Thomas Dodson’s Estate Inventory, A Tallow Sort of Fellow, 52 Ancestors #153

We met Thomas Dodson in his original article, and we know that he was born in 1681 and died in 1740. What we didn’t have then, and have since acquired, is Thomas’s estate inventory.

On April 6, 1741, the estate inventory was submitted to the Richmond County, Virginia court for Thomas Dodson who had died on November 20th of the previous year, and whose will was probated on February 6th, 1740/41.

Estate inventories are very often overlooked resources, with just the date of the inventory being recorded. Many books that transcribe records don’t include the details, but those details are so very important. Don’t presume that the records don’t exist because they weren’t transcribed because that’s exactly what happened with Thomas Dodson.

I was fortunate that the original records remain in Richmond County and the clerk’s office was willing to make me a copy. I didn’t know that there was a detailed inventory until the envelope arrived.  I was doing the happy dance by the mailbox in the snow, once again.  Not everything is online, and some of the best records aren’t! You’ll never know if you don’t ask.

Why Estates?

When a person dies, the items that they own must be filed with the court. In some locations, the only record is that the inventory was filed, and in others, or at other times in history, the entire estate inventory is copied into the record book.

In some locations, the estate sale, including who the items were subsequently sold to, and how much they paid, are also included, which helps immensely to determine relatives based on who attended the estate sale, and to track important items forward in time. For example, the family Bible.

At this time in history, and throughout the entire colonial era and beyond, when a man died, everything owned by the couple was considered to be owned by the man. The very few exceptions are when something was willed or deeded specifically to the female in her own stead, generally after she was married, and prohibiting her husband was having influence or control over the item. That rarely happened, so when a man married a woman, everything that was previously hers became his, including anything she actually owned from a previous marriage. He could not sell land without the wife releasing her dower right, meaning her right to 30% of the value when he died – but otherwise, he could do anything he pleased with whatever he wanted.

The good side of this situation is that when a man died, his estate inventory literally included everything except his actual land. Therefore, the woman’s spinning wheel, loom, pots and pans…everything…was listed, except for her clothes.

This provides us with a view of the entire family at that point in time. Rather than skimming over the estate, take time to really become one with it. By this, I mean, analyze it, look things up, and research. What did an ox cart or a pewter plate look like in 1740?

You can learn information about your ancestor through their estate inventory that you could never learn any other way – unless you’re lucky enough that they kept a journal.  Raise your hand if your ancestors kept a journal?  Mine neither!

I utilize Google extensively, as well as Wikipedia. I enter the item I’m searching for, with the word “antique” included. This often gives me sites on e-bay and antique dealers. So for stillyard I would enter “stillyard antique 1700s.” In the case of colonial Virginia, I often add the word colonial, or try different word combinations in different order. By the time I’m done, I discovered a lot about my ancestor’s world just from the items he owned. I found a lot more than is included here, but when I’m writing for my blog, I have to worry about copyright.  When you’re just researching for yourself, you don’t have to worry about that.

After you’re finished, you can then figure out a lot more by what kinds of items were missing. Let’s do this for Thomas Dodson, and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

Thomas Dodson’s Estate Inventory

Thomas Dodson’s estate wasn’t particularly large and includes the following bulleted items with their estimated values in pounds, shillings and pence. Spelling preserved as it was in the original.  You can click to enlarge any image.

I don’t know what some of the items are, so any help is appreciated.

  • 4 cows and 4 yearlings – 4.8.0
  • 3 heifers and 1 stear – 1.10.0
  • 8 cows and young stear – 4.0.0
  • 1 cow and calfe 0.10.0

I noticed that commas were not used in the inventory, as there should be a comma between oxen and cart in the item below.

  • 1 yoke of oxen cart and wheels – 4.15.0

Teams of oxen were rarely split as they learned to pull together and were most effective as a team. In this case, they were sold with their cart and wheels and were a relatively high value item. You can read about oxen, carts and wagons in this Colonial Williamsburg article, complete with pictures.

