Paynes v. Coles

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First page of the opinion Paynes v. Coles, in Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia, by William Munford. New York: I. Riley, 1812.

Paynes v. Coles, 15 Va. (1 Munf.) 374 (1810),[1] a complex case regarding promises put forth in a marriage agreement and their applicability to the decedent’s children born after his death.


On March 1, 1796, John and Mary Payne, who were minors represented by their mother, Mary Coles (Darracott), and next friend, sued Walter Coles, the nephew of Mary’s late husband and various others. Walter Coles, in want of a wife, began to pursue Mary Darracott. On September 4, 1768, Walter’s father, Williams Coles, sent a letter to Mary’s mother blessing the relationship and stating the various gifts he planned to give his son (mostly as incentive to entice Mary into marriage.) In his letter, Williams stated he intended to immediately give his son stating that he and his wife were £3,000 in land, slaves, and other things. He also stated that upon his and his wife’s death, he would leave his son his current land, more slaves, and some property in Ireland. In a separate encounter, Williams Coles still hoping to entice Mary on his son’s behalf, spoke to Mary’s brother, William, Darracott. On this occasion, Williams told Mary’s brother that once the couple were married, he would gift his son his plantation in Goochland County, 16 or 18 slaves, 70 or 80 cattle and much more upon his death. After putting forth these statements, Walter Coles and Mary Darracott married. However, none of the promises within these marriage agreements were executed. Walter Coles died some time in 1769. Walter’s will left slaves, horses, and “the property which he had with her as a marriage portion” to Mary, but the bulk of the estate was a bequeathed to Walter’s parents. Being that Walter had no children at the time of his death, Mary was told that the rights of her children with Walter were passed to Walter’s mother and father in joint tenancy. In 1781, Williams Coles died without a will leaving his estate to his wife Lucy Coles. In 1784, Lucy died, seemingly ending the marriage agreement. The complaint prayed that the court would take an account of Williams and Lucy Coles estate and give John and Mary Payne their inheritance as stated in the marriage agreement and statements offered by their grandfather.

The Court's Decision

The case was first hear in the Hanover County Court. Although various depositions were taken, there was no record of the Court’s decision and the suit was dismissed by the Plaintiffs. On October 4, 1803, the case was removed to the High Court of Chancery where Chancellor Wythe decided to dismiss the case. On a separate occasion Walter Coles sued Mary Coles (Darracott) in Hanover County Court to set aside Lucy Coles’ will. The High Court of Chancery also heard that case and dismissed it on October 4, 1803. Walter Coles did not appeal his case, but the Payne children, through the representation of their mother, did. The Court of Appeals affirmed Wythe’s decision 2 to 1.

See also


  1. William Munford, Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia,(New York: I. Riley, 1812), 1:374.