Anderson’s Will and Estate

By Ray Lewis White

Saturday, July 17, 1937, was not an especially adventurous day for Sherwood Anderson, judging from the evidence that survives in his diaries and in his published letters. The writer had been centering his life around another summer at Ripshin, his house and small farm in mountainous and wooded Grayson County, Virginia, a locale where he enjoyed working on the always reparable stone house surrounded by small areas cleared for flower beds and for a croquet lawn and by small fields plowed to cultivate hay, grain, and vegetables.

Anderson, usually content during summers at Ripshin but an inveterate traveler, in his diary for July 17, 1937, wrote of preparations for yet another long drive from Southwest Virginia to Chicago, this time on the way to a writers’ conference at the University of Colorado, and of routine farm and family matters: “Preparing for trip, cleaning and packing. This was the day for bottling off the wine and I got 200 bottles. We had a big family picnic at the lake and I drove home in the truck. . .” (116). But this seemingly ordinary July 17 was to become significant because of one special action that the sixty-year-old took when on that day he concluded a matter of business that he would have been planning since his marriage at age fifty-six to Eleanor Copenhaver. While in Marion, Anderson signed his last will and testament. Then, secure in knowing that he had provided financially for Eleanor as well as he could, Anderson on July 19, 1937, left Marion to face his drive to Chicago, his train trip to Colorado, and the remainder of his life, a life of much writing and travel which ended unexpectedly, at age sixty-four, with death from peritonitis in a hospital in Colon, the Panama Canal Zone, on March 8, 1941.

Eleanor Copenhaver, never married at thirty-seven, on July 5, 1933, wed the thrice-divorced Sherwood Anderson. Then, at age forty-four Eleanor early in 1941 became suddenly widowed while sharing with her husband what would have been the most exotic adventure of his life (or of their lives together)–three months of travel to South America, mainly to Chile, to demonstrate international good-will and to enjoy and learn from social and political life there. Beside her husband at his death in Panama, Eleanor Anderson arranged for the body to be shipped to the Port of New York, where it arrived on March 24, with funeral services scheduled in Marion, Virginia, for the morning of Wednesday, March 26, and with burial arranged for later that same day in Round Hill Cemetery in Marion. Then, on March 27, the day following the services and burial, Eleanor Anderson and Sherwood’s son John (one of three children, Anderson’s only children, all from his first marriage) traveled to the courthouse in Independence, Virginia, seat of government for Grayson County, location of Ripshin, Sherwood’s legal residence, to present for probate the will that the writer had signed over three years earlier in Marion, in Smyth County:

Will of Sherwood Anderson

    I, Sherwood Anderson, of Grayson County, Virginia, being of sound and disposing mind and memory, do make, publish and declare this to be my last will and testament and do hereby revoke all other wills by me at any time heretofore made.

  • ARTICLE ONE After the payment of my just debts, funeral expenses and costs of administration, I give, devise and bequeath all my property, real and personal, wheresoever situated and howsoever held to my beloved wife, ELEANOR COPENHAVER ANDERSON to be hers in fee simple and absolutely.
  • ARTICLE TWO Before my marriage, I made certain gifts of value to my three children, Robert, John and Marion.
  • ARTICLE THREE I suggest to my wife, Eleanor, to distribute my library and my works of art among my three children, above mentioned, however, this suggestion is made subject to the wish of my said wife, and in no way restricts or limits her absolute estate in and to my said library and works of art.
  • ARTICLE FOUR I desire that the decision as to the publication of all my unpublished manuscripts and letters be left entirely to the discretion of my said wife.
  • ARTICLE FIVE I hereby nominate and appoint my wife, Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson, and my daughter, Mrs. Russell Anderson Spear, as executors of this my last will and testament, and I request that they be allowed to qualify as such without being required to give security. In witness thereof, I have hereunto set my hand and seal this 17th day of July, 1937. (Signed): “Sherwood Anderson”

Signed, sealed, published and declared by Sherwood Anderson, the abovementioned testator, as and for his last will and testament in the presence of us, three competent witnesses, who thereupon at his request and in his presence and in the presence of each other affixed our signatures hereto as witnesses the 17th day of July, 1937. “W. F. Wright” ” J. R. Collins” “Dan M. Buchanan”

At the Grayson County courthouse the clerk of circuit court, Joe Parsons, found Sherwood Anderson’s will as presented by his widow and by his son to be legally drawn but containing one problematic change since its drafting and signing in 1937: at some time after the initial signing Anderson had on his own revised the document by adding a handwritten statement:

For the name of my daughter Mrs. Russell Anderson Spear, I wish to substitute, as executor, with Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson, the name of my son, John Sherwood Anderson. (Signed): “Sherwood Anderson”

The attachment validated by W. F. Wright and Iona P. Kirby –“two disinterested witnesses, who stated on oath that they are well acquainted with the handwriting of the said Sherwood Anderson, deceased, and that the whole of said codicil, including the signature, is in the handwriting of the said Sherwood Anderson” — the will was entered for probate on the same day that Eleanor and John Anderson as executors presented it, each being bonded for $10,000. Eleanor and John then presented to the clerk information on the heirs designated by Sherwood:

  • Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson, 44, widow, Marion, Virginia
  • Robert Lane Anderson, 33, son, Marion, Virginia
  • John Sherwood Anderson, 32, son, Appalachicola, Florida
  • Marion Anderson Spear, 29, daughter, Madison, North Carolina

Legal practice in the Commonwealth of Virginia requiring that at least three of five designated citizens of a county examine the real estate and property holdings of a deceased individual and render to the circuit court their estimate of the fair value of that land and those possessions, W. F. Wright, Arlie Stamper, F. J. Paisley, Carl Phipps, and S. G. Thomas were named by the clerk of court to act as appraisers. Acquainted with the deceased and sympathetic to Anderson’s survivors, appraisers Wright, Stamper, and Pasley in their report of March 29, 1941, valued Anderson’s Smyth County assets quite modestly in order to minimize the pain of inheritance taxes payable by the bereaved:

Inventory and /Appraisement of the Estate of Sherwood Anderson, deceased.

  • Real Estate Known as Ripshin, 1 1/2 miles East of Troutdale, Grayson County, Virginia $3,000.
  • Two cows, one 3-year-old heifer, four yearlings and two calves $200.
  • One-half interest in wagon, mowing machine and rake $50.
  • House-hold goods $550.
  • Books $100.
  • One 1940 Dodge Sedan (Automobile) $600.
  • One 1940 Dodge Pick-up Truck $500.
  • Cash, Bank of Marion Checking Account $1,440; Savings Account $800; Traveler’s Checks $1,500.
  • Total $8,740.

Eleanor Anderson agreeing to the terms of inventory of her husband’s property at his death, Robert L. Kirby, Commissioner of Accounts for Grayson County, on April 7, 1941, inspected and approved the appraisal. Then it became the responsibility of Eleanor the widow, as executrix, aided by Sherwood’s son John, to collect all debts payable to the estate of the deceased, to pay from the estate all just debts, and to report to the court in timely fashion (one year being commonly acceptable) the balanced assets and debts of the estate. However, for whatever reasons, Eleanor Anderson and John Anderson were late in bringing to the Grayson County courthouse their proposed settlement of Sherwood’s estate: Mrs. Eleanor C. Anderson, and John S. Anderson, Executrix and Executor of the estate of Sherwood Anderson

In Account with His Estate 1941

  • Mar. 3 To cash received from New York sale of “Nice Girl” $59.75.
  • Mar. 26 To cash in Bank of Marion $2,240.00.
  • Mar. 26 To travelers’ checks $1,500.00.
  • Mar. 27 To cash from F. S. Crofts for sale of prose pieces $50.00.
  • May 14 To cash received from Houghton Mifflin Co. for prose manual $25.00.
  • May 22 To cash received from Alliance Corp. for royalties $ 208.84
  • June 13 To case received from Yale Review for sale of “For What” $31.50.
  • Aug. 8 To amount received from Story Magazine , royalties $25.00.
  • Sept. 28 To amount received from U.S. Treasury for pension $35.00.
  • Sept. 30 To amount received from Dodd Mead Co. for royalties $ 29.58.

In Account with His Estate 1942

  • Jan. 16 To amount received from U.S. Treasury for refund on farm $22.93.
  • Feb. 16 To amount received from Alliance Corp. for royalties $65.40.
  • Feb. 16 To amount received from New York, royalties $170.60.
  • Feb. 18 To amount received from Encore Magazine, royalties $25.00.
  • Mar. 31 To amount received from Free Company $28.21.
  • May 16 To amount received from Scott Foresman, royalties $22.50.
  • May 21 To amount received from Oxford Press, royalties $25.00.
  • May 29 To amount received from Princeton Press, royalties $34.17.
  • Total $7423.76.

