Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Probates: Thomas Sarles

Thomas Sarles wrote his will on May 23, 1859, and died on October 9, 1860. I am willing to bet good money that this stone was not erected in 1860, or even 1870 or 1880. I don't think it was erected until after the death of Ann Sarles in 1887, when dark granite was fully in fashion, and it was becoming commonplace for couples to place their names adjacent to each other on one stone (rather than one above the other, in which case the man's name invariably came first).

Thomas Sarles is featured in the 1850 Non-Population Census, which records agricultural holdings. According to this record, Thomas owned 187 acres of improved land and 15 acres of unimproved land. His farm was estimated to be worth $11,500, with $250 in farming machinery. He owned three horses, thirteen milk cows, four working oxen, eight "other cattle," and fifteen swine. His livestock was valued at $1,034. Thomas Sarles's farm was the most valuable one on the census page. In the past year, he had produced:

150 bushels of rye
450 bushels of Indian corn
300 bushels of oats
100 pounds of wool
1,000 bushels of Irish potatoes
75 bushels of buckwheat
3,000 pounds of butter
80 tons of hay

As for the Population Census of that year, 54-year-old Thomas and 49-year-old Ann are recorded living with Samuel Sarles (29) and Aaron Sarles (12), plus a 14-year-old girl named Amelia Ford.

In his will, Thomas Sarles leaves his entire farm to Aaron, who appears to have been his youngest son. While the oldest son may have seemed like a more natural choice of an heir, it seems that Thomas's older sons George W. and Thomas E. had already left their parents' house and established their own farms prior to their father's death. Thus Thomas's will ensured that Aaron, who was only 22 at the time of his father's death, would also have a means of livelihood.

Although Thomas leaves his wife Ann $1000 and "the use of all my household furniture" (use, not ownership), she has no claim to his property. It may have been understood between Thomas and his son Aaron that Ann was to remain in the house for as long as she lived. Sure enough, in the census of 1870, Aaron - whose farm is now worth $18,000 - is living with his 70-year-old mother, who owns $3000 in personal estate. If Aaron had decided that he didn't want his mother to live with him, however, she would have had no legal protection. He would have had every right to throw her out of the house (with her furniture). This seems to have happened to several of the widows recorded living in the Westchester County Almshouse, except that they didn't even have $1000 to live on.

Thomas gives his sons George W. and Thomas E. more than twice the amount of money he gives to his daughter Phebe Hyatt, but as Phebe was already married, it's possible that Thomas had already given her money or property in the form of a dowry. In any case, as a married woman, Phebe would not have expected her father to provide for her, especially since her husband was Jackson Hyatt, a successful merchant who built the Mount Kisco Institute (which was later converted into the largest hotel in Mount Kisco). Still, the sum that Thomas did give his daughter - $2000 - was nothing to sneeze at.

  1. Thomas Sarles (1786-1860) m. Ann (1801-1887)
    1. Phebe J. Sarles (1824-1909) m. Jackson Hyatt (1819-1892)
    2. George W. Sarles (1826-1910)
    3. Thomas E. Sarles (1836-1869)
    4. Aaron W. Sarles (1838-1895)

Will of Thomas Sarles
I, Thomas Sarles, of the town of New Castle, county of Westchester and state of New York, do make, publish, and declare this my last will and testament in manner following, that is to say:

First, I do give and bequeath to my beloved wife Ann Sarles one thousand dollars and the use of all my household furniture during her natural life, and at the decease of my said wife I then give all my household furniture to my four children, namely George W., Thomas E., Aaron W. Sarles and Phebe J. Hyatt to be equally divided between them.

Second, I give and bequeath to my daughter Phebe J. Hyatt the sum of two thousand dollars.

Third, I give and bequeath to my two sons George W. Sarles and Thomas E. Sarles each the sum of four thousand and five hundred dollars.

Fourth, I give and bequeath to my son Aaron W. Sarles the farm on which I now reside with all the stock and all the farming implements, wagons, carriages, sleighs, sleds, hay, grain, on the ground or in the buildings on said premises.

Fifth and lastly, I give and bequeath all the rest, residue, and remainder of my personal estate or real not heretofore disposed of to my three sons namely George W., Thomas E., and Aaron W. Sarles to share and share alike.

Sixthly, I do nominate and appoint my sons George W. Sarles and Thomas E. Sarles my executors to this my last will and testament, hereby revoking all former wills by me made.

In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this twenty-third day of May 1859.

Thomas Sarles

Witnesses: Moses W. Fish residing at Bedford in the county of Westchester; Philander G. Purdy residing at Bedford in the county of Westchester

Monday, August 17, 2015

Probates: Richard Kirby

When I first researched the Kirby family back in 2013, I mistook Richard Kirby's second wife, Rachel, for his daughter. It was an easy mistake to make, considering that in 1850 he was 69 and she was 45. Richard's first wife was Matilda Frost. The Kirbys were very prolific, and you can see their full family tree in the original post.

The wills I am reading are starting to fit into a pattern. The male writer of the will always instructs that his land be sold and that its proceeds be divided between his wife and children. Like the other men whose wills I have read, Richard Kirby's allowance to his wife is partly contingent upon her remaining a widow. However, unlike other men, who would cut off their wives completely in the event of their remarriage, Richard still allowed Rachel $100 a year. While cutting off their widows seems like a harsh thing to do, in reality it was simply a recognition of the fact that the widow's new husband would now be responsible for her maintenance. Redirecting her deceased husband's legacy to their children prevented it from falling into the hands of the widow's second family. These stipulations were intended to safeguard the woman's first family.

In 1851, when his will was written, Richard would have been 70 and Rachel 46. If she had remarried (which she doesn't seem to have), she would be unlikely to produce any more biological children. Perhaps this fact influenced Richard's decision; or maybe it was the fact that Rachel herself was his second wife. It is notable that Richard, like most of the other men whose wills I have read, doesn't simply give Rachel his property outright, but requires that it be sold, invested, and the interest to paid to her in installments. This practice would have seemed sensible back then, but today it comes across as somewhat patronizing, as though women couldn't be trusted to deal with their own property. Then again, perhaps women didn't receive the education in financial management that men did, in which case this practice would make sense - although the implication is no less offensive.

Notably, Richard only names sons in his will, not daughters. It could have been that he didn't have any daughters who lived to adulthood; I couldn't identify any. Then again, my search was complicated by the fact that when Richard and Rachel first appear in the census (in 1850), Richard's children with Matilda Frost had already grown. The sons he identifies as his youngest - William A., Charles H., and John Wesley Kirby - were most likely his sons with Rachel; they were living with the couple in that year and were aged 22, 20, and 18 respectively.

Also, that line "during her natural life." This is also meant to indicate that the property isn't really Rachel's; it's hers to use while she's alive, as though she's renting it. When she's done with it, it will belong to their children.

Leonard Kirby was the son of Richard and Matilda Kirby and married Jane Vervalen. He was a successful merchant who owned property both in New Castle and Manhattan, and had thirteen children. He died in 1878.

Valentine Kirby also became a wealthy merchant (he owned real estate valued at $120,000 in 1870) and lived in Queens with his wife Emeline, their children, and several servants. He died in 1894.

I haven't been able to find out anything about Caleb Kirby, who was doubtlessly named after the progenitor of the Kirbys, for whom Kirbyville was named.

Richard Kirby didn't die until 1857, six years after his will was written. Rachel died in 1863 at the age of 59.

Will of Richard Kirby

In the name of God, amen. I, Richard Kirby of the town of New Castle in the county of Westchester, this fourteenth day of June in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifty one, being in good health and sound disposing mind and memory, thanks to almighty God for the same, and calling to mind the great uncertainty of this mortal life, do make and publish this my last will and testament in manner and form as follows, viz.

First: I order and direct my executors hereafter named to sell as soon after my decease as may be convenient and proper all my real estate and I hereby authorize them to give the purchaser or purchasers a good and sufficient title for the same.

Secondly: I order and direct my executors to take one equal half of the money arising from the sale of my farm and put the same out at interest on bond and mortgage and pay the interest to my beloved wife Rachel during her natural life provided she remain my widow, but in case she should marry, I order my executors to pay her the sum of one hundred dollars yearly in line (?) of the interest of said half of my real estate - and the money arising from my personal property after paying all my just debts and funeral expenses I give and bequeath to be equally divided between my beloved wife Rachel and my three youngest sons share and share alike.

Thirdly: I give and bequeath the other equal half of all the money arising from the sale of my real estate to my three youngest sons viz. William A., Charles H., and John Wesley Kirby to be equally divided between share and share alike.

Fourthly: I order and direct after the decease of my wife Rachel that my executors divide the money set apart as above stated for the use of my beloved wife and the interest of there should be any due and I direct that the same be equally divided between all my sons viz. Leonard, Valentine, Caleb, Isaac F., William A., Charles H. and John Wesley Kirby and their heirs share and share alike.

Lastly I hereby appoint my sons Leonard Kirby, William A. Kirby, and Charles H. Kirby executors to this my last will and testament and hereby revoking all former wills by me made do declare this to be my last will and testament in the presence of the witnesses named below, the day and year first above written.

