Thursday, April 18, 2013

House Heirs Association: Part I, The Basics of the Case

This is a case that has some real juicy bits: land swindles, embezzlement, fraud, malfeasance, and a whole lot more including a group that tried to do legal battle with the US Government. It starts almost 200 years ago and even today some riddles still are not solved! But let's begin at the beginning, and I'll tell you how it all started, at least as I see it.

One day not too long ago Mom said to me, very casually, "Oh, those are the papers from the House Heirs Association meeting held about 1900 or so." And I nearly flipped my wig. What?!! What's the House Heirs Association, I bleated over the phone?! Poor Mom. I've always been the kid asking all the questions.

In a nutshell, the descendants of one Andrew V. House believed that he and his son, John Valentine House, had been swindled out of payment from the US Government for a 99 year land lease on an immense tract of land they owned reported to be as large as 64,000 acres. At the end of the lease the government and people living on that land in about 1884 or 85, located roughly in Frederick County, Maryland, all forgot that the House family were the rightful owners.

Around 1887 a bunch of descendants of those two House men got together, thinking, "It ain't right", and decided to sue the government. (Good luck with that.) They called themselves the House Heirs Association. At the first there were about 30 or so individuals who claimed to be House Heirs and chipped in to pay for the services of a lawyer. By 1900 there were 300 to 400 individuals involved, and from all reports, even more money for more lawyers.

The really cool thing for researchers is that in order to make claim to being a House Heir people had to provide their ancestral history tracing back to John V. House as well as report on all that they knew about the land lease. You can still find some of the correspondences online on a RootsWeb message board listed as House Heirs Association meeting Williamstown, KY, Jan 9th, 1899. The author of the bulk of these post is Leonard Granger who began the lengthy and laborious task of transcribing the minutes of the meetings as well as the letters and posting them to the RootsWeb board. He started posting on 25 March, 2002 and got most of it posted by 19 May of that year. Looks like he went back and updated and edited the posts around 17 November of 2003. I sent him a message through messages system and hope to hear back... please let me hear back. I thanked him for transcribing and posting all he did, without which we'd surely be losing another piece of our shared history. Bless him.

I also stumbled over a RootsWeb orphan page about the House Heirs Association that looked promising but goes no where. No name or contact info is available and I can't tell when it was set up so that's a dead end. One more dead end is the link on the House Heirs message board about a GeoCities web page on this topic. That page is long gone.

My thought is to post here for a while and see if anyone else is interested in this aspect of the history of our House ancestors. If this topic interests you or you are a House descendant, please email me at . And let me be clear: I have no intention of reviving that suit! Makes me laugh to think about it:) Mom has some papers that are relevant and Cousin Karen does too, so maybe we can share what's known with our House cousins thereby keeping this story alive and moving it down the road a bit. Imagine: 400 of them intended to sue the US Government... for $300 billion dollars!

The best short overview available online comes from that old and now orphaned and archived RootsWeb page mentioned above, with no date or name attributed. As you can see, for a very long time these descendants hoped to get payment from the government. They were from "the middle walk of life" and saw this as a way to improve their lives and provide a better life for their families. Here's the text:

Welcome to a website I created to provided information on the House Heirs Association of years 1889 to 1923. The House Heirs at that time felt a real injustice had occurred on their ancestors, Andrew V House and his son John Valentine House, when the United States Government failed to make payment on a 99 year lease for a large estate located in State of Maryland. The organization held several meetings around the eastern and mid-west states, appointed several investigation committees and asked all House Heirs to submit their family ancestry lists, if they felt they were related to John Valentine House. Many House families of the time submitted letters, some up to six pages in length, when making their claim. The letters will be listed as found in the files, and I hope no one is upset if a House relative talks about their family. They all meant good and saw a real opportunity to have a better life, as most had experienced a difficult time around the turn of the century.

I have no idea who the "I" is in the first line and would love to know, as well as when he or she created it. Too bad it all got lost to the vagaries of time on the internet.

Just the facts
Here's a short list in no particular order of the facts gleaned from the copious material Leonard Granger posted to the House Heirs Association message board on RootsWeb. Without his posts, there would be close to nothing on the web about the House Heirs Association.

Timeline (short) of the House Heirs Association (HHA):
1896: A few (estimated at 30 people) House Heirs "instituted proceedings" against the government.
Jan 9, 1899: First meeting in Williamstown KY. About 300 to 400 in attendance.
1900: Meeting of HHA in Chicago
1901: Meeting of the HHA in Kokoma Indiana
1902: Meeitng of HHA in Ohio (?)
1923: HHA, one family accused of embezzling money collected to fund the suit. HHA disbanded.

About the land:
64,000 acres
Value in 1785 was about $6 billion.
Origins of House ownership: 1715, attributed to inheritance from a member of the English Royal Family.

Began in 1785 just about the time iron mines discovered on the property.
Lease length: 99 years
Terms: 14 cents per acre per year
Lease would have expired in 1884.
Terms at end of lease: ownership to revert to House heirs.

There's more, way more! Next time let's have some fun and follow the money:)

My 2nd great grandfather, Samuel Albert House (1832 - 1917).
Wonder how much he knew about the House Heirs Association?

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