carroll Brent, his brother, testified on the 19th, and their half-brother, Francis Neale Brent, testified on the 20th. In addition, a Miss Priscilla Neale, most likely the sister of William's second wife, Elizabeth Neale Brent, and the Rev. Joseph Van Horsigh, William's priest, testified as well. The following was recorded in the will book:

The Undersigned being expressly sent for by their late father, the late William Brent, deceased, during his last illness, about the hour of 10 o’clock on the morning of Wednesday, the 13th of December 1848, being the day before his death, went to him and found him in weak in body but of sound mind. He then said to them as nearly as they can recollect the words which follow “I wish my wife to have everything, having perfect confidence that she will do justice to the children.” Washington City, 19th December 1848. [signed] Thos. W. Brent, John Carroll Brent.

Statement of Francis N. Brent, Washington, 20 DEC 1848: “I was in the room with my father about the hour of 10 o’clock, on the morning of the 13th December 1848, when my brothers Thomas W. and John Carroll Brent came in. My Father spoke in a low tone of voice & I was sitting at some distance from them, I overheard him say, “I have perfect confidence in my wife that she will do justice to my children; & I wish to leave my three sons (meaning my brothers Thos. W., Henry I. & John Carroll Brent) a legacy, or present of a lot of ground and a piece.” I then heard my Brother Carroll advise him not to talk any more, just then, as it excited him too much.

Statement of Miss Priscilla Neale, Washington City, 20 DEC 1848: similar statement, but “I wish Elizabeth (his wife) to have all my property, for I have confidence in her, believing that she will do her best for them… I wish to leave my sons (meaning Thomas W., Henry I., and John C. Brent a legacy, as they have acted so nobly; and I should like Carroll to come in and draw up an instrument of writing…Miss Priscilla. I hope there will be no difficulties…” Death occurred about midnight on the following day.

Release of Thos. W. Brent, Henry I. Brent and John Carroll Brent of any portion which might be coming to them of their father’s estate.

Statement of Rev. J. VanHorsigh, pastor of St. Peter’s Church, dated 20 DEC 1848: that he visited Col. W. Brent on Wednesday and Thursday last twice a day and that at each visit he possessed his mental faculties.

The three sons referred to above were Thomas William Brent, Henry Johnson Brent [the I. should be J.] and John Carroll Brent, his three sons by his first wife, Catherine Walker Johnson. His other surviving sons were under twenty-one which may be why they were not named.

Elizabeth Neale Brent's parents were Edward Neale and Grace Fenwick of Maryland. They also had a daughter named Priscilla and she is probably the one who testified above.

The Rev. Joseph Van Horsigh was the 4th pastor of St. Peter’s Church, one of the early Catholic churches in the District of Columbia, known as St. Peter’s on Capitol Hill, as it was located very close to the Capitol building. It was located on land that encompassed what is now Capitol Hill and was built in 1821. William Brent was one of the original members and, with others, helped found the church. The church was located on 2d Street S.E. and C Street. The building was demolished in 1889 and a new one built in 1890. This church burned down in 1940 and the church was rebuilt in 1941.

Col. William Brent, his first wife, Catherine Walker Johnson, who died in 1822, and his second wife, Elizabeth Neale, who died in 1863, are all buried at St. John the Evangelist Cemetery, by the Carroll Chapel, in Forest Glen, Maryland.

Related links:
William Brent, biographical sketch
Notice of marriage for William Brent and Catherine Walker Johnson, 1805
Col. William Brent, notice of death, 1848
Gravestone of William and his second wife, Elizabeth Neale, Forest Glen, Maryland
Gravestone of William's first wife, Catherine Walker Johnson, d.1822, Forest Glen, Maryland
Robert and Ann Carroll Brent, parents of William Brent

Photograph of the Old Courthouse in Washington D.C. was taken by Harris & Ewing, District of Columbia photographers, in 1913. From the Library of Congress, Digital Collections, in the public domain.

Transcription of the noncupative will is from District of Columbia Probate Records: Will books 1 through 6, 1801-1852 and estate files, 1801-1852, by Wesley E. Pippenger, Westminster, Maryland, Family Line Publications, 1996, pp.323-324. The will is in Box 19, Book 6.

Anne Healy's Genealogy, Created October 2002
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25 July 2015