Richard Kirby

Witnesses: Gilbert Brundage, W. H. Lane

  1. Richard Kirby m. (1) Matilda Frost, (2) Rachel (1804-1863)
    1. Leonard Kirby (1802-1878) m. Jane Vervalen (1813-1902)
    2. Valentine Kirby (1809-1894) m. Emeline
    3. Caleb Kirby
    4. Isaac F. Kirby
    5. William A. Kirby (1828-)
    6. Charles H. Kirby (1830-)
    7. John Wesley Kirby (1832-1901)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Probates: Reginald Hart

When I researched Reginald Hart back in 2013, I was able to find out many details about his life: he was born in 1846, the son of Robert S. Hart and Harriet Wing Russell; his brother Nathaniel studied law at Columbia and graduated from Amherst College, and died at age 25 in 1861; his brother Robert died of measles while serving in the 17th New York Infantry Regiment in the Civil War; he graduated from Trinity College in New Haven and became a lawyer like his brother and father; he was a friend of Horace Greeley; he married 21-year-old Emma K. Farley in 1877, only to be widowed two years later; he suffered from tuberculosis, which he treated by occasional trips to warmer climates; as a widower, he lived with his father, and then after his father's death in 1887, with two servants, Elizabeth and Maggie Mann, until his death in 1902 at the age of 57. You can read the full account here, and the obituary of Reginald's father here.

What I didn't know - until I read Reginald Hart's probate records - is that Reginald, widowed and childless, left the vast majority of his small fortune to Elizabeth Mann, his servant and companion of more than twenty years. To be more specific, Reginald left his fortune to three people, none of them relatives. The first was William H. Brown of Mount Kisco, to whom he left $545. The second was Evelyn J. Brown of Mount Kisco, to whom he left $691. And the third was Elizabeth Mann, to whom he left the remainder of his estate, valued at $15,491.38. Elizabeth Mann was also Reginald's executor; Evelyn and William Brown were her niece and nephew.

What was the nature of the relationship between Elizabeth Mann and Reginald Hart? Was she simply a loyal servant or was she his common-law wife? 

I can't say for sure, but what I do know is that Elizabeth Mann was born around 1849 in Ireland, and is first recorded living with the Harts in the 1880 census. She was five years younger than Reginald Hart, and would have been about 53 when he died. She may have known his wife Emma, but she probably did not. The probate records mention that she has known Reginald for "twenty years," suggesting that she first came into his life around 1880, not long after Emma died. Elizabeth seems to have never married; she is consistently listed as "single" in the census. Her niece and nephew were forty years younger and also unmarried, and are recorded as living with her in her house at 101 Carpenter Avenue in 1910 and 1920.

Interestingly, in the 1910 census Evelyn Brown is listed as an artist. Reginald Hart left her "my paints, paint box, brushes, and easel." In 1920 she was working in a drug store.

William Brown worked as a clerk in the post office in 1910 and as a salesman for a hair dresser in 1920.

The only other evidence I have found is this notice in the Mount Kisco Recorder from December 16, 1887:
As we last week stated, on the day of his death, Judge Hart went to the city, attended the funeral of John H. Johnson, and accompanied the remains to the grave in Oakwood Cemetery. He seemed in his usual health in the evening, and retired soon after ten. Shortly afterward groans were heard by his faithful housekeeper, Lizzie Mann, who had been Mrs. Hart's attendant, and who, with her cousin, Mary Pierson, enjoyed Judge Hart's entire confidence. They hastened to his aid, but in a few moments he was dead. His heart had failed in its functions, and he passed away without apparent pain.

Will of Reginald Hart
I Reginald Hart of the village of Mount Kisco, town of Bedford in the county of Westchester and state of New York, do publish and declare this my last will and testament in manner following, that is to say,

First: I give and bequeath to William Mann Brown, nephew of Elizabeth Mann, five hundred dollars, my gold watch and chain (the watch being number 33915 made by Augusta Sallzman), my double barrel gun, cane and loading apparatus, my fishing rod, line, and reel.

Second: I give and bequeath to Evelyn Jane Brown, niece of Elizabeth Mann, six hundred dollars, the gold watch and chain formerly worn by my mother, my paints, paint box, brushes, and easel.

Third: I give and bequeath to Elizabeth Mann the sum of seventy-five dollars in trust to purchase a gold watch for Evelyn Jane Brown, such watch to be purchased as soon as possible after the probate of this will.

Fourth: All the rest, residue, and remainder of my property, real, personal, and mixed, I give, devise, and bequeath to Elizabeth Mann, commonly called Lizzie Mann, whom I hereby nominate and appoint sole executor of this my last will and testament hereby revoking all former wills by me made.

In witness thereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this twelfth day of October in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and one.

Reginald Hart

Witnesses: Howard F. Bailey, Mount Kisco, NY; Frederick J. Carpenter, Mount Kisco, NY

Estate Inventory

Personal Estate
  • Antom Leibler note ($22 / worthless)
  • Cash in bank ($906.56)
  • Award due from City of New York ($3581.08)
  • Old law books ($100)
  • Six silver tablespoons ($6)
  • Six silver forks ($2)
  • One gold watch and chain ($30)
  • Furniture and Household Effects
    • Two black walnut bedsteads ($10)
    • Two black walnut bureaus ($12)
    • Black walnut bookcase ($10)
    • Two black walnut chairs ($1)
    • Three old couches ($6)
    • One old piano ($30)
    • Lady's watch and chain ($15)
    • Gun case and loading apparatus ($10)
    • Fishing rod, reel, and line ($5)
    • Paints and brushes ($1)
    • 75 yards carpet 35 years old ($15)
    • One dining table and six chairs ($5)
Real Estate
Real estate consists of house and about five acres of land in village of Mount Kisco.
  • Situated on road leading from Mount Kisco to Bedford Station and on avenue running southerly from said road ($12,000)
  • A tract of nine cares in swamp south of village of Mount Kisco in town of New Castle ($100)
  • One hundred and fifty acres of land in town of Pawling, Putnam County ($1200)
  • Strip of land ten feet wide running around a small vacant lot in the back part of town of Bedford on road leading from Bedford Station to Bedford Village ($10)

Probates: William Craft

When William Craft wrote his will on May 9, 1791, he probably knew the end was coming. He described himself as "very weak in body but of perfect mind and memory." He names seven children in his will, as well as his "my dearly beloved wife" Hannah. I know the birth dates of only two of their children. Mary Craft, to whom William left "one cow and one feather bed and furniture" (the term "bed" referred only to the mattress; "furniture" referred to the bed frame), would have been fourteen years old; his son Robert, whom William wanted to have one year's schooling and an apprenticeship in a trade, would have been twelve. William Craft died on July 30, 1791. His stone was carved by Solomon Brewer, a native of the Connecticut River Valley who was born in Springfield, MA, and moved to Westchester County after the Revolutionary War. 

William lived just long enough to be recorded on the first United States federal census in 1790. The total number of household members was thirteen: four white males under the age of 16 (Robert and Walter, perhaps William Jr., and who else?), four males 16 and over (William, perhaps Charles, and two unknown others?), and five females (Hannah, Mary, Deborah, Anne, and one unknown other). As you can imagine, the 1790 census is frustratingly vague.

William must have been troubled by the prospect of leaving his children, all of whom seem to have been minors at the time, without a father. His will does not simply deal with possessions and property, but with arrangements for his children's transition into adulthood. William Jr. was probably older, perhaps the second oldest; he would receive his father's blacksmith shop and tools, ensuring that he would have a proper livelihood. He had probably already received training from his father. Charles may have been the oldest, as he is named as executor along with William's wife. William didn't leave him anything, yet the fact that he was executor likely meant it wasn't because the they were estranged; more likely, Charles had already received something from his father, perhaps when he left the house.

William wanted Robert and Walter, the younger sons, to each receive schooling and to be "bound out to a trade" when they reached the age of fourteen, a typical arrangement for the time. The arrangements were very different for the girls; William's three daughters, Deborah, Mary, and Ann, were to receive one cow and one bed each either when they reached the age of eighteen or married - also typical for the time.

Mary must have received her cow and bed, as she married Gilbert Montross at some point after her father's death. However, she died not long after that, in 1801 at the age of 24. Her stone in the Episcopal cemetery is attributed to the Upper Connecticut Carver.

Robert Craft, on the other hand, may have never received the schooling or apprenticeship that his father wanted for him; he died in 1793 at the age of 14. His stone, like his father's, was carved by Solomon Brewer. In fact, it is this Solomon Brewer stone that served as the model for the cherub face that Laurie and I have used as the mascot for our excavation. 

The Craft family lays claim to the largest number of old sandstone gravestones in the cemetery. There are nine Craft gravestones in all, three belonging to to William and Hannah Craft's family, and seven belonging to Thomas and Catharine Craft's. 

Notably, Charles Haight, the man who built St. George's Church and donated the land for the cemetery, and who served as a vestryman, is one of the witnesses to William Craft's will. 

Will of William Craft

In the name of God, amen, the ninth day of May in the year of our Lord one thousand, seven hundred, and ninety one, I, William Craft of New Castle in the county of Westchester and state of New York, gentleman, being very weak in body but of perfect mind and memory, thanks be given unto God, therefore calling unto mind the mortality of my body and knowing that it is [illegible] for all men once to die, do make and ordain this my last will and testament, that is to say -

Principally and first of all, I give and recommend my soul into the hands of God that gave it, and for my body I recommend it to the Earth to be buried in Christianlike and decent manner at the discretion of my executors and as touching such worldly estate, whatevereth it hath pleased God to bless me in this life, I give, [illegible] and dispose of the same in the following manner and form:

First my will is that all my just debts and funeral charges be paid and settled (?).

