Special in the Washington Post

May 11, 1907

Seek Great Estate

Two women fighting for dead New Yorker’s millions

Vanished in Tweeds Day

Intrigue, tragedy and fraud involved in charge is made

Abraham Bassford’s grandchildren hunting for property which they allege was confiscated and the legally transferred from hapless errors–amazing case nearly ready for presentation. Many of the principals dead.

New York, March 10–interspersed with romance, intrigue, and tragedy, there is soon to be told in the courts of New York the most interesting story of the hunt for a dead man’s millions. The dead man was Abraham Bassford, a wealthy piano manufacturer, who died in this city in 1864.

Those who have led the persistent search for his scattered estate are two grandchildren, Estelle Clayton Evesson, a well-known dramatist, and her sister Isabel Evesson. The estate they are seeking to recover comprising lands in nearly every section of New York City, but is chiefly located in the Bronx and covers many acres of the most valuable property in that section.

With a capital of $100,000, a Corporation has been formed to carry on the work begun by the two sisters, and by experts it is asserted that if the errors regain anything approaching the holdings of Abraham Bassford at the time of his death, it will be one of the largest estates in this country. Even now it is said title has practically been established to many millions of dollars’ worth of property north of the Harlem River.

By Agent Titles

Claims to valuable lands in New York City based on ancient titles are by no means unusual, but this particular case of the Abraham Bassford heirs is viewed with much seriousness by many important interests. Because nearly all the facts and records come within the last half-century, and may be supported by indisputable proof, in many respects the contest is bound to become extremely important to many persons in New York City.

First, if the many original titles of Abraham Bassford are established, a very large number of individual owners, besides some of the title guarantee companies, may be affected. Even the present maps and records of the city will be disturbed and may have to be revised. And back of the whole matter comes a story of alleged confiscation and fraud of the Tweed regime. Through which the estate was craftily taken from its rightful inheritors. Many of the men who were said to have been interested in the transaction are dead. A few of them became exiles following this exposure of the Tweed administration, but some are still living, and well, it is expected, be called on to give valuable information concerning some of the things that happened after Abraham Bassford’s death.

Sold for Taxes

Large tracts of the farms owned by Abraham Bassford in the Bronx have since been sold for taxes, and at the last annual tax sale in the Bronx, December 26, 1906, Florine A Evesson, the only surviving child of Bassford, brought in 37 parcels of these lands and a half interest in the property has been turned over to the Corporation recently formed for carrying on the work of reclamation. This step it is expected will form a basis upon which to carry on the contest for other tracts. It is stated that at least 40 acres of the most valuable part of the Bronx be shown to have been parts of the original Abraham Bassford farms, and to which title may be acquired. In addition to this are many other tracks the title to which will be contested.

Like Tale of Fiction

Abraham Bassford’s life and the singular heritage of vicissitude that followed him would be supremely more fitting in a tale of fiction than in a cold narration of facts. He was born in England of an aristocratic family in 1786, came to this country when a boy, had amassed a large fortune in the manufacture of pianos and billiard tables at the age of 49, retired from business at that time, and died in August, 1864, at the age of 79, supposed to be one of the wealthiest men in the city. His wife was Abby Kathryn Kipp, member of one of the old Knickerbocker families, and in her youth one of the distinguished society beauties of the city. His family consisted of five sons and two daughters, the only one now surviving being Florine A Evesson, an aged woman, and the mother of Estelle and Isabel Evesson, who for more than two years have been devoting a large part of their time to digging up the old records of their grandfathers estate.

Friend of Vanderbilt

 In his early business life Abraham Bassford and Commodore Vanderbilt were neighbors on Staten Island, and through life they had any interests in common. Some years before his retirement the older Bassford began purchasing farms in the Bronx, then known as Westchester County, and the old deeds show that a considerable portion of the land obtained for the Harlem and Hudson River Railroad was purchased by the elder Vanderbilt from his neighbor, Bassford. His investment in lands, particularly in the Bronx, continued on a large scale for many years. It was known generally that he was one of the wealthiest and at the same time one of the most conservative investors in the city. It is also known to his family a few weeks before his death that his state was unencumbered and that his only outstanding obligations are a few relatively small accounts among various tradesmen. He was known as a large lender of money on real estate, and held many mortgages. In August 1864, he died very unexpectedly of apoplexy.