  • 32 hoggs and 8 pigs – 4.0.0
  • 14 sheep and 3 lambs – 2.0.0

Slavery

I don’t even know what to say about the next inventory entries. I try very hard to simply review my ancestors lives and attempt to understand them in the context of the timeframe in which they lived, from their perspective – but the vile institution of slavery rails against everything I believe in. I realize that perspectives were much different then, and I realize that had the slaves not been sold into slavery, they would probably have died at the hands of their tribal captors in Africa, but nothing can justify the institution of slavery – especially not in hindsight. I can only hope that Thomas was a kind and gentle man and that he had a caring relationship with the humans over whose lives he exercised complete control in every way possible.

  • 1 negroe man named Harry – 22.0.0
  • 1 old negroe woman named Sue – 12.0.0
  • 1 negroe woman named Bess – 23.0.0
  • 1 negroe child named Joe – 7.0.0
  • 1 negroe lad named Dick – 22.0.0
  • 1 negroe girl named Sarah – 16.0.0
  • 1 negroe girl named Nan – 14.0.0

In 1726, the North Farnham parish register shows Thomas Dodson as a slave-holder, but it doesn’t say whether Thomas Dodson is Jr. or Sr. Slave births were not recorded by the name of the slave, but by the master to whom the slaves belonged.

We know based on a 1733 deed entry that Thomas’s son, Thomas Dodson Jr. was to own at least one slave “as soon as any comes to Virginia to be sold.”

There simply weren’t enough slaves, or indentured servants, to go around for the labor-intensive tobacco crops.

The chart above is compliments of the Jamestown/Yorktown Foundation educational material.

Slaves were heavily utilized in the production of tobacco on the Virginia plantations, as shown by this advertisement showing tobacco workers in Virginia.

It wasn’t until Thomas Dodson’s will that we knew for certain that he too was involved in the slave trade. His will sets forth negroes named Sarah, Harry, Bess, Joe, Sue, Dick and Nan and Thomas’s children to whom the slaves were to descend.  I was relieved not to find my ancestor, George, among those receiving slaves.

From the time Thomas wrote his will on February 17, 1739/40 and when his estate inventory was probated 14 months later, the negroes he owned had not changed. I chafe at even using the word “owned” in context of humans.

Bess and Joe were to descend to the same heir, suggesting perhaps that Joe was Bess’s child. Bess’s value suggests that she is of an age to have additional children, which makes me wonder if Harry is Bess’s husband since their value is almost equal and they live on the same plantation. Clearly both are in the prime of their lives. Let’s say they are age 30, which means they would have been born about 1710.

Sue and Dick were also supposed to go together. In the inventory, Sue is referred to as an old woman and Dick as a lad, where he is referred to as a boy in the will. His inventory value suggests he is older and capable of hard and productive field work almost equal to that of an adult.

I’m left wondering what would have been considered “old” at that time.

Perhaps the history of slavery in Virginia would lend some perspective here. I’d wager, in general terms, someone 60 or older would have been considered old.

In 1741, a 60 year old person would have been born in about 1681.

In 1650, there were only about 300 Africans living in Virginia. Originally imported Africans were treated as indentured servants. Some Africans did complete an indenture, were freed, purchased land themselves and later, purchased slaves as well.

By 1640, at least some Africans were slaves and by 1660 slavery had become part of the culture, at least in practice if not in law. In 1662, a Virginia suit ruled that children would carry the status of their mother, regardless of their race, paternity or if they were of mixed heritage. The 1660s begin to show signs that Africans were clearly slaves. For example, one African servant who attempted to escape with white servants could not have his indenture time extended, as the white indentured servants did, so he was punished by branding. The only reason an indenture could not have been extended is if the man could never have become free.

If the slave Sue was considered old and was born about 1680, she could have been born into slavery in Virginia, or she could have been born in Africa and imported as either a child or adult.

By the end of the 1600s, Africans were being imported in quantity for sale by the Dutch and English, in particular, and by 1750, it is estimated that there were 300,000 African slaves in Virginia, although many were not first generation. We know that in 1733, there was more demand for slaves than there were slaves available and there was a waiting list to purchase slaves.

More of Thomas’s Estate

  • 1 feather bed and furniture – 5.0.0
  • 1 feather bed and furniture – 3.0.0
  • 1 feather bed and furniture – 6.0.0
  • 1 feather bed and furniture – 5.0.0
  • 1 feather bed and furniture – 2.10.0

We don’t know anything about Thomas Dodson’s plantation, including whether or not his slaves lived in the house with the family or whether they had their own quarters.