Imprimis I give and bequeath unto Hannah, my dearly beloved wife, one feather bed and furniture which she shall choose; also my clothes cupboard and looking glass and further as the law provides.

Item: I give and bequeath unto my well beloved son William my blacksmith shop and blacksmith tools.

Item: And my will is and I give unto my daughter Deborah one cow and one feather bed and furniture and that when she shall come to the age of eighteen or married.

Item: I give unto my daughter Mary one cow and one feather bed and furniture and that when she comes to the age of eighteen or married.

Item: I give unto Anne my daughter one cow and one feather bed and furniture and that when she comes to the age of eighteen or married.

Item: And my will is that my son Robert shall have one year's schooling, and my will is that when my son Robert shall come to the age of fourteen years he shall be bound out to a trade at the discretion of my executors, and my will is that my son Walter shall have reasonable schooling at the discretion of my executors, and my will is that my son Walter when he shall come to the age of fourteen years he shall be bound out to a trade at the discretion of my executors.

Item: And my will is that my lands shall be sold when my son Robert shall come to the age of twenty one years and the monies arising there from first to pay unto Robert and Walter the sum of five pounds apiece before division and then the remainder to be equally divided between my sons William, Robert, and Walter and my will is that if either of my sons aforesaid should die before they shall come to the age of twenty one years and that without lawful issue then their part to be equally divided between the surviving brothers aforesaid and my will is that my executors shall sell so much of my movable estate as shall pay my just debts if it should be [illegible] and my will is that if either of my said daughters should die before they shall come to the age of eighteen years or married and without lawful issue then their part to be equally divided between the surviving sisters aforesaid. And my will is that when my son Robert shall come to the age of twenty one years that if there be any of my movable estate left that it be sold at the discretion of my executors and the monies arising therefrom to be equally divided between my daughters aforesaid.

And my will is that my well beloved wife and my well beloved son Charles Craft shall be my executors whom I likewise construe (?) make, and ordain my only and sole executors of this my last will and testament and I do hereby utterly disavow, revoke, and disannul [sic] all and every other former testament, wills, legacies, and executors by me any [illegible] before this time named, willed, and bequeathed, ratifying and confirming this and no other to be my last will and testament in witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal the day and year above [illegible].

Signed, sealed, published, pronounced, and declared by the said William Craft as his last will and testament in the presence of us the subscribers,

Charles Haight
Mary McKeen (her mark)
Jacob Carpenter

  1. William Craft (1740-1791) m. Hannah
    1. Mary Craft (1777-1801) m. Gilbert Montross
    2. Robert Craft (1779-1793)
    3. Charles Craft
    4. William Craft
    5. Walter Craft
    6. Deborah Craft
    7. Anne Craft

Friday, August 14, 2015

Probates: Ann Powers Alford

Ann Powers was born in Newfoundland around 1785. Her marriage to James Alford, a sailor, on August 27, 1801, is recorded in the ledger of the Dutch Reformed Church in New York City. Seventy years later, she wrote her will in New Castle, New York, leaving money and several prized possessions to her friends. No relatives are named in Ann Alford's will; they are uniformly friends, and all who are explicitly named are female.

In a society where legal and social machinery conspired to keep property in the hands of men, and where familial ties were valued over non-familial ones, it is touching to witness the freedom of a woman to distribute her property among her female friends. Even more so than the pecuniary gifts, the choice of Ann's personal possessions illustrate the close bonds of friendship, as well as the way in which objects could function as conveyors of meaning and memory. Ann was 87 years old when she died; the recipients of her dresses were more than 30 years younger than she. Would the recipients actually wear the dresses? Or would they be kept for sentimental reasons only? It is worth noting that in the estate inventories of the 19th century, a person's "wearing apparel" was often the most valuable item in the list.

The other objects, while likely meant to evoke sentiment, seem more useful: the counterpane (bedspread) given to Emeline Benedict; the gold watch given to her daughter; even the bed and bedding left to Caroline Peters of Cincinnati (how exactly was that transaction accomplished?). While the idea of inheriting your elderly friend's bedsheets may seem a bit odd today, beds and bedding were very valuable in the 19th century, second only to apparel in the average person's inventory of possessions. 

Here is the will in its entirety:

Will of Ann Alford

In the name of God, amen: I, Ann Alford, widow, of the town of New Castle, County of Westchester and State of New York, being of sound mind and memory do make, publish, and declare this my last will and testament, in manner following, that is to say:

First. I order my executors hereinafter named to pay all my just debts and funeral expenses.

Second. I give and bequeath unto my beloved friend Emeline Benedict, widow of John Benedict of the town of New Castle, the sum of one hundred dollars, my black silk dress, my brown or slate colored dress, and my white counterpane.

Third. I give and bequeath to my beloved friend Deborah Benedict, daughter of Emeline, my gold watch.

Fourth. I give and bequeath to my beloved friend Caroline Peters, wife of John Peters of the city of Cincinnati and state of Ohio, my bed and bedding.

Fifth. I give and bequeath to my beloved friend Hannah H. Sarles, wife of William A. Sarles of the town of Bedford, county of Westchester and state of New York, the sum of one hundred dollars and all the rest and remainder of my wardrobe not hereinbefore disposed of.

Sixth. I give and bequeath to my beloved friend Sarah Ann Jackson, widow of George Jackson of the town of Bedford, county of Westchester and state of New York, the sum of one hundred and fifty dollars, and in case of the decease of the said Sarah Ann Jackson before receiving any benefit from the provision herein made for her benefit, then the said sum of one hundred and fifty dollars bequeathed to her shall be for the benefit of my beloved friend Hannah H. Sarles, wife of William A. Sarles of the town of Bedford, county of Westchester and state of New York.

Seventh. I give and bequeath unto my beloved friends Mary Seaman of Norwalk and state of Connecticut; Phebe Chase, wife of Edward Chase of the town of Bedford, county of Westchester and state of New York, and Susan, daughter of Gilbert Van Tassel of the city, county, and state of New York, each the sum of fifty dollars.

Eighth. I give and bequeath to my beloved friends Frances Cecelia Wheaton and Maria Henrietta Wheaton, children of Miles B. Wheaton of the city of New York, each the sum of fifty dollars.

Ninth. And I further provide in case of the death of any one of the parties to whom I have left any legacy or given any articles (except in the case of the said Sarah Ann Jackson) then the provision so made to them shall not become void but shall revert to their heirs at law.

Tenth. I give and bequeath all the rest, residue, and remainder of my estate, goods and chattels, of what nature or kind so ever to the children of my beloved friend John Romer, of the city, county, and state of New York, who shall remain unmarried at the time of my decease, share and share alike.

Lastly. I hereby nominate and appoint my friends John Romer and Miles R. Carpenter of the city, county, and state of New York executors of this my last will and testament, hereby revoking all former wills by me made.

In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this twenty-fifth day of September in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and seventy one.

Mrs. Ann Alford

The above instrument consisting of one sheet was at the date hereof signed, sealed, published, and declared by the said Ann Alford as and for her last will and testament in presence of us, who at her request and in her presence and in the presence of each other have subscribed our names as witnesses hereto.

M. W. Fish, Bedford, Westchester Co., NY
H. S. Banks, New Castle, Westchester Co., NY


Emeline Benedict, the recipient of $100, two dresses, and Ann's white counterpane, would have been 55 years old in 1871. Her daughter Deborah would have been around 30. John Benedict, their husband and father respectively, was a farmer who died sometime before 1870. Just two years earlier, Ann Alford was a boarder in the Benedicts' house, as shown in the 1870 federal census.

Hannah H. Sarles would have been 46 years old when she was named as the recipient of the remainder of Ann's wardrobe, as well as $100. She was a milliner, her husband a shoemaker.

Sarah Ann Jackson, who would have been 38, was born Sarah Ann Van Tassel. Phebe Chase and Susan Van Tassel were her sisters. Sarah Ann was recorded as a milliner in the 1860 census and a seamstress in the 1870 census. Her husband, George W. Jackson, was a tailor. Phebe Chase's husband Edwin was a tin smith; they married in 1861 and had three children. Phebe, one of her children, and her other sister Ardelia are buried in the cemetery.

Mary Seaman, who appears to have been unmarried, would have been 46, and in 1880 was living with her sister and brother-in-law, the Sherwoods, in Norwalk.

Miles B. Wheaton was a builder in New York City; his wife was Julia A. Wheaton. In 1871, their daughters Frances and Maria would have been 14 and nine years old, respectively. Their son William would have been five, but Ann didn't leave anything to him.

I haven't been able to identify which John Romer it was who is identified in Ann's will (there were several living in New York City in the 1870s, all with children). However, I find it interesting that Ann stipulated that only the yet unmarried children were to receive an inheritance.

If there's one pattern that I can discern running through the people named in Ann's will, it is that they tend to be women who exercise a relative amount of independence from men. Emeline Benedict was a widow; her daughter Deborah was single. Mary Seaman was single. Sarah Ann Jackson and Hannah H. Sarles were married, but both practiced trades of their own (milliner/seamstress and milliner, respectively). Frances and Maria Wheaton were unmarried adolescents.

