If you’re curious about the deaths of historical figures, check out the Wills Project at the DC Superior Court building, an exhibit of 16 prominent Washingtonians’ wills. Here’s a peek at a few of the documents.
What he left: Madison bequeathed most of his estate to his wife, Dolley, but also left $3,500 to universities as well as a walking staff, given to him by Thomas Jefferson, to Jefferson’s grandson.
Interesting detail: The fourth President wanted his Virginia corn mill to be sold to the American Colonization Society, which advocated for the migration of African Americans back to Africa.
What he left: The ex-President had an estate worth $72,000, including the value of his paintings and horses. It was divided among his brother’s family, a childhood friend’s kids, and Pierce’s landlady.
Interesting detail: He gave two swords to his nephew, along with a warning not to dishonor them if there was a need to defend the country.
What he left: Douglass’s second wife, Helen Pitts Douglass, inherited their house in Anacostia, $10,000 in cash, and assorted books, writings, and paintings.
Interesting detail: A court later ruled the will invalid due to an insufficient number of witnesses. The house went to his children—who later sold it to Helen.
Euphemia Lofton Haynes
What she left: The first African American to earn a math PhD bequeathed $700,000 to her alma mater, Catholic University.
Interesting detail: Her will specifies that part of the money be used to fund a faculty chair at Catholic’s School of Education. It’s still going strong.
This article appears in the September 2021 issue of Washingtonian.