A document produced by Colonial Jamestown tells us that small planters typically had 5 slaves or less, including children, and indicated that slaves on small farms often slept in the kitchens or an outbuilding or sometimes in small cabins near the farmer’s house. This document shows some reproduction photos of slavery in colonial Virginia, including slave quarters. Thomas Dodson owned 7 slaves, of which 4 were children, one was old and 2 were adults. Maybe he was slightly larger than a small farmer, but if so, not much.

One thing is for sure, the feather beds and furniture were not for the slaves.

Does this means that Thomas Dodson’s house had 5 bedrooms? That’s unlikely for the timeframe, especially given that children of that time were expected to share bedrooms, and often, to share one bedroom. And sometimes, that bedroom was the attic loft.

However, the fact remains that Thomas Dodson owned 5 feather beds and furniture and they had to fit someplace. Poor people slept on straw beds on the floor.

Thomas Dodson clearly wasn’t poor.

  • 2 chists (chests) table and forum – 1.0.0

A chest in this context probably means a chest of drawers, but I don’t know what forum would be.

  • 1 chist trunk – 0.8.0

A chest in this context probably means a chest like a trunk, probably wooden.

  • Cash – 6.8.2

Given that almost all of the transactions in Northern Neck Virginia were paid using tobacco, it’s amazing that Thomas actually had this much cash on hand.

Here’s the second half of the first page of Thomas’s estate.

  • 2 mares and 1 horse – 8.15.0
  • 1 cubbord – 1.0.0
  • 1 old rugg – 0.2.6

In colonial Virginia, rugs were not used on floors, but hung on walls or used on beds for warmth. Bed rugs, according to the “History of Quilts,” in the 1700s, were of a low grade wool and manufactured in England. In 1755, Samuel Johnson described them as “course, nappy coverlets used for mean beds.” They may have been knotted shag, although no examples remain today.

  • 6 qll? (pounds?) Best puter – 8.9.0

There is no way for us to know if the best pewter and the other pewter is a function of quality, decoration, or wear, or maybe some combination. The pewter plate above, for sale by an antique dealer, is from the 1700s and actually has scratches on the surface from usage.  Lead was originally used in the production of pewter.

  • 3 yll? Of puter – 0.17.0
  • 1 old oval table – 1.0.0
  • 9 old chairs – 0.9.0

Given that there is no other table, this had to be the kitchen table and chairs.  Thomas Dodson had 9 children, so the family had 11 in total.  No spare chairs, that’s for sure.

  • 1 large Bible – 0.15.0

Oh, what I wouldn’t give for this Bible. I’m guessing that this Bible may have originally belonged to Thomas’s father, Charles Dodson. Thomas couldn’t read, but his father could. It would not be unlikely that the Bible was given to Thomas by his father, or by his older brother, Charles at or before his death in 1716, if father Charles had left the Bible to son Charles.

The Bible was probably oversized and leather bound as was the custom with Bibles of the time. It was also worth as much as some of the pewter and more than the 9 old chairs, not quite as much as the oval table, but exactly as much as a pair of cart wheels with the parts to finish.

I have to wonder, if Thomas could not read, and we know he signed his name with a “T” mark, what did he do with a Bible? Perhaps it was sentimental in nature.

  • A parcel of tools – 0.18.0
  • 1 chist 2 small cask – 0.7.0

Wooden boxes during that time were called caskets. Given the chest context above, I suspect that’s the kind of cask being referenced. However, the 13 lid of cask below probably references lids to tobacco casks, which were used to pack full of tobacco and roll the tobacco down the road, termed rolling roads, to the docks where the casks would be loaded for England.

  • 13 lid of cask – 2.12.0

A tobacco cask was called a hogshead, shown below and was often quite large, almost 3 feet wide holding 1000 pounds of tobacco.

  • 1 still and tub – 6.0.0

There’s no doubt about the meaning of a still. Alcohol at that time was believed to be medicinal as well as recreational. You can read a fun article by Colonial Williamsburg here about drinking and distilling in colonial America. George Washington’s distillery at Mount Vernon is wonderfully preserved, although certainly much larger and involved than a single still.

People regularly drank beer, because typhoid was passed in water contaminated with fecal matter. Beer was much safer, and was often consumed in place of water. Oh, and by the way, cider at the time was alcoholic too, so don’t think your ancestor drinking “syder” was a teetotaler. He wasn’t..