Of course, this is only a theory, but perhaps Ann Alford had a soft spot for women and girls who, whether by choice or circumstance, provided for themselves either partly or totally. Perhaps, having no living children of her own, she befriended women and girls whom she could imagine as daughters and granddaughters. Perhaps some of these women also sought out Ann to fill a familial role in their lives. In the case of the Benedicts, it seems plausible that Emeline, in addition to being Ann's landlady, also served as her caregiver.

While this is all conjectural, these are the kind of relationships that I like to explore, the ordinary ties between neighbors and friends that were so essential to a community, yet can also feel very ephemeral as the stories and meanings behind the gifts to "beloved friends" are left unspoken and undocumented.

Probates: Will of James Ferris

After examining several estate inventories of men who died intestate, I thought it'd be interesting to investigate the case of a person who actually left a will.

James Ferris (father of Peter N. Ferris; of unknown relation to Stephen Ferris) wrote his will on September 8, 1826, and died two days later at the age of 65. Eleven years older than Stephen Ferris, he would have been alive to witness (but probably not remember) the building of St. George's Church in 1762. He definitely would have remembered the years of the American Revolution, during which New Castle was a hostile no-man's-land located between British and American territories, and would have been a young man in the time that the community was slowly being rebuilt.

James's will makes use of the same conventions that most wills of the day used. He made sure to state that he was "of a perfect mind and memory," to instruct his executors to pay his debts and funeral expenses, and provided for his family in the way that would have been expected. His wife, Martha, received a third of his real and personal estate, which was a typical portion (in some places the "widow's third" was written into law, to ensure that a married woman would have enough to live on after her husband's death). The mention of Martha's dowry was meant to imply that she would receive back the value of those items she brought with her into the marriage. James's two sons received money, while his unmarried daughter received furniture and money -- all pretty much typical arrangements. James's married daughters would have likely received some personal property at the time of their marriages, so that Sarah Ferris would be owed a larger portion.

It is also not that unusual that James gives only ten dollars to his son, Peter N. Ferris, while giving eight hundred dollars to his son Horatio. James seems concerned to point out that Peter's portion is a "just and full sum," and "the reason why I give him no more is he has heretofore been provided for." It's not uncommon that a portion of a person's estate might have been distributed to one or more children before the writing of the will. Ten dollars was probably meant as a nominal sum so as not to appear to snub Peter in his father's will.

Will of James Ferris

Be it remembered that I James Ferris of the town of New Castle in the Country of Westchester and state of New York, being weak in body but of a perfect mind and memory do make and publish this my last will and testament as follows.

First I order and my will is that my executors hereafter named and appointed by me first and foremost to pay my funeral charges and also all my just debts out of my estate. Secondly I order and my will is that my real estate be sold by my executors at private sale (and if not sold within two months after my decease then to be sold at public auction or as soon as thereafter as my executors shall think proper) and a deed of conveyance given for the same by my executors. I further order and my will is that my executors sell any personal estate at public auction as soon after my decease as they shall think proper except such of my personal estate as is herein after disposed of.

I give and bequeath to my beloved wife Martha Ferris in sense of her dowry two cows one equal half of all and singular my beds, bedsteads, cords, and bedding, one table and three chairs at her disposal and the use of one third of the monies arising from the sale of my real and personal estate what remains after my just debts, funeral charges, and the exchange of settling my estate is paid, and the use of all my household furniture as long as she shall wish to keep house and at her decease to be equally divided between my four daughters.

I give and bequeath to my son Peter N. Ferris the just and full sum of ten dollars to be paid to him by my executors after the sale of my real estate. The reason why I give him no more is he has heretofore been provided for.

I give and bequeath to my son Horasho [sic] Ferris eight hundred dollars to be paid to him by my executors after received by them from the sale of my real and personal estate.

I give and bequeath to my daughter Sarah Ferris two cows, the equal one half of all and singular my beds, bedsteads, cords, and bedding together with forty-five dollars in money to be paid to her as is mentioned above.

I further order and my will is that the remainder of my estate not otherwise disposed of be equally divided by my executors between my four daughters namely Emily Clapp, Aliner [sic] Carpenter, Mary Kirby, and Sarah Ferris to be paid to them as is mentioned above.

I further order and my will is as it respects the one third of my estate which my wife has the use of as is before mentioned to be equally divided by my executors or their survivors as soon after the decease of my wife as is convenient for them so to do between my son Horasho Ferris and my four daughters namely Emily Clapp, Aliner Carpenter, Mary Kirby, and Sarah Ferris.

I constitute and appoint my son Horasho Ferris and my friend Gilbert Brundage to be my executors to this my last will and testament, disallowing and disanulling [sic] all other wills and testaments, ratifying and confirming this and no other to be my last will and testament, sealed with my seal dated this eighth day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and twenty six.

Signed, sealed, published, and declared to be my last will and testament in the presence of

Emos Mayshall
Benjamin Kirby
Jonathan Cornwell

Using James Ferris's will and information from gravestones, it is possible to reconstruct his family tree (green names indicate those buried in the Episcopal cemetery):
  1. James Ferris (1760-1826) m. Martha (1767-1830)
    1. Horasho Ferris
    2. Peter N. Ferris (1789-1845) m. Phebe Ward (1791-1857)
      1. Emily Ferris (1812-1878) m. George M. Sherwood (1812-1901)
      2. Jane Ferris m. James D. Sherwood
        1. Maria S. Sherwood
      3. Joseph D. Ferris
      4. Sarah Matilda Ferris (1825-) m. Silas Constant Whitney (1810-)
      5. Benjamin M. Ferris
      6. Absalom N. Ferris
      7. Mary E. Ferris m. John H. Scott
    3. Emily Ferris (1796-1842) m. Philip Clapp
    4. Eleanor Ferris (1796-1827) m. William Carpenter (1801-1830) m. Sarah (1802-1830)
    5. Mary Ferris (1800-1879) m. Joseph Kirby (1801-1849)
    6. Sarah Ferris

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Probates: Stephen Ferris

If there's one immediate conclusion I can draw from the estate inventory of Stephen Ferris, who died January 30, 1827, at the age of 55, it's that he and his family probably weren't consuming all of the hundreds of gallons of alcohol in various forms that was counted among his property at the time of his death. The quantities of beer, rum, brandy, wine, and gin that Stephen Ferris owned most definitely indicate an "intent to sell," to couch it in modern-day criminal justice terms. That is not to say that Ferris's was an illegal operation. Most likely, he was a merchant or tavern keeper as well as a farmer (he owned cows, chickens, scythes, and garden seed). His wife and daughters may have engaged in textile production and/or dressmaking (see the "wheels" a.k.a. spinning wheels and the large amount of textiles that they owned), or they might have sold textiles in their store (note there are no looms mentioned, suggesting that the weaving was done somewhere else).

What I find most interesting about Stephen Ferris's estate inventory is this section, enumerating the modest collection of items separated from the extensive list as "goods belonging to the widow for the support of their minor children."
  • One stove an operates (?) ($40)
  • Three beds and bedding ($62.50)
  • Six fancy chairs ($4)
  • One table and one stand ($7)
  • Six plates ($0.50)
  • Six cups and saucers ($0.44)
  • One Bible and Flynn (?) book, other books ($4)
  • One large pot and one small pot ($1)
  • Two iron kettles ($1.25)
  • One large wheel and one small wheel ($5)
  • One frying pan and one gridiron ($0.75)
  • Two candlesticks [illegible] ($0.50)
  • Six bowls, one tin work bowl ($0.88)
  • Six knives & forks ($0.75)
  • One oval dish & six tumblers ($0.62)
  • One pair handirons ($2)
  • One shovel and tongs ($1)
  • One teakettle and two pails ($1)
  • One teapot milk & sugar dish ($3.50)
  • One red white face cow ($18)
  • Pork and cask (?) ($8)
  • Six tin pans ($1.52)
  • One colander ($0.25)
  • One coffee pot ($0.25)
  • Two stone pots ($0.50)
  • One bread tray and bowl ($0.37)
  • One churn & pitcher ($1.25)
  • One pair smoothing irons ($0.62)
  • One washtub ($0.25)
How many "minor children" were these goods intended to support, and for how long? To answer that I need to go back to the beginning, when Stephen Ferris was born, around 1771 or 1772. I don't know anything about his parents, but I do know that he married Rachel Fish, who was born in 1774, most likely around the mid-1790s. Her gravestone is pictured above (Stephen is also buried in the cemetery, but the photo of his stone on FindAGrave isn't legible). Three of Stephen and Rachel's children are buried beside them in the cemetery: Cornelus (1800-1843), James (1803-1838), and Richard (1814-1841). Of these children, only Richard would have been a minor in 1827, but sources on Ancestry and FindAGrave (which I can't verify at the moment) indicate that they had two other children who would have been minors at that time.

