“We are in possession of our share of the Estate of your late uncle, Isaac H. Cady”

William Goodell, August 7, 1869

Lavinia Goodell’s mother’s only brother, Isaac Cady, was a prosperous bookseller and publisher in Providence, Rhode Island.

Isaac H. Cady

In 1840, Lavinia’s mother, Clarissa, reported to her father, Josiah Cady, that the family had seen Isaac’s advertisement in the newspaper and that Lavinia’s fourteen-year-old sister Maria said she should like to step into his bookstore. Lavinia’s mother said, “I told her Uncle would not like to have her handle his books.”

Isaac Cady calendar from 1840

For a number of years, beginning in 1847, Isaac Cady had a business in New York City, in partnership with Daniel Burgess. Cady & Burgess published a number of textbooks written by Roswell C. Smith, another of Lavinia’s uncles and the father of Carrie Ellsworth, Lavinia’s cousin who died unexpectedly in 1866.

Isaac Cady died in Providence in May, 1867. He left a widow, no children, and no will. Under Rhode Island’s laws of intestacy, this meant that half of his estate went to his widow, and the other half went in equal shares to his three sisters and one brother. Isaac’s estate was valued at $50,000, a considerable sum, and Lavinia and Maria were anxious to see that their parents, who were living with Clarissa’s sister and brother-in-law in Lebanon, Connecticut, received their share of the inheritance promptly.

William Goodell sent regular updates about the estate to Lavinia, often marking them “Private” and cautioning her not to make the information known to others. In early 1868, William wrote Lavinia, “It is not best to count anything before it is in possession, and to let no trumpets blowing, before hand.” Soon after this letter, William wrote a second, longer one, explaining that settlement of the estate was being held up, in part, due to litigation over one of Roswell Smith’s textbooks. When Cady & Burgess parted company in the late 1850s – with Cady retiring and Burgess becoming insolvent – the firm had invested a large sum of money in procuring stereotype plates for Smith’s book. Smith found a new publisher in Philadelphia, Lippincott, who agreed to publish the book and reimburse Cady for the plates after publication. Lippincott and Smith had a falling out, and Smith sued Lippincott. By the time Isaac Cady died, Smith had obtained a judgment for $8,000, but the case was on appeal, and the administrator of Isaac’s estate, his cousin Schubael Cady, was unsure how to value the amount owed by Lippincott, and no one knew if any portion of the money would ever be collected. (Although Smith’s judgment was affirmed on appeal in 1871, there is no indication Lippincott ever paid up.)

Order appointing administrator of Isaac Cady’s estate (The $40,000 was just a preliminary estimate, and after a full inventory, the estate was valued at $50,000)

By the summer of 1868, both Lavinia and Maria were becoming very impatient with how long the estate proceeding was dragging on. Maria wrote to Lavinia:

I am sorry Mother does not get her money. Sometimes I fear she never will, but hope for the best. I can not feel satisfied that so much of that property should go out of the family. It might and ought to come to us; enough to make us all comfortable. You and I cannot always earn our living by the “sweat of our brow.”

Lavinia responded:

I feel as you do about Mother’s having her money…. I would like to have the estate settled as soon as possible, and have Mother’s share secured and invested. I am perfectly willing aunt Maria should have half the property…. But the other half ought to be divided … and now, before it is all dissipated in different ways. I am afraid it won’t amount to much by the time they get it if they ever do.

Maria must have expressed her disappointment to her parents because on July 2, 1868, William Goodell wrote a strong response:

I am sorry you are “getting into an excitement” about our affairs and prospects, especially in respect to our Providence affairs. I think there is no occasion for it, and that you have, to some extent, a mistaken view of the matter.

We cannot much blame the administrator for not closing up his accounts … so long as the claim on R.C. Smith is unsettled. He (Smith) is in a feeble state of body & mind, and his lawyer … is apparently dilatory in collecting the claim on Lippincott.

What we have to do is patiently to wait the course of Providential events in this matter. We can do nothing to coerce an early settlement of the Estate, if we wanted. And we ought not, if we could, to the injury of your Uncle Smith & Aunt Lois. As for your Mother & myself, do not be worried about us. We are in no present stress for the money. We can wait two years  longer, if need be, without it and not run in debt. If we do not live so long, we shall not need it, and our children will get it. So be quiet and contented about it, as we are. And thankful that the prospects for ourselves and our children are so much better than we had expected them to be.

Isaac Cady’s estate was finally settled in August of 1869 – with the result of the Smith/Lippincott lawsuit still up in the air. William Goodell wrote to Lavinia, “You will be glad to hear that our business at Providence has, at length, been satisfactorily settled, and that we are in possession of our share.” Clarissa Goodell and her three siblings each received $6295. The money enabled Lavinia’s parents to live comfortably for the remaining nine years of their lives and gave them the security to make the decision to move to Janesville, Wisconsin in 1870, with Lavinia following them a year later.

Sources consulted: Lavinia Goodell’s letter to Maria Frost (August 16, 1868); William Goodell’s letters to Lavinia Goodell (February 7, 1868; February 21, 1868; August 7, 1869); Clarissa Goodell’s letter to Josiah Cady (March 29, 1840); Clarissa  Goodell’s letter to Lavinia Goodell (February 8, 1868); Maria Goodell’s letter to Lavinia Goodell (July 23, 1868); William Goodell’s letter to Maria Frost (July 2, 1868); Smith v. Lippincott, 49 Barb. 398 (N.Y. Supreme Court 1867), aff’d, 3 Sickels 660 (N.Y. Court of Appeals 1871); Photo of Isaac H. Cady courtesy of Beverly Wright.

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