Something else inventories can tell us

Alicia Crane WilliamsMy winter social schedule was enlivened recently with a talk given by one of my favorite speakers, Peg Baker of Plymouth. She and her husband, Jim Baker, are well known for their vast expertise in all things Pilgrim. Peg is Director Emeritus of The Pilgrim Society in Plymouth and compiler of the just released and completely revised edition of Mayflower Families Through Five Generations on Pilgrim Thomas Rogers, published by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.

Peg’s lecture was relevant to what I’ve been talking about lately in this blog – inventories and what you can learn about people from them. In this case, her subject “One Woman’s Wardrobe” developed out of the inventory of a descendant of Thomas Rogers. The will of Anna (Tisdale) (Leonard) Thomas (1672-1733) was extraordinary because she had a living husband, her second, who had given her a “pre-nup.” that allowed her to devise her property by her own will at a time when most women had no property of their own. (Widows usually received their husband’s property for their lifetime only, after which it was distributed as directed in his will.)  Anna, who was the mother of eleven children and grandmother of forty-one, made very specific bequests of her clothing to her three daughters, and, best of all, the estate inventory contains detailed itemizations of the clothing.  Peg began to wonder what Anna’s clothes would have looked like, and she’s gathered a great visual presentation of 17th and 18th century women’s fashions. If you have a chance to hear Peg on any subject, I recommend you take it.

The morning after Peg’s lecture, while I was working on the Early New England Families sketch for George Woodward of Watertown, I received a copy of the inventory of his daughter Susannah Woodward’s estate. Susannah’s story will be told in more detail in that sketch, but in short, she died at the age of 25, unmarried, having been the mother of an illegitimate child at age 19. (The child was apparently “put out.”) Thanks to Peg’s lecture, I could recognize that Susannah had a very complete wardrobe, including several coats, two hats, a green apron, one waistcoat and two pair of bodices, two silk hoods, two neck handkerchiefs, etc.  The total value of her estate was £9.5.18. This inevitably makes one wonder who was supporting her (or how she was supporting herself)?

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

2 thoughts on “Something else inventories can tell us

  1. The inventories do indeed prompt (and sometimes answer) questions. It is useful to note who was appointed to do the appraisals. Often a person in the immediate neighborhood with the same occupation as the decedent was one of the appraisers. This person would be able to put names and values to specialty equipment of a blacksmith, cooper or weaver. And the decedent may have had business dealings or kinship with that person. For instance, often some weavers’ children followed the same trade and married children of other weavers.

    Of a different but related value are personal-property vendue bills. The sales were usually attended by family and neighbors. The purchasers can be a good start on a friends-associates-neighbors list that can be drawn on and investigated to help solve some genealogical problems. Among the purchasers may also be a hitherto-unrecognized child of the decedent, such as a married daughter.

    This sort of investigation adds depth, scope and outright fun to genealogical research.

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