Here is the rest of the estate inventory (or rather, what I could read of it): 
  • Old scythe ($0.12)
  • One box and hazelnuts ($0.18)
  • 25 lb feathers & [illegible] ($11.19)
  • One pair sole leather ($0.75)
  • Box and quills ($0.75)
  • Lot of casks in storehouse ($1.38)
  • One set axe [illegible] ($0.60)
  • Lot of old irons ($1)
  • Three baskets of onions ($0.50)
  • Set of wooden measures ($1.50)
  • Three augers ($0.50)
  • One case of English powder ($6)
  • One case of orange powder ($5)
  • One sugar break ($0.12)
  • Fine salt in cask ($1.75)
  • One bottle and wedges ($0.50)
  • One lot of whiffletrees ($0.50)
  • 5 [illegible] forks ($1.50)
  • Two scythe sheaths ($0.12)
  • Six scythes ($4.50)
  • Nine and a half dozen cups and bowls ($3.56)
  • Four shovels and one spade ($2.50)
  • Nine dozen blue teas (?) ($9)
  • Thirteen muskrat skins ($2.84)
  • Two barrels mackerel (?) ($8)
  • One sack (?) of salt ($2.75)
  • One barrel [illegible] wine ($30.81)
  • Two and a half dozen plates at 4/ ($1.25)
  • One half barrel [illegible] ($1.50)
  • Two decanters ($0.50)
  • Two and a half dozen small blue plates ($0.94)
  • One barrel of flour ($6)
  • One lot of wild game ($0.56)
  • One barrel ground logwool (?) ($1.75)
  • One barrel of flour ($1.12)
  • One half dozen blue plates ($0.62)
  • Nine blue plates ($0.62)
  • Five oval dishes ($1.75)
  • One lot small plates ($0.28)
  • Three and a half dozen white plates ($1.75)
  • Five white work brushes ($2.25)
  • Three pair bellows ($0.25)
  • Two clothes baskets ($0.25)
  • Three dozen plates at 2/9 ($1.83)
  • Thirteen milk plates at /6 ($0.81)
  • Four milk plates ($0.50)
  • Fourteen plow shares ($5.25)
  • Five dozen bowls ($2.50)
  • Seven gallons (?) salts and peppers ($0.88)
  • Four chambers (?) at 1/9 ($0.88)
  • Five glass jars ($1.25)
  • One decanter ($0.25)
  • Five teapots ($2.62)
  • One tea set ($1.12)
  • One ditching (?) shovel ($0.38)
  • Six blue pitchers ($2.25)
  • Three fancy pitchers ($0.65)
  • One pepper mill ($0.38)
  • Three hoes ($0.38)
  • One gross [illegible] teas ($2)
  • Nine black teapots at 10 ($0.94)
  • One and a half dozen white bowls ($0.66)
  • Eight fancy bowls ($0.50)
  • Lot of tumblers ($1.75)
  • 91 (?) baking dishes ($4.64)
  • Ten lash strings ($0.62)
  • Ten wash bowls and chambers ($0.88)
  • Fifteen jugs ($2.19)
  • Five pots ($0.78)
  • One pair of chisels ($0.38)
  • Eight pair women's shoes ($6)
  • Five pair men's shoes ($6.88)
  • Four pair children's shoes ($1)
  • Two small shoes ($1)
  • One iron pot ($0.75)
  • One skillet ($0.15)
  • Three sugar boxes ($0.44)
  • One barrel of sand ($3.62)
  • One [illegible] jug ($0.25)
  • One box of corks ($0.25)
  • One lot of glass ($0.88)
  • One ladle ($0.09)
  • Three iron squares ($0.75)
  • One box of pipes ($0.18)
  • Lot of wooden bowls ($2)
  • 84 lb batting ($8.42)
  • Five pair [illegible] shoes ($3.12)
  • One dozen suspenders ($1.62)
  • One half dozen suspenders ($1.75)
  • Eight pair small forks (?) ($0.75)
  • 33 lb cotton yarn ($8.25)
  • 11 lb batting ($1.15)
  • 5 lb candlewick (?) ($1.25)
  • Five lumps of sugar ($6)
  • One lot of garden seeds ($12.65)
  • 5 lb wire ($0.94)
  • Lot of tobacco ($3.09)
  • Case of plug tobacco ($0.62)
  • Two and a half boxes [illegible] ($7.50)
  • Two trunks ($2.50)
  • 40 lb ginger ($3.45)
  • 150 lb white sugar ($17.25)
  • 125 lb brown sugar ($11.25)
  • One cheese [illegible] ($2.25)
  • One steel trap ($0.38)
  • One pair steelyards ($0.75)
  • Twelve lb skin (?) tea ($6.72)
  • 25 lb [illegible] ($22.25)
  • 15 lb alspice ($3.60)
  • 30 lb pepper ($5.40)
  • 8 lb salt ($0.32)
  • 18 lb [illegible] ($1.26)
  • 6 lb Epson salts ($0.60)
  • Case of ginger ($0.23)
  • 17 lb salts [illegible] ($1.70)
  • Barrel of butter ($2)
  • Bag of coffee ($14)
  • 28 lb crackers ($1.88)
  • 12 lb [illegible] ($0.75)
  • 19 lb starch ($1.08)
  • 100 lb nails ($6)
  • 30 lathe (?) nails ($6)
  • 80 lb shingle nails ($5.60)
  • Two horse [illegible] ($1)
  • 70 lb [illegible] nails ($4.20)
  • 14 sheets [illegible] ($0.88)
  • Two whips ($0.50)
  • 14 yards Lyon skin ($10.50)
  • 7.75 yards [illegible] ($15.09)
  • 32 ditto ($4)
  • 18.75 ditto ($2.15)
  • 135 ditto ($13.55)
  • 50 ditto ($8.12)
  • 17.75 yards ditto ($2.43)
  • 45.75 ditto ($4.57)
  • 24 [illegible] ($3.52)
  • 28 [yards?] flannel ($5.25)
  • Five pair of [illegible] ($1.75)
  • 3.5 yards of cord ($1.09)
  • 18.75 yards cord ($6.37)
  • 15.75 drab cloth ($27.62)
  • 5.25 white [illegible] ($3.28)
  • 3.75 mixed cloth ($18.12)
  • 3 yards of [illegible] cloth ($0.94)
  • 14 yards blue cloth ($31.50)
  • 12 yards blue cloth ($31.56)
  • 7 1/4 yards blue cloth ($19.30)
  • 10 yards Buckram ($1)
  • 20.25 cloth ($30.38)
  • [illegible] ($0.25)
  • Five green veils (?) ($2.18)
  • One [illegible] ($0.50)
  • Two light silk [illegible] ($0.46)
  • Two ditto ($0.62)
  • 12 yards cashmere (?) ($10.50)
  • 7.25 satinette ($3.62)
  • 4.25 ditto ($2.12)
  • 10.75 [yards?] blue cashmere ($16.12)
  • 21.5 satinette ($12.53)
  • 8 yards black (?) cloth ($5)
  • 12 yards blue cloth ($4.50)
  • 5.5 drab cloth ($4.12)
  • 15.75 tartan plaid ($4.95)
  • 39.5 teal (?) flannel ($4.94)
  • 14.5 yards cotton [illegible] ($6.04)
  • 47 yards green flannel ($11.75)
  • Lot of cotton thread ($2.62)
  • 86 yards gingham ($10.75)
  • 98 ditto ($9.80)
  • 14.5 yards stripe [illegible] ($2.32)
  • 26.25 [illegible] ($6.57)
  • 4.75 check ($0.59)
  • 27.5 cotton stripe ($4.95)
  • One buffalo skin ($5)
  • 10.75 ted (?) flannel ($3.37)
  • Remnant (?) of flannel ($0.12)
  • 105 yards calico ($10.52)
  • 39 wide ditto ($5.85)
  • 56.25 yards ditto ($8.44)
  • 92.25 yards ditto ($17.61)
  • 38.5 yards ditto ($7.60)
  • 23.75 yards ditto ($5.84)
  • 49.5 yards ditto ($7.92)
  • 72 India calico ($16.56)
  • 10.25 spotted flannel ($3.84)
  • 7.75 ticking ($1.94)
  • 21.25 check ($4.68)
  • 7 yards gingham ($1.05)
  • 12.75 furniture [illegible] ($3.88)
  • Six pair black hose ($2.62)
  • Four pair white ditto ($2.50)
  • Four black cotton ($1)
  • Five white cotton ($1.72)
  • 42 yards [illegible] ($6.48)
  • Six bed quilts ($5.25)
  • 35 children's [illegible] ($1.05)
  • 14 cotton flags ($2.19)
  • 16 cotton [illegible] ($2)
  • 3 [illegible] ($0.28)
  • 9 [illegible] ($1.80)
  • 13 ditto [illegible] ($1.17)
  • One large cotton shawl ($0.75)
  • Two green silk shawls ($1)
  • Two cotton [illegible] ($1)
  • Nine silk [illegible] ($5.62)
  • One ditto ($0.75)
  • 4 bandanas (?) ($2)
  • Three yards vesting (?) ($2.25)
  • 4.5 vesting ($1.68)
  • 2 vest portions ($1.25)
  • 6.75 white muslin ($0.68)
  • 15.5 ditto ($2.02)
  • 43.75 ditto ($9.62)
  • One [illegible] ($0.15)
  • 25.5 black [illegible] ($4.83)
  • 10.5 ditto ($1.89)
  • 21.25 tabby velvet ($9.24)
  • 18.75 black [illegible] ($5.52)
  • 15.75 ditto ($1.97)
  • 8.25 twilled ($2.31)
  • 5.25 [illegible] ($1.15)
  • 20.25 silk stripe ($10.12)
  • 21.5 [illegible] ($4.33)
  • 3.75 sateens ($1.88)
  • 1.25 cotton stripe ($0.18)
  • 15.5 green silk ($5.81)
  • 5 [illegible] dresses ($6.25)
  • 4.5 mill muslin ($1.72)
  • 11 yards spider net (?) ($1.98)
  • 5.75 [illegible] ($2.30)
  • 8 yards ditto ($2.80)
  • 7.25 ditto ($1.81)
  • One wrapper ($0.12)
  • Four shawls ($0.75)
  • 4.75 spidernet ($0.59)
  • Four [illegible] shawls ($1.50)
  • 1.5 [illegible] ($0.75)
  • 11.25 book muslin ($2.10)
  • One wrapper ($0.12)
  • Two cedar pails (?) ($0.88)
  • Eighteen watch ribbons ($0.90)
  • Four cloak clasps ($0.50)
  • Eight watch seals ($0.50)
  • Nine keys ($0.56)
  • Three yards lace ($0.13)
  • Four buck skin mitts ($1.25)
  • Eight pair gloves ($3.50)
  • Two pair ditto ($0.50)
  • Three men's ditto ($0.69)
  • Thirteen oz black sewing silk ($4.87)
  • 12 oz assorted ditto ($3.75)
  • One pair gloves ($0.12)
  • Three oz. [illegible] ($1.50)
  • Two [illegible] furniture binding ($0.50)
  • One dozen tapes ($0.56)
  • Lot of silk braid (?) ($0.62)
  • One box hooks & eyes ($0.18)
  • 32 pieces ribbon ($6)
  • Three pieces ribbon ($2.50)
  • Two flats (?) ($4.75)
  • Two ditto ($2.25)
  • One beer pump ($15)
  • One stove and pipe ($15)
  • Two lamps and [illegible] ($0.52)
  • Two old candlesticks ($0.12)
  • One [illegible] ($0.88)
  • Two pair smoking irons ($0.88)
  • Two tons of plaster ($10)
  • Two old pails ($0.38)
  • Three silver spoons ($2)
  • Two [illegible] cows ($18)
  • One yellow cow ($16)
  • Two cows ($36)
  • Cart shelvers (?) ($0.50)
  • Two narrow axes ($0.75)
  • Lot shoe thread ($0.75)
  • 112 [illegible] flour ($2.25)
  • Wearing apparel ($22.75)
  • 33 fowls ($6.18)
  • Four guinea fowls ($0.75)
  • One turkey ($0.38)
  • Two geese ($0.88)
  • Five pair snuffers (?) ($2.19)
  • Four pair siphons (?) ($0.75)
  • Five pair ditto ($0.75)
  • Ten pair [illegible] wine (?) ($0.31)
  • Ten dozen buttons ($1.25)
  • One lot buttons ($3.12)
  • One half dozen Brazilian combs ($2.12)
  • One ditto ($0.22)
  • Lot of combs ($0.72)
  • Two packs (?) of pins ($2.12)
  • One lot ditto ($0.56)
  • Eight wallets ($0.64)
  • Lot of books ($1.56)
  • Seven Japan (?) lamps ($0.88)
  • Nine top (?) lamps ($0.56)
  • 13 sparrowbills ($0.93)
  • Nine paintbrushes ($0.94)
  • Seven pair wool cards ($1.31)
  • Ten combs ($0.42)
  • Five [illegible] straps [illegible] ($0.62)
  • Snuff boxes and combs ($0.44)
  • Nine razors (?) ($2.25)
  • 14 [illegible] knives ($1.31)
  • Three ditto ($0.25)
  • Six ditto ($0.62)
  • Six ditto ($0.62)
  • Seven ditto small ($0.37)
  • 10 ditto ($0.83)
  • Three ditto ($0.38)
  • One hammer ($0.38)
  • Five shoe tarps (?) ($0.62)
  • Two knives ($0.75)
  • One m [illegible] braids ($0.31)
  • Pegging awls ($0.12)
  • One basin (?) ($0.12)
  • Combs and [illegible] ($0.18)
  • Lot of mousetraps ($0.38)
  • Lot of [illegible] beads ($0.38)
  • Awl hafts ($0.70)
  • One chisel ($0.25)
  • Three pair hinges ($0.47)
  • Four spike gimblets ($0.25)
  • One pair pinchers ($0.25)
  • Nine gross shoe tacks (?) ($1.62)
  • Lot screws ($0.31)
  • Two slates ($0.25)
  • 22 lb chocolate ($3.52)
  • One bunch shutting pins ($0.12)
  • 36 [illegible] augers ($1.80)
  • One pair brushes (?) ($0.19)
  • Lot Jews harps ($2)
  • [illegible] ($1.62)
  • One box Spanish [illegible] ($3.50)
  • One box shaving soap ($0.75)
  • Lot of garden seed ($0.50)
  • Two shoe hammers ($0.32)
  • Two dozen shaving boxes ($0.75)
  • Four bottles blacking (?) ($0.50)
  • Five part ditto ($0.31)
  • Eight [illegible] ($0.83)
  • One bottle of lavender ($0.75)
  • Bottle of [illegible] ($0.50)
  • Jar of snuff ($0.75)
  • Lot of dishes ($0.50)
  • Jugs and pitchers ($0.62)
  • [illegible] of coloring ($0.88)
  • Lemon syrup (?) ($0.18)
  • Lime squeezers ($0.18)
  • Six flat files (?) ($1.50)
  • Three spoons ($0.38)
  • Eight pair nippers ($0.75)
  • Three snuffer trays ($0.38)
  • Four shoe knives ($0.33)
  • Nine pair compasses (?) ($0.83)
  • One dozen knives and forks ($1.62)
  • One lot of gimblets ($1.50)
  • Decanters and bottles ($1.25)
  • 2.75 lb indigo and pot ($6.18)
  • Pot of brownstone ($0.18)
  • Tallow and barrel (?) ($2.25)
  • Shot box ($2.50)
  • Pewter measures ($1.31)
  • Tin measures ($1)
  • 16 gallons lamp oil ($11.52)
  • Oil can ($4)
  • Cask of [illegible] wine ($17)
  • 16 gallons [illegible] wine ($16)
  • 28 gallons cherry ($14)
  • 16 gallons Holland gin ($13.60)
  • 10 gallon kegs ($3.38)
  • 30 gallons Jamaica rum ($22.50)
  • 34 brandy ($29.75)
  • 4 cherry ($2)
  • One gallon cordial ($0.50)
  • 2.5 currant wine ($1.25)
  • 10 gallons corn brandy ($4.50)
  • One barrel ($0.62)
  • 35 gallons [illegible] ($24.06)
  • 120 gallons [illegible] ($45.60)
  • Gin and [illegible] ($1.12)
  • Two pewter tea pots ($1.25)
  • Scales and weights ($13.37
  • Wine and cask ($1)
  • Sixteen gallons rum (?) ($12)
  • Beer barrel ($0.50)
  • One half [illegible] tobacco ($1.38)
  • One hogshead of sugar ($1.25)
  • One barrel of cider ($1.50)
  • One barrel of beer ($4)
  • Tub and contents ($0.75)
  • Three empty casks ($2)
  • Lot tobacco ($1.12)
  • Currant wine and cask ($7)
  • Cherry and cask ($4)
  • 74 gallons brandy ($33.75)
  • 55 gallons molasses ($18.15)
  • Old boxes tubs etc. ($0.50)
  • Spade and shovel ($0.38)
  • One pair shears ($0.12)
  • Cash in silver ($95.63)
  • Cash in cents ($2.33)
  • Silver ($15.78)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Scenes from Bellevue Poor House

