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This tattered document played a major role in one of the most famous court cases in United States history: the case of Myra Clark Gaines, fought through local, state and federal courts for nearly sixty years, all told. The litigation arose from Mrs. Gaines' claim that she was the legitimate daughter of Daniel Clark, businessman, landowner, U.S. Consul in New Orleans during the last years of Spanish rule, and the Territory of Orleans' first delegate to Congress. If she won her case, Mrs. Gaines would inherited enormous wealth and property property constituting, in fact, a large portion of what is today New Orleans' Central Business District.

The will shown here was written in 1811, two years before Clark's death. But Gaines claimed that Daniel Clark had written a second will shortly before he died in 1813, naming her as his only legitimate child. This all-important second will, she argued, had been destroyed by Clark's business associates to protect their own interest. It was the 1811 will shown here, however, that was admitted to probate in New Orleans, setting off an impossibly complicated legal proceeding that ended, ultimately, with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Gaines' favor (after the court changed its mind several times). But by the time of the Court's final ruling in 1891, attorney's fees and other debts had eaten drastically into Clark's estate, and Mrs. Gaines' heirs (for Myra Clark Gaines herself died before the suit was finally settled) got very little.
     [Court of Probates. Olographic Wills, 1813]