Prominent in Tweed Ring

All his affairs were left in the hands of certain lawyers, then prominent in the Tweed administration, and as they had been for many years thoroughly conversant with the business of his estate everything concerning its adjustment was left in their hands. Several months after the death of Mr. Bassford, Mrs. Bassford received a visit from one of the lawyers and was really surprised to learn from him that after weeks of diligent search, he had been unable to find a will. This lawyer then informed Mrs. Bassford that, in the absence of the will, the wisest course would be to institute a friendly “suit in partition,” and that the procedure with the reluctance on the part of the heirs was agreed upon. As a guardian of the minor heirs, the court-appointed Richard P Connelly and Frederick Coe. Mr. Connelly, the city controller under Boss Tweed and was familiarly known as “Slippery Dick.” As a result of the Tweed exposure he went to France and finally died there. The referees appointed by the court were Daniel P Abraham and Philo T Ruggles.

Eleven Years of Waiting

Then followed 11 years of dreary dickerings and delays witch the inexperienced Mrs. Baffert and her children could not understand. By degrees, the funds in bank began to dwindle, and they cannot understand that, as a matter of fact, there were five of these partition suits. At last, in 1878, eleven years after the first friendly suit and partition was started, the commissioners announced that their work was finished, and that report filing 400 pages was submitted. The Bassford’s could make very little out of the report except the one fact that was impressed upon them—their state had somehow dwindled to a mere nothing, and that the little left was heavily encumbered with mortgages and unpaid taxes. Somehow, farms had disappeared as if by evaporation, and where they had supposed they had large tracts, only odd corners of undesirable land remain, and these were heavily encumbered. Other lawyers were retained, but, oddly enough, their interest in the case always soon flagged, and then reported that recovery the land would involve great expense and years of litigation. Among the transactions the Abraham Bassford heirs never could understand, of which the present investigation now reveals, is the fact that the commissioners and the partition turned over large tracts of the Abraham Bassford lands to an alien branch of the family into which branch one of the principal attorneys had married.

Suspicions Aroused

It is not likely, however, the Bassford heirs would ever have realized the true condition of affairs had it not been for the activity of a veteran real estate dealer in the Bronx, who called on Mrs. Evesson for the purpose of obtaining her quitclaim deeds for the purpose, as he represented, of straightening out certain technicalities of title. Mrs. Evesson, with the usual Bassford placidity, signed these documents without question. On one occasion she was told that only a few inches of land were involved in the matter, and that the interest of the estate in the transaction was really infinitesimal. It was when the third request for a quitclaim deed was made that Miss Estelle Evesson refused to allow her aged mother to subscribe to any more mysterious documents and thus began the tedious investigation which now seems certain to reveal many interesting things. It was not until after the search had been continued for more than a year that the women discovered to what extent the Bassford estate had figured in the tax sale since Tweed’s time. Among the records they have one book of several hundred pages nearly filled with copies of these transactions, showing where hundreds of parcels were sold and reclaimed and sold again.

Names of scores of men who figured prominently in the political life of New York appear as purchasers of large blocks of the Abraham Bassford lands. The sales are recorded as leases for 1000 years, and in many instances, lands so purchased were quickly turned over for enormous profits. These records indicate that many city officials and not a few corporations in the days more or less remote have been very extensively interested in these negotiations. There is a considerable amount of this property still held in the name of the city, and it was a part of this that was bid in by the heirs last December. It is stated that some of these parcels on which only five dollars is paid at the tax sale are worth from $10,000-$20,000. It was not long after the investigation began before several leading lawyers of New York offered their services and carrying the work to completion, and now a core of experts is engaged on the old records for the purpose of getting the necessary proof to be used in the final contest.