Photographs of Bellevue Poorhouse, Blackwell's Island, NY, 1900. Via the Museum of the City of New York (link).

Scenes from the Kings County Almshouse

Photographs of the Kings County Almshouse, Brooklyn, NY, Circa 1900, via the Museum of the City of New York (link).

A Scene from the Randall's Island Poorhouse

Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. (1875). Waiting for the second table : inmates of the Poor-House on Randall's Island, East River, at New York City, forming in line for dinner (link).

A Scene from the Richmond County Almshouse

Richmond County Almshouse, Port Richmond, NY, 1900. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Transfer from the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Social Museum Collection (link).

A Scene from the Chenango County Almshouse

Chenango County Almshouse, Preston, NY, 1900. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Transfer from the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Social Museum Collection (link).

A Scene from the Oneida County Almshouse

The Women's Day Room, Oneida County Almshouse, Rome, NY, 1900. Source: Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Transfer from the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Social Museum Collection (link).

A Scene from the Philadelphia Almshouse

"Philadelphia Almshouse: A Busy Corner in the Shoemaker's Room" by Alice Barber Stephens, 1870. Source: Library of Congress.

How did people die in the almshouse?

For a while I've had a very ambitious plan in mind. It began with the Episcopal cemetery. I've always liked cemeteries because they provide a material link to ordinary people from the past -- the kind of people I can imagine being my friends and neighbors. It seemed like a democratizing gesture to study and preserve cemeteries: a means of bringing attention to our historical counterparts, the farmers, bakers, shoemakers, and housewives of the 18th and 19th century whose stories help to personalize the sweeping course of historical movements.

But there are another class of people who are even more neglected than the "ordinary" (read: middle-class) residents of the Episcopal cemetery. They were buried in mass graves in potter's fields and in the cemeteries of institutions. They may have received a grave marker, or they may have not. If they did receive a grave marker, it may have been made of perishable materials, and it may not have recorded their names. Today many of their graves are unmarked, unknown, even obliterated.