All things considered, it’s amazing that fetal alcohol syndrome wasn’t rampant with the estimate that people of that time drank roughly 8 ounces of alcohol daily. Maybe women didn’t consume as much alcohol as men.

This photo below is the copper pot from a still displayed in the Museum of Appalachia.

And the still itself.

The still was obviously considered quite valuable, as much so as a feather bed and furniture or the smallest slave child.

  • 2 raw hides and side of leather – 0.9.0

I wonder if these hides were from domestic animals or from wild animals. My suspicion is that they were domestic. Nothing was wasted. A hide would have been untanned and leather was ready for working.

  • 2 pr cart wheels part to finish – 0.15.0
  • 1 pr spoon moulds grasp (or prasp or trays) and pinchers – 0.8.0

I looked for spoon molds and found molds for spoons. I doubt that is what was meant. Anyone have any ideas?  There are no candle molds in the inventory, but spoon molds aren’t candle molds, are they?

  • 7 old books – 0.75.0

I looked at this two or three times. Seven old books were worth more than a gun? And maybe the reason they were old books is because they had belonged to Thomas’s father, given that Thomas was not literate. Did he keep his father’s books for sentimental reasons? Why did a man that couldn’t read own old books?  I’d love to know the titles.

  • 1 gun – 0.10.0

Would the gun have been a pistol? If so, this tells us distinctly that Thomas wasn’t hunting. I suspect by the time that the Northern Neck had been settled for 50 years or more, by the time Thomas was born, the wildlife was pretty well hunted to extinction in that region.

This flintlock pistol was from circa 1700-1730.

  • 1 box iron heaters and spit – 0.8.0

I’m not sure what iron heaters were at the time, but a spit would have been used to turn meat in the fireplace (or in an outside kitchen) while cooking. You can see photos of lots of colonial American furniture here, as well as fireplace apparatus.

  • 2 pair tongs and candle sticks 2 pottacks 2 narrow ? – 0.19.6

I wish they had said what the candlesticks were made of. Obviously, some kind of metal but they were not included with the pewter. Perhaps brass?

  • 1 cross cut saw wrost? and file – 0.10.0

A cross-cut saw is designed to cut across the grain of wood and is usually quite heavy duty. This example is a two man saw with a springboard.

By Eugene Zelenko – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8452686

  • 4 broad hoes and 2 narrow do (ditto, meaning hoes) 1 frying pan 13 old hoes 2 old axes – 0.16.0

An ax from the 1700s. Men forge fond alliances with their long-time favorite tools.

A story from the farm where I grew up was about the old ax. There are only 2 parts to an ax, the handle and the blade. At some point, the handle got replaced, and at another point, the blade got replaced, but it’s still considered and referred to as the same “old ax” even though neither of the original ax parts remain.

  • 1 womans saddle and bridle 1 old saddle pistols holsters and bridle – 1.0.0

I notice that there is one less saddle than horses in the inventory.  In colonial times, horses were not used in the fields.  Oxen were.

At that time, women rode sidesaddle, with the pommel being located to the left of the saddle instead of in the center.  This would have been Thomas’s wife’s saddle and probably also used by his daughters from time to time.

I do wonder if it was the woman’s saddle that had the pistol holsters, or if this just happened to be listed together. All sorts of thoughts flew through my head.

This article by Colonial Williamsburg shows a saddle pistol holster at the bottom, along with saddles and bridles from The Saddler’s Shop.

And this fellow, being the original gun collector, apparently, sports several holsters as this year’s new fashion look on the front of Pirates Illustrated:)

  • 1 pair hand irons 1 frying pan 4 roap hooks 8 ½ brass 1 lavie? Pam (pan?) – 0.18.9

I have absolutely no idea what a lavie? Pan might be, but I know what a frying pan is!

This item, below, found at an antique shop and now sold is a plantation size frying pan. I swear, it’s large enough to make paella for everyone, although paella wouldn’t have been on the menu in early Virginia.

I had presumed that a frying pan would be cast iron, but obviously, I was wrong.

  • 2 tin pans kittle and lanthorn 127 lb? pott iron – 18.6

I’m thinking this probably was not a tea kettle.

Lanterns were the only form of lighting other than candles. Many lanterns were designed to be carried outside and were sometimes hung outside. Lanterns enclosed the flame to reduce the risk of fire.

