Saturday, March 10, 2012

Elias James' Will, Part 2 of 3

3 Item.  I give and bequeath onto my son Thomas James all my right and title of a lot of lease land that I now live on containing one hundred acres with the buildings and appurtenances thereunto belonging to him, his heirs, and assigns, he yielding and paying his mother yearly and every year during her natural life or the expiration of the above lease which ever first, the sum of two pounds Virginia currency.  I also give and bequeath my said son Thomas my little mare and colt, saddle and bridle, one gun, and tackle. 

4th Item. I give and bequeath onto my son, Isaac James all my right and title of my other lot of lease land containing one hundred and two acres with all the buildings and appurtenances thereunto belonging to him his heir and assigns, he yielding and paying his mother yearly and every year during her natural life or ‘til the expiration of the lease which ever first, the sum of two pounds Virginia currency. 

          In the 1700s it was not uncommon for leases to last for 50 years, for the life of the tenant, for 100 years, or practically in perpetuity.  Many landholders did not live in the colonies and either leased the land out to someone with the understanding that he would pass it on to his son, or landholders would simply hire and agent who did the same thing.  It’s much easier to simply sign a rental agreement and walk away than to mess around with paperwork every year.  And given the fact that land was plentiful, most landowners owned thousands, even tens of thousands of acres, and that all the improvements to the land (such as clearing forests for farmland, building houses, digging wells) all belonged to the landholder, there was no need to try to gather every penny possible from the current tenant.  Rather, land would be leased for extended periods of time, the monies collected quarterly or annually, and the lease passed on from generation to generation, all the while the landholder’s property was growing in value.  (Weren’t they shocked and unhappily surprised when the colonists won the Revolutionary War and all of their land became that of their former tenants?)
          Thus it was that Elias could pass on his leased lands to his sons.  Thomas was to receive the 100-acre parcel on which Elias lived, and presumably had his cooperage, since there is no mention of property, eased or owned, in any town.  Isaac received a 102 acre parcel of land, with buildings and other improvements.  The only stipulation was that each son was to provide his mother with a cash payment of two pounds Virginia currency each year until her death.
          So how much was the four pounds that Anne received each year?  This was a difficult question to answer.  First I had to determine what the value of a Virginia pound was in relation to a British pound sterling.  Of course it all depends on the year, and sometimes even the month, but ultimately I settled on oone pound Viringia equaled 85% of oone pound sterling.  Then determine the dolar value of a pound sterling.  Now calculate the value in today’s dollars.  Do the math, and voila!  Anne received the 2012 equivalent of $3550 from each son every year.
          But $7100 does not seem like much when it comes to an annual income.  True.  And Anne does not appear to have received any land or house on which to live.  But this was a time and place where any one of her children would have taken her in to live with them.  Thomas might do so since his new home was already her home.  If Isaac did not have a wife, he might ask his mother to stay with him.  And there would have been no expectation of Anne paying rent to her sons for her room and board.  It was merely their filial duty to provide her with a place to live.
          Or I should say Anne, and Hannah, and James, and Elias Jr.  Because Elias’ will tells us that there were still three children at home who needed to be cared for.

5th Item. I give and bequeath unto James Nichols married to my daughter Ann, she being since deceased, one dollar and one third.

          This is a nice little gesture.  James is Elias’ son-in-law and apparently there are no children from the marriage of James to young Ann.  Perhaps both Ann and the child died in childbirth.  It was not uncommon in those days.  And while Elias has no obligation to make a bequest to James, he does so, to the tune of $519 in 2012 money.

6th Item. I give and bequeath onto my daughter Hannah James one feather bed, bedstead and bedding, one cherry bed, bedstead and bedding, one wool wheel, one flax wheel, one check reel, one large trunk, one small walnut box, one iron pot, one flatiron, one pair wool cards, the new velvet side saddle, and a Bridle, also all the dresser furniture, tea and coffee-ware except above excepted for her mother, also the big looking glass with all the drinking bowls and glasses. 

          It looks, on first glance, as though Hannah Jane is getting the lions’ share of goodies.  Even more things than her mother – two different beds, various spinning wheels (and no, I have no idea what a “check reel” is unless Elias was throwing in a fishing reel with all of the household goods!), various other household goods, a new velvet side saddle, and drinking bowls and glasses. 
But in actuality, most of these were things Hannah Jane would need to set up housekeeping when she got married.  Granted, two beds is a bit of a luxury, but I assume that Anne got the best bedroom set of the lot and Hannah Jane got the left overs.  The items for spinning would be important  to a young housewife since all the clothes had to be handmade and fabric that was bought cost more than fabric that was woven from threads that were spun from fibers that were grown right at home.  And a young married couple would be more likely to use the big looking glass and the drinking bowls (think teacups with no handle) and glasses than would Anne.
          As for the saddle, who do you think Elias bought it for?  Remember, Hannah Jane could not own anything while she was under her father’s house.  So even though everyone “knew” the saddle and bridle were for her use, if Elias didn’t specify that it was hers, it would have fallen into the “all that I shall hereafter in anywisesoever possess” category mentioned below.
          You will notice that Hannah Jane received neither money nor lands from her father.  Just the sort of “hope chest” things that a young woman would need upon her marriage.

7th Item. I will that all my wearing apparel be equally divided between my two sons, Thomas and Isaac, and all my books of divinity be equally divided among all my children and the younger ones then to [be] carefully preserved ‘til they come of  age.

          While it may seem odd to us to think of inheriting our dead parents’ clothes, remember the time and effort that was put into making these things.  (And Elias could have been a bit of a dresser, with some fancy clothes to go along with his work clothes.)  So receiving an extra set of clothes or two would have been a very valuable bequest.
          But I most enjoy the knowledge that the James’ have always been a bookish lot.  Elias has enough books in his home that each child will receive at least one book, and since he did not specific which child received which book, it is probably a safe assumption that there was a large enough library of divinity books in the James household that each of the six children would be taking home two or more books.  Notice that even the younger children were to receive their share of the books, with theirs being safely put away until they were old enough to appreciate them.
          This little bequest tells us several things about the Elias James family.  One, that religion was important to Elias (he was a Quaker) and he at least assumed that it was also important to his children.  Two, all of the James children were able to read.  Why give books to illiterates?  But beyond being simply able to sound out words, they were educated well enough to understand and appreciate the subtleties and difficulties of religious books of the 18th century.  And finally, I wonder if Anne, out of the entire household, was unable to read?  If she could read, why were there no books given to her?  Since there is no specific mention of her requiring care after Elias’ death, she was probably not blind nor infirm in any other way.

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