Most Americans are probably not familiar with the name James Iredell. That was not always the case. Iredell, despite being an employee of the British government, was an early advocate for the American Revolution and ratification of the Constitution. He was appointed by President Washington as one of the first justices of the new United States Supreme Court. Iredell passed away and left behind personal documents of great historical value.
Eventually, those documents ended up in the possession of Charles E. Johnson, a wealthy businessman and descendent of Iredell’s. Johnson gave the documents to the North Carolina Historical Commission. However, he reserved the right to ask for the documents back at any time. When Johnson passed away in 1923, he failed to mention the documents in his Will. That turned out to be a mistake that has finally been resolved nearly a century later.
Johnson’s heirs only learned about the right to request the return of the documents a few years ago. When they asked for them back, they were refused. The Historical Commission claimed the right died with Johnson. The North Carolina Court of Appeals has recently decided that the documents belong to Johnson’s heirs and have ordered their return.
It took a long time because of an estate planning mistake, but James Iredell’s important papers are going back to his family.