Maria Hebberd Bresee: A Minister’s Wife After Millions
Phineas and Maria Hebberd Bresee. Image credit: Paul Bresee Family Collection, featured in my GenealogyBank article, "More Hopkins Saga: Minister’s Wife Battles Edward Searles."
When Mary Frances Sherwood (Hopkins) Searles, aka “America’s richest widow” (widow of California railroad magnate Mark Hopkins), died on 25 July 1891, her will named her second husband Edward Francis Searles as sole heir.
Many family members contested the will as millions were at stake. One of the contestants, Maria Elma Hebbard Bresee, a cousin to the widow Hopkins created quite a scandal when her lawyer went up against Searle's legal team.
Newspaper headlines read “Minister’s Wife after Millions,” and noted that Maria’s claim provided intrigue for the public who could not get enough of the controversial case.
Maria’s complaint stated that the decedent [Mary Hopkins Searles] was not competent, and not free from duress, fraud, or undue influence. Therefore, the will was not valid and Searles, with the aid of others unknown to her, attempted to gain all rights to the estate. The “others” were noted to be spiritualists, mesmerists, and the like.
Read more on the saga: More Hopkins Saga: Minister’s Wife Battles Edward Searles
Maria's husband, Phineas Franklin Bresee, was the primary founder of the Church of the Nazarene, and founding president of Point Loma Nazarene University.