Dispersements 1941

  • Mar. 8 By amount paid Gorges Hospital, Panama Canal Zone. $173.00.
  • Mar. 8 By amount paid Colon Hospital, for casket and embalming $164.33.
  • Mar. 27 By amount paid Joe W. Parsons, Clerk of Court for probating will $16.90.
  • Apr. 3 By amount paid Port of New York for clearing $83.70.
  • Apr. 3 By amount paid Grayson-Carroll Insurance for premium on fire policy $6.00.
  • Apr. 3 By amount paid Joe Wolfe for work $18.00.
  • Apr. 4 By amount paid Alliance Book Corp. for account $9.17.
  • Apr. 4 By amount paid Giles and Miles for insurance $15.00.
  • Apr. 5 By amount paid Service Cleaners for account $9.05.
  • Apr. 7 By amount paid Joe W. Parsons, Clerk, for copy of letters of administration $2.00.
  • Apr. 7 By amount paid Rosemont workers for stamps $4.00.
  • Apr. 10 By amount paid Scribners for account $4.23.
  • Apr. 10 By amount paid Marion Hardware Co. for account $3.92.
  • Apr. 10 By amount paid John Wanamaker for account $11.97.
  • Apr. 10 By amount paid Montauk for account $6.00.
  • Apr. 12 By amount paid Seavers & Son for funeral expenses $65.00.
  • Apr. 24 By amount paid Paul Rosenfeld for account $10.00.
  • May 8 By amount paid Canle Co. for messages and arrangements and cash $25.00.
  • May 8 By amount paid Holston Motor Co. for account $33.45.
  • May 10 By amount paid Marion Laundry Co. for account $2.76.
  • May 14 By amount paid James Feibleman for account $2.50.
  • May 18 By amount paid Forum Magazine for account $3.00.
  • June 2 By amount paid Constance Frauenglass $8.50.
  • June 4 By amount paid Centaur Press for account $2.00.
  • June 4 By amount paid John Sullivan, caretaker $229.00.
  • June 11 By amount paid Town of Marion for burial permit $10.00.
  • July 2 By amount paid Remington Rand for safe file $140.35.
  • July 7 By amount paid Virginia S. Ransom for stenographic work $5.00.
  • Aug. 12 By amount paid Rosemont Works $19.35.
  • Aug. 15 By amount paid American Historical Association for account $100.00.
  • Aug. 25 By amount paid Bays M. Todd, Treas., Grayson Co., for taxes $44.96.
  • Aug. 25 By amount paid Treasurer of Virginia for inheritance tax $3.78.
  • Aug. 25 By amount paid Joe W. Parsons, Clerk, for recording appraisement and this settlement $4.50.
  • Aug. 25 By amount paid Robt. L. Kirby, Commissioner, for making settlement, posting notice and noting same on fiduciary record $20.00.
  • Aug. 25 By amount paid John S. Anderson, 2 1/2 percent for his part of commissions $185.59.
  • Aug. 25 By cash to balance retained by Mrs. Anderson according to provisions of decedent’s will $4,150.92.

Dispersements 1942

  • May 27 By amount paid Troutdale Produce Co. for account $16.88.
  • May 28 By amount paid Abraham’s Book Store for copying $1.00.
  • Oct. 6 By amount paid E. Groseclose for account $16.02.
  • Oct. 6 By amount paid Mrs. Eleanor Anderson for monument $1,500.00.
  • Nov. 3 By amount paid American Historical Association for account $250.00.
  • Nov. 21 By amount paid Marion Publishing Co. for paper $7.25.
  • Total $7423.76.

Robert L. Kirby, commissioner in chancery, noting for Judge John S. Draper of Grayson County Circuit Court that this settlement proposed by Eleanor and John Anderson was delivered on August 25, 1942, and thus was late, nevertheless declared that “the foregoing account of their transactions showing that they have fully paid out all of the funds that come into their hands and there being no other funds to come into their hands this is a final settlement.” No matter how late Eleanor and John Anderson might have been with their work on behalf of Sherwood Anderson’s estate, Judge Draper himself delayed official acceptance of the settlement until March 22, 1943; then, when Joe W. Parsons, clerk of court, admitted the accepted settlement to permanent record, the will of Sherwood Anderson was effected and his estate was settled.


  • 1. The Sherwood Anderson Diaries 1936-1941, edited by Hilbert H. Campbell (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987), p.116.
  • 2. For a discussion of Anderson’s sudden final illness, see Frieda Kirchwey, “Sherwood Anderson,” Nation 153 (22 March 1941): 313-14. The autopsy and cause of death are described in B. H. Kean (with Tracy Dahlby), M.D. (New York: Ballantine, 1990), pp. 91-97. The funeral services and burial are chronicled in Ray Lewis White, “‘As His Home Town Knew Him’: Sherwood Anderson’s Last Trip Home,” MidAmerica XIV (1987): 74-88.
  • 3. Anderson’s undated codicil replacing his daughter Marion with his son John probably resulted from concern that the daughter, with children to rear and a newspaper to publish in North Carolina, would be less able than the son, an artist, to travel to Marion and remain there long enough to work with Eleanor in probating the will and settling the estate.
  • 4. However valued (or undervalued) at appraisal were the Grayson County, Virginia, holdings of Sherwood Anderson (especially his books and works of art), the writer’s truly important legacy to his wife rested in rights to his unpublished works and ownership of copyright to many of his books. Eleanor Anderson was fortunate that on the day before the couple sailed toward Panama, Sherwood had, with borrowed money, acquired copyright to many of his early books (see the Diaries, 348).


For copies of the legal documents involved in settling Anderson’s estate, I am grateful to Charles T. Sturgill, Clerk of the Circuit Court, Grayson County, Virginia. In this article, I have regularized for clarity some disparate spelling and punctuation in all of the documents except the will and its codicil. Further, because debts payable and receivable were not recorded in chronological order, I have applied such order for this presentation. Finally, addition of tabulated amounts is not guaranteed for accuracy but is merely copied from court records.