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Monday, July 27, 2015

An Inventory of Possessions from 1818

I spend a lot of time looking at records of other people’s family members, but today I have one from my own.  My great-great-great-great-grandfather, an immigrant from England who fought on the American side in the Revolutionary War, went to court in 1818 to swear an oath so that he could obtain a veteran’s pension.  He gave a record of his possessions:

A lot of land containing 144 poles (less than an acre, which was 160 poles)

One cow

Two kettles

Two ovens

Two chairs

Three cups and saucers

Half dozen knives and forks

One chest

One loom.

Clearly, Mr. Darcy of the American frontier he was not!

A silk weaver in Spitalfields, London (Wellcome Trust)
My great-x4-grandfather had been a silk weaver in London until 1765, and he still owned a loom on which he had practiced his trade in America, though here he may have woven wool or linen, not silk.  By 1818, he was too old and infirm to work.  At the time, his household consisted of himself, his recently widowed daughter, and his daughter’s two young children. 

The lack of a table and beds among his sparse possessions leads me to think that he probably lived in rented accommodations where such basic (and not easily portable) furniture was supplied.  His clothing, blankets, and some homemade articles such as wooden plates were probably too low in value to be enumerated in his list of goods.  The presence of kettles and cups and saucers is interesting, reflecting how much the consumption of tea had been democratized by the early 19th century.  (Assertions that tea was hugely expensive in Jane Austen’s England are inaccurate:  In 1784, Parliament cut the tax on tea from 119% to 12.5%, making it affordable by a much larger proportion of the population.)

Another thing that strikes me is my ancestor’s ownership of a bit of land where his cow could graze, an indication of one of the essential differences between England and the United States.  Land on the western frontier was offered to Revolutionary soldiers as an incentive to remain in service, but I’m not sure whether my ancestor acquired his little plot as war bounty land or not.  In any case, had he remained in England, it’s unlikely he would have ever owned land. 

After his appearance in court, my ancestor was awarded a pension of $8 a month.    

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