The second page of Thomas’s estate begins, below.

  • 1 basting ladle 1 iron Do (ditto) and flesh forks pr stillyards 1350 nails – 1.0.6

A stillyard is a weighing and balancing device. This picture actually shows a stillyard from Pompei, but they changed very little over the years.

Nails were individually hand forged on plantations by blacksmiths. Each nail, at this time, was square headed and nails were valuable commodities. There is no evidence of blacksmith tools, so Thomas would have purchased or traded for these nails. I wonder if he was planning to build something.

This photo is not from Thomas Dodson’s property, but it’s from a restored Virginia property built around the same time, using square nails and construction probably similar to that found in Thomas Dodson’s home.

  • 2 punch bowls 1 earthen dish 2 pieces earthen ware – 0.12.0

I wonder if a punchbowl suggests entertaining.

  • 2 tubs 3 pails 1 piggin 6 trays 1 moal tubb – 0.12.0

A piggin is a small pail with the handle on the side used for measuring grain.

These items all look to be for maintaining livestock

  • 2 old sefters? 1 old rundlet 1 old dripping pan 2 meal bags 1 leather wallet – 5.0

This leather wallet is from the 1700s. When open, it contains pockets much like wallets today.

A rundlet is a small barrel which may contain from 3 to 20 gallons. As a measure for wine, it often contains 18.5 gallons.

  • 1 grinding stone and some triflets 12 lb? wool 1.5 lb? yard 1.5 lb? cotton – 0.13.6

A grinding stone would have been something used on the farm, like a grinding wheel, or something closer to the Native American grindstone which consisted of a smaller stone to be used with the hand and a larger stone that the smaller stones crushed or pounded corn or grain against.

A triflet is another name for trinket or trifling item.  I sure would like to know what those triflets were.

  • Looking glass 1 slate a parcel knives and forks – 0.6.0

A looking glass, another term for mirror, was most definitely a luxury item, but it’s the only luxury item in Thomas’s estate. We don’t know if this was a handheld item or a larger wall-mounted mirror.

I sure would like to know how many knives and forks were in that parcel. Often estates had fewer silverware pieces than people, which makes me wonder at the mealtime protocol.

Does a slate infer education of children, perhaps? I believe, but am not sure, that George Dodson, my ancestor who was the son of Thomas could write.

  • Old spinning wheel 1 old shoot – 0.3.0

Spinning wheels were essential to colonial households. Everything had to be spun into thread or yarn before it would be woven or made into something else. You can read an article about weaving, spinning and dyeing at Colonial Williamsburg, here.

I don’t know what a “shoot” is.  Any ideas?

  • 10 lb? taoller (tallow?) 6 bottles 2 dunking glasses – 0.4.8

Does anyone know what a dunking glass is?

Women made candles of tallow using cotton or linen wicks. However, tallow candles were odiferous, given that they were made from rendered animal fat, and not odiferous in a good way. I’m surprised that there are no candle molds given that he has tallow, although wicks could also be dipped in liquid tallow to form candles. However, this methodology was generally for those too poor for candle molds, and Thomas’s doesn’t seem poor.

Wealthier people could purchase candles made of beeswax. Apparently Thomas Dodson was a tallow sort of fellow.

  • 10 cups and salt seller – 0.2.8

A salt seller, today termed a salt cellar, is quite close to my heart. I’ve been infatuated with salt cellars since I was young and have a small collection today. Salt cellars are items of tablewear used to hold and dispense salt. In the 1800s, each individual person had a cellar set at their place beside a pepper shaker, but earlier, everyone shared one cellar, dipping salt with a small spoon or pinching with their fingers the amount of salt they wanted. Family sizes cellars were maybe 2 inches across, with personal cellars being an inch or so. We don’t really know what this “seller” was made of, but since it is listed separately from the pewter and with the cups, I’d wager it was glass or china and not silver or metal. Salt is corrosive, so glass was a much more utilitarian device. This beautiful English salt cellar is from about the 1720s.

  • Old broad ax 1 iron wedge 1 goudge – 0.3.0

A gouge is a type of woodworking chisel, shown below, being utilized to make a dovetail joint.

By Aerolin55 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8266918

Contemporary gouges of different shapes and sizes and a wooden mallet used to strike the gouges.