Such erasure is an affront to the cult of individualism that forms the ideological core of capitalist society. According to this ideology, we are all individuals. The irony, of course, is that individuality and homogeneity seem to go hand in hand. According to some Marxist archaeologists, individuality is an illusion that masks the reality: we are all interchangeable. In Historical Archaeologies of Capitalism (1999), Mark P. Leone summarizes the theory of E. P. Thompson:
Thompson argues that the individual is a social creation, and that those people who realize their lives within the notion of individualism are not individuals as they conceive themselves to be, but rather are the interchangeable units of a society that makes its profit from selling the labor of persons who come to be seen as duplicates (200).
Material culture is both the reflection of this reality and the substrate from which it is created. Leone cites ceramics as an example. With the 18th century, tablewares were more and more likely to be individualized, that is, accumulated in numbers that were intended to be proportionate to the number of people being served. Everyone got his or her own plate, cup, saucer, and bowl -- a true innovation in a society that had been accustomed to using communal tablewares. Yet the ceramics also increased in homogeneity at the same time they increased in number. A set of tablewares was one in which all of the pieces were the same. Both ceramics and people were being homogenized.

So how does this connect to the almshouse? The almshouse, much like the prison, was an institution centered on the production of individuals. Consider what Foucault writes in Discipline and Punish (1979):
"... individualization is ‘descending’: as power becomes more anonymous and functional, those on whom it is exercised tend to be more strongly individualized … In a system of discipline, the child is more individualized than the adult, the patient more than the healthy man, the madman and the delinquent more than the normal … when one wishes to individualize the healthy, normal and law-abiding adult, it is always by asking him how much of the child he has in him, what secret madness lies within him, what fundamental crime he has dreamt of committing" (193).
Institutions like the almshouse provided the blueprints for imposing discipline on the rest of society, not through external coercion, but by conditioning people, from an early age, to internalize order and social expectations. 

In my thesis, I hope to explore how the Westchester County Almshouse functioned as an instrument of discipline, not only for the people who lived there, but for all of society. But I have a parallel project in mind, which is to identify all of the people who were buried in the almshouse cemetery, and in doing so make some effort to counteract the forces that have (and continue to) erase "undesirable" people from society. The fact that the middle-class cemetery stands, while the almshouse cemetery is buried under a highway, is not a coincidence. It is practically allegorical. It demonstrates how inequalities of the present are perpetuated in historical memory. Marginalized in life, the residents of the almshouse are also marginalized in death.

Unfortunately, this project is easier said than done. There is no simple document that identifies all of the burials in the almshouse cemetery (that I have found, anyway). Instead, I have been combing through the enormous ledger documenting all of the people who were living in the almshouse as of 1875 or later (1875 is the year that New York State passed a law requiring almshouse to keep such records. Before that year, evidence is scanty) and recording the ones who died while they were there. Between 1875 and 1879, 1,490 people were listed as residents of the almshouse; 220 of them died. That's about 15%. I have also been looking for mortality schedules in the federal census that list the residents who died that year. These are very valuable records, but unfortunately they only capture people who died in the almshouse in the year the census was taken (once every ten years). 

Note that not all of the people who stayed at the almshouse would really qualify as "residents." Some of them stayed less than a week before leaving. Some of them stayed only a day before they died. Some of them lived there for decades and died there. It's very difficult to gauge the quality of care that the almshouse inmates (as they were known) received from death rates alone. Many of the residents would have suffered from ill health for months or years before they arrived at the almshouse. Still, it is safe to say that conditions at the almshouse weren't optimal. Judging by the intake records, residents were forced to work as much as their health allowed; they received only two meals a day (prior to 1890); and there was no dedicated hospital before 1900. While many of the people who died at the almshouse were elderly, it wasn't unusual for young adults and children to die unexpectedly. 

In the document above, from the mortality schedules of the federal census, records 28 deaths in the almshouse in the year ending May 31, 1880. It's difficult to read, but I have been able to gather the following data:

Number of men: 18 (64.3%)
Number of women: 10 (35.7%)

White: 25 (89.2%)
Black: 3 (10.7%)

Marital Status
Single: 13 (46.4%)
Married: 1 (3.6%)
Widowed: 14 (50%)

Infant (0-2 yrs): 1 (3.6%)
Child/adolescent (3-19 yrs): 0 (0%)
Young adult (20-39 yrs): 2 (7.1%)
Middle adult (40-59 yrs): 9 (32.1%)
Old adult (60+ yrs): 16 (57.1%)

Average age*: 62.1
Average age of men: 59.2
Average age of women: 63.5

*The one infant is not counted.

Youngest age: One month
Oldest age: 88

New York: 13 (46.4%)
Ireland: 10 (35.7%)
Germany: 3 (10.7%)
Switzerland: 1 (3.6%)
France: 1 (3.6%)

Laborer: 17 (62.9%)
Servant: 8 (29.6%)
Keeping house: 2 (7.4%)

*The one infant is not counted.

Cause of Death
Consumption: 6 (21.4%)
Heart disease: 4 (16%)
General debility: 3 (10.7%)
Brain disease: 2 (7.1%)
Cramps: 1 (3.6%)
Epilepsy: 1
Apoplexy: 1
Old age: 1
Septicemia: 1
Gangrene: 1
Bronchitis: 1
Pneumonia: 1
Kidney disease: 1
Illegible: 2

So what can we glean from this data?

First of all, it may come as a surprise that the average age of the adults who died is 62.1, 63.5 for women and 59.2 for men. This seems fairly high, considering that in 1880, the average life expectancy at age 20 was 62.2 years for both men and women. However, it would be wrong to conclude from this that the residents of the almshouse were living about as long as the average man or woman. Rather, the data is likely skewed by the fact that residents of the almshouse were more likely to be elderly than the average population. That the women who died in the almshouse were slightly older than their male counterparts isn't surprising; with an older population, women were less likely to be of reproductive age, and therefore less vulnerable to the potentially fatal complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

The ratio of men to women (64.3:35.7) is similar to that of the total population of the almshouse in 1870 (62.8:37.2), suggesting that at least in this year, men and women in the almshouse died at equal rates.

To make any conclusions on the causes of death, I would have to compare these numbers to those for the average population. But I will say that consumption, heart disease, "general debility," brain disease, epilepsy, and kidney disease all have the potential to be drawn-out, wasting illnesses that would incapacitate the victim for a long period of time prior to death. It is therefore not surprising that these "slow" illnesses would account for such a large portion of the deaths in the almshouse, as opposed to, say, highly virulent and deadly diseases like influenza, cholera, or measles. My theory is that victims of "fast" killers would be more likely to die at home, where they would have been incapacitated for only days or weeks prior to their deaths, while victims of "slow" killers would have been brought to the almshouse when their families realized they didn't have the resources to provide the months or years of care they would need.

It's just a theory, however, and one that will need more testing. For now, I am focused on identifying the rest of the people who died in the almshouse, in the hope that I can then determine whether they were buried on the almshouse grounds. Most likely, the majority were, but a few may have been claimed by their families for burial elsewhere. It would be unfair to condemn families for "abandoning" their relatives to the almshouse. Some people undoubtedly were abandoned and neglected, but others simply had the misfortune to come from very poor families (or to have no family at all). Some of the records explicitly mention that a person's family had run out of money supporting him or her. Others say that the person has family willing to support them but is "too proud" to ask for help. And some records contain the name and addresses of family or friends who promised to bury the person upon his or her death. 

Some families, however, may have been too poor to provide their relative with a burial, and thus the person was buried in the almshouse cemetery. I'll discuss more of the details surrounding the fate of the almshouse cemetery in a later post, but for now, I thought I'd mention the efforts at the Oregon State Hospital that have partly inspired all of this work.

The Oregon State Hospital contains the cremated remains of 3,600 people who died there between 1914 and 1971 and were never claimed by relatives. A few years ago, a state senator visiting the hospital was shocked to see the thousands of urns locked away in the dilapidated crematorium. He led a project to rehouse the remains in a public memorial and to reunite as many of the urns as possible with their families. 

This is the kind of outcome I would like for my project, albeit on a more modest scale (the Oregon State Hospital had the advantage of a high level of public interest, partly generated by its association with the movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," which was filmed there). 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Probates: Peter N. Ferris

Peter N. Ferris was a nearly exact contemporary of Abijah Merritt, born just four years later, who died two years earlier at the age of 56. And like Abijah Merritt, Peter Ferris died without a will, leaving his widow to deal with his estate. However, Peter Ferris's estate was an order of magnitude larger than that of Abijah Merritt, resulting in a much longer and more complicated process of sorting out debts, expenses, and property values.

The fact that he was a wealthier man than Abijah Merritt is reflected in Peter Ferris's gravestone, which is larger and more elaborate than Merritt's. It features an urn and willow motif, multiple different inscribed fonts, the deceased's name in a decorative cartouche, a plain rectangular border, and an epitaph inscribed painstakingly in tiny letters at the bottom of the stone. While not far from Abijah Merritt's stone, Peter Ferris's stone faces the opposite direction (to the east), reflecting a trend that was gaining traction in the mid-19th century: that is, the tendency to place gravestones facing frontally toward the entrance to the cemetery. The stone of Peter's wife Phebe also faces east, but many of the other Ferris stones face west.

