(CN) - The descendants of a former North Carolina governor can retrieve their ancestor's hundred-year-old artifacts from the state, an appeals court ruled.
Col. Charles Johnson loaned his collection to the North Carolina Historical Commission in 1910. It included documents from his ancestors, including U.S. Supreme Court Justice James Iredell Sr. and North Carolina Gov. James Iredell Jr.
Johnson and his wife died in the mid-1920s without specific instructions to recall the collection.
In 2008, descendant Harvey Johnson found letters written in 1910 between the colonel and the historical commission secretary in which both parties agree that the collection is a loan, not a gift.
Johnson stated his interest in the collection, but the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources refused to return it.
Johnson and his family sued the department and the North Carolina State Archives for a ruling that they were the rightful owners.
A Wake County ruled in favor of the Johnson family, leading the state to claim on appeal that the loan became a gift after the colonel's death.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals disagreed.
"(Col.) Johnson's interest in the collection, including his ability to recall the collection under the express terms of the bailment, was fully devisable to his heirs," Judge Ann Marie Calabria wrote for a three-member panel.
"The fact that the collection was never mentioned in either of the Johnsons' wills or their estate administration documents is immaterial," she added.
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