“What are the rights of the individuals composing a society and living under the protection of the government when a revolution occurs, a dismemberment takes place, and when new governments are formed and new relations between the government and the people are established?” This was the pressing question asked by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1830 as it considered a case arising from the Last Will and Testament of Robert Randall containing testamentary trust for the establishment of Sailor’s Snug Harbor that Alexander Hamilton had drafted.
New York has always been known as the city of immigrants. It was so when Alexander Hamilton arrived in New York, then known as the Province of New York and a British proprietary colony. Alexander Hamilton’s role in the Revolutionary War and in the founding of the United States is now well-known. Less well-known is the complex history of New York from the time of the Declaration of Independence until the British retaking of the city in September of 1776, and the occupation of New York by the British until the retaking of the city by George Washington’s Continental Army on November 25, 1783. During those tumultuous times, loyalists and revolutionaries considered themselves citizens of New York. But who was a citizen and who was an alien? Who had the right to inherit property?
Revolution in New York had begun before the Declaration of Independence. On May 22, 1775, a group of local revolutionary representatives calling themselves the New York Provincial Congress had declared themselves the government of New York. But New York was also home to Loyalists, colonists born in New York who remained loyal to the British Crown. New York was the only colony not to vote for independence on July 4, 1776 and only endorsed the Declaration of Independence five days later. About a third of the population of New York considered themselves Loyalists. One of them was Bishop Charles Inglis. From 1773 until the British defeat in 1783, Charles Inglis had been the rector of Trinity Church. He resigned his post in 1783 and, like many Loyalists, emigrated to Nova Scotia where in 1788 he founded King’s College in Windsor, Nova Scotia. Charles Inglis never returned to New York. He had a son, John Inglis, who was born in New York in 1776 but who emigrated to Nova Scotia with his father. John Inglis was ordained deacon by his father in 1801 and became Rector of St, Paul’s in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1816. In 1826, John Inglis became the third Bishop of Nova Scotia. Thereafter, he began a legal challenge to reclaim his rights to Robert Randall’s estate.
In the record of the U.S. Supreme Court case of Inglis v. Trustees of Sailor’s Snug Harbor (28 U.S. 99 (1830)), John Inglis stated an uncontroverted claim to be related to Robert Richard Randall through Margaret Inglis, his mother, who was a descendant of John Crooke, the common ancestor of Robert Richard Randall, Catherine Brewerton, and Paul R. Randall. But was kinship sufficient to claim an inheritance under Randall’s Will? John Inglis had been born in New York before the Declaration of Independence, and he had lived in New York prior to the British re-occupation in September 1776. As a child, he had emigrated with his father to Nova Scotia, his mother having died while the family lived in New York. Did his birth on New York soil alone establish his right to inherit under Robert Randall’s Will and nullify the Sailor’s Snug Harbor Trust?
In his opinion, Justice William Johnson, who had been appointed to the Court by Thomas Jefferson, held that “(A) person born in New York before 4 July, 1776, and who remained an infant with his father in the City of New York during the period it was occupied by the British troops, his father being a loyalist and having adhered to the British government and left New York with the British troops, taking his son with him, who never returned to the United States, but afterwards became a bishop of the Episcopal Church in Nova Scotia; such a person was born a British subject, and continued an alien, and is disabled from taking land by inheritance in the State of New York.” This property and inheritance holding would be used to control both immigration and property ownership throughout the 19th century in New York. Currently, New York’s SCPA § 2218 provides a procedure for aliens to inherit money or property located in New York.
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