Thomas’s inventory was dated April 4th, and signed and recorded by the court on April 6th, 1741.

Charles Dodson, John Hightower and William Everett were the appraisers.

The Charles Dodson listed would not have been Thomas’s son, Charles, as heirs were never appraisers. Thomas’s brother, Charles was deceased already, so the Charles Dodson in question was Thomas’s nephew, Charles Dodson.

Tobacco

By now, you’re probably wondering where the entry for tobacco was on Thomas Dodson’s inventory.

On August 3rd, 1741, apparently Thomas Dodson’s tobacco crop had been picked and appraised at a value of 3,986 pounds and was further registered with the court.

The most interesting information is that we now know about how much tobacco Thomas’s plantation produced in a year. This tobacco crop had to support the entire household for the entire year.

If one adult male could work about 3 acres of tobacco, let’s say that 2 children could work the same as one adult. We know that Thomas Dodson had 3 adult or nearly adult slaves and 3 slave children, plus one old woman slave. Let’s say that was equivalent to 4 or 5 adults, we know then that Thomas had 12 or 15 acres of tobacco under cultivation. If we divide 3986 pounds of tobacco by 4 people, roughly 1000 pounds of tobacco was produced by each adult. If we divide 3,986 by 5, then about 800 pounds of tobacco produced per person, or about 266 pounds per acre under cultivation.

Of course, we don’t know if Thomas Dodson’s youngest sons were also working in the fields. I would wager than any male living at home was expected to do just that, so Thomas’s two youngest unmarried sons may have also been working the crops. A third son was reported to be blind.

What’s Missing?

Notice there is no entry for corn on Thomas’s inventory, nor was there an additional inventory filed, at least not that made it into the record book and was transcribed.

Corn, hay and grains would have been required to overwinter cows, pigs, sheep and horses. While some cows and pigs would be slaughtered each fall, farmers couldn’t slaughter all of them or there would be none left to reproduce for the following year. Furthermore, horses were extremely valuable and utmost care would be taken of the horses.

Speaking of horses, there weren’t many, and there was no buggy or wagon – which is kind of odd considering this was a plantation.

How did the women get to town or to court, or is this one of the reasons why we seldom see their names in court records? Men rode horses to court and there were no wagons or buggies? There was, however, a woman’s saddle in the inventory. Almost every time a female releases her dower rights in the Richmond County records during this timeframe, she appoints a male power of attorney to represent her in court. Perhaps this tidbit shines additional light on why.

There were no trade tools, such a carpenter’s tools, blacksmith’s tools or cobbler’s tools. This tells me that Thomas had to trade for all of those items and services. His only commodity to trade, other than livestock and perhaps corn, although there was none listed in his inventory, was tobacco.

There were no weaving looms, so cloth would have to be purchased.

There was no table other than the old oval table and no chairs other than 9 old ones.

There were no couches or other furniture that would suggest any sort of aristocracy or that Thomas was anything more than a general farmer in today’s vernacular.

Growing up on a farm, the farmer was always at risk; from insects, from weather, from equipment breaking down, from the markets crashing. Never, ever was the farmer not at risk and never, ever did he not worry incessantly about the crops.

Cost of Goods in Colonial Virginia

Thomas had available cash, meaning sterling. It’s difficult to understand how much items cost, so let’s take a look at the pricing for standard items that was set by the Richmond County court on March 6, 1727.

  • One gallon good syder (cider) – 12 pence or 10 pounds tobacco
  • One quart of punch made with good sugar and lime juice one third rum – 12 pence of 10 pounds tobacco
  • One quart of Madeira Wine – 2 shillings or 20 pounds tobacco
  • One gallon of French Brandy – 14 pence of 14 pounds tobacco
  • One quart of French Brandy Punch made with white sugar – 2 shillings or 20 pounds tobacco
  • One quart of French Clarret – 3 shillings or 30 pounds tobacco
  • One good dyet (diet) – 1 shilling or 10 pounds tobacco
  • Pasturage for a horse – 24 hours 6 pence or 5 pounds tobacco
  • One night’s lodging – 6 pence or 5 pounds tobacco
  • One gallon Indian corne – 7 and one half shillings or 6 pounds tobacco
  • One gallon rum – 8 shillings or 80 pounds tobacco
  • One quart bottle of English beer – 12 pence or 10 pounds tobacco

It seems most of these items had to do with alcohol, but that’s OK, because we know our colonial ancestors consumed a lot. And look, now we have a recipe for two kinds of punch that were likely in that punch bowl in Thomas’s inventory.