Phebe's stone is somewhat unique in giving such prominence to her maiden name, Ward. Phebe's maiden name is also featured in references to her in her husband's probate records. I think it's fair to presume that Phebe Ward Ferris's natal identity was one that was very important to her, and which she may have consciously endeavored to preserve against the homogenizing force that typically obliterated a woman's ancestral name upon her marriage.

While Abijah Merritt's estate was administered by his son Caleb, Peter Ferris's estate was administered by his widow Phebe and John Curney. Upon Peter Ferris's death, they published a notice in the Peekskill Republican "for claimants to present their claims against [Peter Ferris's] estate," which appeared for six months. The claims of these creditors were then affixed to the estate inventory. Peter Ferris's estate was appraised and sold at public auction to pay his debts.

I find this aspect of the inventory somewhat difficult to understand, but as I have interpreted it, Peter Ferris's estate amounted to $6,193.15 in total, of which $3,469.05 was used to distribute to the various expenses. Phebe herself received a sum of $223.98 from the estate. From this she paid $181.98 to Joshua Putney for interest on his mortgage, $18.00 for a coffin for her husband, $22.00 for gravestones (plural - not sure if this means that Peter Ferris originally had a footstone, or whether Phebe may have purchased herself a gravestone at the same time), and $2.00 for digging the grave and setting the stone.

From this point on, the inventory is divided into several schedules.

Schedule A.
"Containing a list of the goods, chattels, & stock mentioned in the Inventory of the goods, chattels, and credits of Peter N. Ferris deceased, taken by the administratrix & administrator of the [estate] of the said Ferris deceased with the aid of Josiah Purdy and John Hallock sworn appraisers duly appointed for such purpose by the Surrogate of the County of Westchester, so far as the same could be ascertained, sold at public auction on the 31st day of October in the year 1845."

This schedule is four pages long and consists of a list of items (mostly agricultural implements and supplies and livestock) and the individuals to whom these items were sold, along with the prices. Just to give you a sense of the intricacy with which these records were made, here is my favorite section, featuring cows:

What must it have been like for Phebe Ward Ferris to see her husband's estate so meticulously and clinically deconstructed, appraised, and sold? I imagine that her life would have been completely upended - not only by the death of her husband, but by its fallout and consequences for the direction that the rest of her life would take.

Schedule B.
"Containing a true statement of the debts due the estate of Peter N. Ferris deceased mentioned in the Inventory made as stated in Schedule A which have been collected or otherwise adjusted to the credit of said estate with the interest collected or allowed on the same."

The total value of the debts collected was $4,567.82.

Schedule C.
"Containing a true statement of all moneys collected by me as due the estate of Peter N. Ferris deceased and of all moneys belonging to said estate that have come into my hands, not mentioned in Schedule B." Totaling $961.95.

Schedule D.
"Containing a true statement of the debts in the inventory of the estate of Peter N. Ferris deceased mentioned which have not been collected and which have not been collectable for the reasons herein after mentioned. Total balance due: $528.38

Schedule E.
"Containing a true statement of claims presented against the estate of said Peter N. Ferris and which have been paid or settled." Total: $2724.10

The following section of the probate record lists the "creditors and next of kin" to Peter N. Ferris to be apportioned part of his estate:

James D. Sherwood
Maria S. Sherwood
Joseph D. Ferris & Eliza his wife
Absalom N. Ferris
John H. Scott & Mary E. his wife
Silas C. Whitney & Sarah M. his wife

A little searching reveals that Sarah M. Whitney was born Sarah Matilda Ferris, the daughter of Peter N. and Phebe Ward Ferris, in 1825. Silas Constant Whitney was a farmer who lived in Yorktown; Sarah was the second of his three wives (at separate times, of course). The other next of kin are described in the section below:

"Whereas the said Peter N. Ferris died intestate, leaving him surviving his widow the said Phebe Ferris, and the following persons his only next of kin, viz.: Emily, a daughter of said deceased, the wife of George M. Sherwood; Jane, another daughter of said deceased, the wife of James D. Sherwood, who has since deceased leaving her surviving, her husband the said James D. Sherwood, and an infant daughter Maria S. Sherwood; Joseph D. Ferris, a son of said deceased; Sarah M. another daughter of said deceased & now the wife of Silas C. Whitney; Benjamin M. Ferris & Absalom N. Ferris, sons of the said deceased, and Mary E. another daughter of said deceased, and who is now the wife of John H. Scott; it is therefore further ordered and decreed that the said administrator and administratrix divide the remaining sum of $2339.38 into seven equal shares or portions of $334.19 each" to be divided among the aforesaid relations.

The Estate Inventory
Finally, the full inventory of Peter N. Ferris's estate is listed, along with the appraised value of each item.

  • One brindle cow ($15)
  • Three other cows each $15 ($45)
  • One other cow ($16)
  • Three other cows each $14 ($42)
  • One other cow ($17)
  • One dry cow ($8)
  • One heifer ($7)
  • One other heifer ($4)
  • One pair of oxen ($75)
  • One stack of hay ($16)
  • One other stack of hay ($16)
  • One other stack of hay ($20)
  • One other stack of hay ($8)
  • One other stack of hay ($16)
  • Hay in the barn ($16)
  • One horse (young horse) ($70)
  • One old horse ($5)
  • One ox cart ($30)
  • Five forks ($1.50)
  • One shovel ($1)
  • Three rakes ($0.37)
  • Eight planks ($1.50)
  • One ox yoke ($1)
  • One other ox yoke and [illegible] ($1.50)
  • One lumber wagon ($40)
  • One ox shed ($3)
  • One grain cradle ($3)
  • One corn sheller ($5)
  • Sixty bushels of corn at fifty cents per bushel ($30)
  • Seventeen barrels ($2.12)
  • One lot of pine boards ($2.50)
  • Two crobars at $1.50 each ($3)
  • One lot of double harness ($4)
  • One other set of double harness ($4)
  • One set of single harness ($2)
  • One buck saw ($0.75)
  • One string of bells ($0.50)
  • One iron wrench ($0.25)
  • One drawing knife and pincers [?] ($0.75)
  • One compass and square ($0.50)
  • Two chisels ($0.50)
  • Four augers ($1.50)
  • One scythe and two sticks ($1.75)
  • One half bushel measure and small measure ($0.75)
  • Two potato hooks ($0.75)
  • Two hoes ($0.75)
  • One old saddle ($1.50)
  • One whip ($0.25)
  • One iron scoop ($1)
  • One horse rake ($5)
  • One grindstone ($5)
  • One coopers [illegible] ($0.50)
  • One hogshead and cider ($1)
  • One hammer ($0.12)
  • One shed ($3)
  • Two ladders 50 cents each ($1)
  • Two axes ($1)
  • Three ox chains ($3)
  • Three ploughs ($10)
  • One stone boat ($1)
  • One harrow ($1)
  • Three cider barrels and cider ($1.50)
  • Nineteen pigs $1.50 each ($28.50)
  • One churning machine ($3)
  • Five bushels of rye in granary ($3.12)
  • One gun with accouterments ($8)

There was a separate list for "widow's right," that is, the items considered to be Phebe Ward Ferris's personal property.
  • The family Bible, some school books
  • One stove. One franklin
  • The books, which are not in value $50
  • Four sheep and three lambs - one red
  • Cow - two swine - and the pork of the swine butchered for use of the family
  • Wearing apparel
  • Four beds, bedsteads, and bedding
  • The usual cooking utensils
  • The widow's clothes and the clothes of her family
  • One table, six chairs
  • Six knives and forks, six plates
  • Six teacups and saucers
  • One sugar dish, one milk pot
  • One teapot and six spoons
  • Two tables
  • Eighteen plates
  • Eighteen cups and saucers
  • One sugar dish
  • One teapot
  • Fourteen chains
  • One rocking chair
  • Two looking glasses
  • Carpets in use and necessary

Comparing Peter Ferris's inventory with Abijah Merritt's, it's clear to see that the former had a great deal more property, yet the rights of his widow were still restricted to personal possessions, tableware, furniture, and some livestock. Had either man thought to write a will, he could have allocated his widow a greater portion of his estate, or required that his children provide for their mother's care as a condition of their inheritance. When the two men died without a will, the law interceded to protect the widow's right to her own possessions. Yet these items seem somewhat meager in proportion to the entirety of the deceased's estate, and it is easy to imagine how the wives of men poorer than Abijah Merritt or Peter Ferris could have been devastated by their husbands' deaths. It's not surprising that many elderly widows sought refuge in the almshouse.

Phebe Ward Ferris outlived her husband by twelve years, dying on January 14, 1857. Her large marble headstone features a decorated "IN Memory of", the usual biographical details, and an epitaph reading:

Think not that they are blessed alone
Where days a peaceful tenor keep.
The God who loves our race has shown
A blessing for the eyes that weep.
Come Lord Jesus come quietly.

  1. Peter N. Ferris (1789-1845) m. Phebe Ward (1791-1857)
    1. Emily Ferris (1812-1878) m. George M. Sherwood (1812-1901)
    2. Jane Ferris m. James D. Sherwood
      1. Maria S. Sherwood
    3. Joseph D. Ferris
    4. Sarah Matilda Ferris (1825-) m. Silas Constant Whitney (1810-)
    5. Benjamin M. Ferris
    6. Absalom N. Ferris
    7. Mary E. Ferris m. John H. Scott