Thursday, March 8, 2012

Elias James' Will - Part 1

(Note:  This blog got a tad bit in 13 pages.  This is the first 4 pages and I will add installments over the weekend!)

Today I am going to examine a will of one of our relatives, Elias James.  Elias was born on February 11, 1745 in Upper Merion Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.  He married Anne Matson, born in 1750, also of Upper Merion, in 1767.  Interestingly, the marriage took place in Loudoun County, Virginia.  It appears that a number of Philadelphia families chose to move to Virginia at the same time.
     Elias and Anne appeared to be happy and successful, as will be seen when we discuss Elias’ will more closely.  They had six children: Thomas, Isaac, Ann, Hannah, James, and Elias.  James James, born in 1777, is my ancestor.
      I have attached copies of the pages of the will, which, although not great copies, are still better than my transcription.  I offer my hearty thanks to Ila Jean Garlitz Drugg (daughter of Grace Viola James Garlitz, the sister of my grandfather, Melvin Chester James, the greatx3 grandson of Elias) for finding this will and including it in her book The James Path.  I do not remember when this book was written, but it must have been at least 25 years ago.  Her diligence in finding, documenting, and recording her work has saved me countless hours.  Thank you Jeannie!
      In addition to the photocopies of the will I am going to include my transcription of the will, paragraph by paragraph, and then my comments on it.  I have modernized the spelling and punctuation, and created the paragraphs from the large monolithic whole that is Elias’ will, and have indicated with brackets [thus] any place where I inserted information for ease of reading.

I, Elias James of the County of Loudoun in the State of Virginia, cooper, being some afflicted in body but of perfect mind and memory, thanks be given unto God for the same and calling to mind the mortality of my body and that it is appointed for all men once to die, I therefore commend my soul to him who gave it and do ordain this my last will and testament in manner and form as followeth.

     Loudoun County, Virginia is in the northeast corner of the state, sharing a border with Maryland.  A cooper is a barrel maker, an important occupation in a world without cardboard boxes.  If something was going to be shipped, it went in either a wooden box or a barrel.  Most things were sent in barrels because they were so sturdy and so unbreakable.  (Check out this YouTube video from Mythbusters to see just how unbreakable a barrel filled with 500 pounds can be: - you can ignore the peeing on the rail part if you want, but it’s pretty funny)  Dishes, food items, and of course wine and other potables were shipped and stored in barrels.  Later in the will we will discover just how lucrative the cooperage business can be.    

First I imprimise [“in premise” or “in the first place”] I will that all my just debts and funeral charges be paid and discharged by my executors hereafter named, 

2nd Item.  I give and bequeath unto my beloved wife Anne:  one square walnut table, two chairs, one feather bed, bedstead and bedding, one chest of drawers, one iron pot, one Dutch oven, one frying pan, one bucket, one wash tub, one flatiron, one pewter basin, three pewter plates, one pewter dish, three spoons, one pewter tea pot and sugar bowl, three tea cups and saucers, one tea kettle, one tin pan, two tin cups, two earthen dishes, two milk pans, one earthen pot, two white plates, two knives and forks; these for her to enjoy while she remains my widow or during her life which ever first then she shall return to our children that may then survive, share and share alike.

Oh, to have Anne’s legacy today!  Each item would bring a fortune in an antique store or auction.  What I find most interesting about this list of items is that they are all intended to provide Anne with a comfortable life, with a certain degree of elegance and luxury.  She has a table and two chairs, a feather bed with all the necessary bedding and bedstead, and a chest of drawers for her bedroom. 
For entertaining guests she is given plenty of cooking tools:  an iron pot and (I assume since I have never heard of a tin Dutch oven) an iron Dutch oven provide her with the highest quality cookware.  There is no mention of the material making up the frying pan, but I also assume this is made of iron.  The Widow James will be able to cook like a queen.  For cleaning up and carrying water she has a bucket and a wash tub.  There is a flatiron for ironing, and two (presumably tin) milk pans.    
          For her fancier dining and entertaining she receives a pewter basin (think large flat bowl, along the lines of 14 to 16 inches in diameter), three pewter plates, a pewter dish (another bowl, only smaller), three pewter spoons, and a pewter teapot and sugar bowl plus three cups and saucers of unnamed material.  For everyday use she has a tea kettle, a tin pan, two tin cups, two earthen dishes (think ceramic), an earthen pot, two white plates (china or ceramic), and two knives and forks.
While it may sound unkind and domineering to our modern sensibilities when we read the provision that these are for Anne “to enjoy while she remains my widow” this was a not unusual addition to wills which I believe was designed to protect grieving women from being preyed upon by unscrupulous men.  By only providing these relatively valuable items to the Widow James and taking them from her if she remarries, Elias is ensuring that she only remarries someone that she truly loves, or someone who has more than she does.  Because, remember, once Anne remarried, all of her goods would belong to her new husband, who could then sell them, break, them, or kick her out of the house and deprive her of them.   However, if she remarried a man of greater wealth, then she (presumably) wouldn’t mind exchanging her good things for his better things.  And if she married a man and there was mutual and reciprocal love, then neither would mind that she lost her material goods, because to have love without property was preferable to property without love.

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