I equalized the sterling currently of the time and then calculated how much Thomas Dodson had at his death.

A pence was equal to roughly a pound of tobacco, according to the court order, so 2,402 pence would have been equal to about 2400 pounds of tobacco. Therefore, it appears that Thomas had a little more than one half of a year’s worth of cash on hand, assuming that 3.986 pounds of tobacco was a year’s income.

Extrapolating from that, it looks like it took about 10 pounds sterling for Thomas Dodson to run the plantation for a year, and feed everyone, assuming the 3,986 pounds of tobacco was a representative year.

What We’ve Learned

Based on Thomas’s estate inventory, it appears that he wasn’t poor, but he certainly wasn’t rich, considering that he didn’t own any luxury items other than a looking glass.  He didn’t own a buggy or wagon or even beeswax candles. He had one gun and fewer saddles than horses. He didn’t own enough chairs for his entire family to sit at the table at once, and there is no bench listed in the estate.  There is only one table and no couches or anything else suggestive of anything beyond a relatively spartan farmer lifestyle other than 5 feather beds.

The family story was that the Dodsons of Richmond County were wealthy plantation owners.  Maybe not so much – at least not Thomas. Thomas’s wealth, sadly, was in the value of his slaves which were valued at 116 pounds as compared with approximately 94 pounds for the rest of his estate, less the tobacco crop, which of course could not have been produced with only the labor of family members. It was in the best interests of a small farmer to treat his slaves and indentured servants well.  I hope Thomas did.

I think I’ve milked every iota of information out of Thomas’s estate records by this point. If you can think of something I didn’t, I’d welcome your input.

It’s amazing what can be discovered by systematically and carefully analyzing your ancestor’s estate inventory, especially in conjunction with Google search to see similar items of that date and time, and understanding the history and customs of the time and place where your ancestor lived.

Do you have some estate inventories that you could look at again? Hope you didn’t have anything else planned today!

31 thoughts on “Thomas Dodson’s Estate Inventory, A Tallow Sort of Fellow, 52 Ancestors #153

  1. Loved it. I would be interested in who purchased items at his sale

    Respectfully,

    Wanda

    On Sun, Mar 26, 2017 at 3:00 PM, DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy wrote:

    > robertajestes posted: “We met Thomas Dodson in his original article, and > we know that he was born in 1681 and died in 1740. What we didn’t have > then, and have since acquired, is Thomas’s estate inventory. On April 6, > 1741, the estate inventory was submitted to the Richmond C” >

  2. Cousin Carol found that “shoot,” according to the dictionary also means “to variegate (colored cloth) by interweaving weft threads of a different color.” So maybe shoot, listed with a spinning wheel, means some type of variegated thread. Thanks Carol!!!

  3. “Lavie” might be a washing bowl of some kind–for bedrooms, or doing laundry? On Spanish missions here in CA, the lavanderia is the washing area, near the fountain or water source, where clothes were washed.

  4. Dunking glass, I think that is drinking glass, if you look closely you can see a faint dot over the “i”.
    Sefter, probably sifter.
    Saw wrost, Google saw wrest, a tool for slightly bending alternate teeth on a saw to allow it to cut freely without binding.
    Grinding stone, most likely a stone for grinding tools. A stone for grinding grain would more likely be called a millstone.
    Candlesticks, tongs, and pottacks. One form of candlestick is an L shaped iron forging with both ends pointed, one end is driven into a log of the wall, and the candle is placed on the other point, some had a tin reflector to improve the lighting.
    candle tongs are still made. I never heard of pottacks before, a guess is that they were pointed objects to be driven into the wall to hang pots or other cooking implements.
    Pot Iron, most likely raw material for making implements of tools. There once was a form of iron known as pot iron, but the only reference to it I could find was in a book about electrical engineering.

  5. I think his dunking glasses were drinking glasses. A u can be a poorly formed r and an i, and it looks like there is a faint dot above the part of the u that would be an i.

  6. Forum = form? When I was at school in the UK we sat on benches which were called forms. And I understand that the word form, meaning school class, referred to the children sitting on the form. That might answer your question about seating arrangements, particularly as it appears with the table.

