The pony homesteads
Tucked away in the records of Elbert County, Georgia, are some of the neatest genealogical records imaginable.
In them, you can find that, in January 1874, Garnett Adams was the head of a family consisting of himself, a wife, and two minor children, and that he had 22 acres of land worth $110, one horse worth $80, a cow and calf worth $13, seven hogs worth $10.50, some corn and pork on hand, two beds with bedsteads and bedding, farming tools, ordinary cooking utensils and table crockery, wearing apparel and a family Bible he valued at exactly thirty cents.1
Or you can find that, in November 1882, L. A. Beasly was 30 years old, married to Letty, aged 30, with children Walton, 12, James, 10, Asbury, 8, Ella May, 5, Tissa, 3, and Yancy, six months of age. He claimed 50 acres of land, and five more acres for each child, one horse or mule, one cow and calf, 10 hogs, provisions, beds and bedding, a loom and spinning wheel and sewing machine, common tools, wearing apparel, a family Bible and family portraits, and school books for the children.2
Or you can find that, in March of 1879, Adam Daniel was 40 years old, his wife Becca was 35, and they had six minor children under the age of 16: Green was 15; Ben, 13; William, 11; Jennie, 9; Ella, 6; and the baby, Massa, was 11 months old. Daniel claimed a sorrel horse, a cow and calf, four hogs, $75 in provisions, two beds with bedding, a single barrel shotgun, wearing apparel, and ordinary household furnishings.3
What a window into the lives or ordinary every-day families of Elbert County!
So… what the heck are these records anyway, and where can you find them?
This particular set of records, from Elbert County — a county along the northeast Georgia coast — happens to be available online. The Legal Genealogist was doing the usual poke-around-in-the-records bit last night and came across them at FamilySearch.org.
And they tickled my fancy because of the title: the pony homesteads.
Now we all have a pretty good idea what a homestead is — at least when we’re talking about the federal Homestead Act of 1862 and the right of individuals to claim and settle on tracts of federal land.
But what’s a pony homestead?
It turns out that things are a bit different in Georgia:
The homestead laws of the State differ materially from those of most States, the exemption being … somewhat of the nature of a trust estate in charge of the court for the benefit of dependents… The aggregate value of the homestead is $1,600 and the ordinaries4 of the several counties have general and exclusive jurisdiction in setting it apart. The following persons are entitled to an exemption: Heads of families, guardians, trustees of families of minor children, aged and infirm persons, or persons having the care and support of dependent females of any age who are not heads of families. The right to the homestead may be waived except as to wearing apparel and three hundred dollars’ worth of household and kitchen furniture, and it is the custom to embrace such a waiver in all promissory notes. In lieu of the $1,600 homestead, what is known as the “pony homestead,” setting apart certain specific articles, may be taken. Should the husband refuse to apply for the exemption, it may be set apart out of his property on the petition of the wife or her next friend.5
Stated a bit more plainly, there were statutes and even constitutional provisions in Georgia that set aside certain property that a creditor couldn’t get to if the debtor ran into financial trouble. The debtor could give away — waive — the protections of most of the statutes and even the constitutional homestead — but not this particular smaller protection, covering up to $300 in household and kitchen furniture and provisions.6 The provision, and all of the homestead laws, were “enacted to prevent families from being thrown out of house and home, and thus keep them from becoming charges upon the public.”7
But to get the benefit of this and all the homestead exemptions, the debtor — the head of the household or other person claiming the protections of the law — had to file a schedule of property with the ordinary, the predecessor to today’s probate court. And it’s those schedules that you’ll find in this record set.
The statutory protections began as far back as the laws of 1822 and, at various times, included land, one farm horse or mule, one cow and calf, up to 10 hogs, household furniture, the arms and equipment needed by a militiaman, cooking utensils, wearing apparel, the family Bible, religious works and schoolbooks, family portraits, the library of a professional man, and a family sewing machine.8 Only up to $300 worth of household items was considered the pony homestead, totally exempt even from waiver, but the filings covered all of the exempt property.
Lots of these records still exist today, though only the Elbert County records are readily available online. The Family History Library catalog turns up 47 results when you search with the keywords “pony homestead.”
And, by the way, the law still exists, in largely unchanged form, even today. Chapter 13 of Title 44 of the Georgia Code sets out the exemption from levy for modern property — and it follows pretty much the same pattern, requiring pretty much the same records. 9
Genealogists of the future will be delighted…
- Elbert County, Georgia, Probate Court, affidavit of Garnett Adams, 19 January 1874; Probate Court, Elberton; digital images, Georgia, Elbert County Records, “Pony homestead exemptions box 20, A-G 1790-1900,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 29 Apr 2015). ↩
- Ibid., affidavit of L. A. Beasly, 22 November 1882. ↩
- Ibid., affidavit of Adam Daniel, 10 March 1879. ↩
- Formerly the officer charged with handling probates, now the probate court. ↩
- Department of Agriculture, Georgia: Her Resources and Possibilities (Atlanta: Franklin Printing & Publ., 1895), 10-11; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 29 Apr 2015). ↩
- Preliminary Inventory WP-01, Georgia Department Of Archives and History, Atlanta (http://georgiaarchives.org/ : accessed 29 Apr 2015). ↩
- Mathis v. Western Union Tel. Co., 94 Ga. 338, 346 (1894). ↩
- See §3416 in Park’s Annotating Code of the State of Georgia, 1914 (Atlanta: Harrison Co., 1915), II: 1817-1819; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 29 Apr 2015). ↩
- See Chapter 13, Title 44, 2010 Georgia Code, Justia US Law (http://law.justia.com : accessed 29 Apr 2015). ↩