  7. Thanks for such a fun and informative article. One thing; since slavery was such a “big business” of the time, I’d wager that a female slave was considered “old” once she was past childbearing age and a male slave would have been “old” once he could no longer do a full day’s work in the field. I’d expect both of those to occur well before sixty. Just my opinion.

  8. Thank you for the interest you have given estate items.
    No plow might indicate a primitive farmer’s co-op. One family owned a plow to plow all the fields in the neighborhood in turn for services by those who had their fields plowed. Since money was scarce, a lot of trading of items and services happened. Tobacco was the cash crop, but corn, nails, and alcohol could be traded, as could almost anything else, including the temporary use of one’s slaves, indentured servants, their own children, or the head of the household.
    No wagon might mean no well developed wagon roads in their area. No boat indicates they lived inland, as they did. No black powder or bullet molds indicates no need for them, or someone made off with them before the inventory was taken. A gun is useless without bullets and powder. No corn or hay for animal food may indicate the supply for the winter may have been used up by the time the inventory was done, or it was simply ignored because it would be soon used. No loom is unusual. One old spinning wheel is mentioned, but there may have been another newer one that was used? There may have been items that “disappeared” before the inventory was taken. The things not mentioned are interesting.

  9. I think that compared to a lot of people of his time, both in the English and French colonies, Thomas Dodson was a mildly “rich” man. He had a lot of possessions, I have seen other lists with far fewer possessions at the time of death.

  10. First let me say that I love your articles, have probably read almost every one of them, and have often found helpful hints that have aided me in my own research. However, you may want to review your conclusion that Thomas kept the Bible and other books only for sentimental reasons. I didn’t go back to your original article on him, but if your only basis for saying that he could not read was that he could not sign his name, that may not be a good indicator. The fact that someone during this period, and earlier, signed with a mark did not necessarily mean that they could not read. I have read that, until more modern times, reading and writing were usually taught as separate skills and many people had at least a rudimentary reading ability but could not write.

      • I first read this in an article several years ago and after doing a little research was reminded many of our ancestors were smarter than we sometimes give them credit for; even some of the common people, peasants, in England in the 1500’s could read but not write. I didn’t document all the sources I found but here are two books I came across that mention reading and writing being taught separately in the past: “The Rise of the Public in Enlightenment Europe” by James Van Horn Melton, Cambridge University Press, 200; and “Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America” by E. Jennifer Monaghan, University of Massachusetts Press, 2007. Dr. Melton, at the time his book was written, was the Chair of the Department of History at Emory University, and Dr. Monaghan is professor emerita of English, Brooklyn College.

  11. In Scotland, the lavatory is still referred to as the lavvy (although not in polite company!) so the lavie pan mentioned is almost certainly a pan usually kept under the bed for peeing in during the night aka a chamber pot.

  12. Hi, Roberta, it’s Curtis, the late DON COLLINS’ cousin. I just wanted to tell you that we (you and I) are cousins on my mother’s side … from this same Thomas Dodson. I come down through his son Abraham (wife: Barbara Russell), and their daughter Tabitha, who married our Daniel Shumate in Fauquier County, Virginia. Their daughter, Charlotte, married Peter Conway (from Edwin Conway’s male line), who served in the War of 1812. When Peter died, Charlotte took their 7 children to Ohio on Peter’s Bounty Land Warrant (give in lieu of payment for his service in the War) … the same way many of my mother’s ancestral lines arrived in Delaware, and then Morrow counties, up in the North, several decades before the Civil War … leaving me with ancestors on that side in the Union, but not the Conferdeate Army. Isn’t that interesting that we had communicated about issues from my Dad’s side, only to learn that we are distant cousins on my Mom’s? This Thomas Dotson was my 7th Great Grandfather.

    In case you never read me asking about this anywhere, I once had a mimiographed sheet (that I found in a lateral file at the genealogical library at Ft. Wayne, Indiana) that preserved an old family story of the supposed founding Dodson [it may have been spelled Dotson, I don’t remember], having emerged from the woods at Williamsburg (I think it said), claiming to have been at Roanoke, and saying that he lived with the Indians all those years, but wanted to come back to live with Europeans. Supposedly–according to the account–he and some other boys had been hunting when they approached the settlement and witnessed unfamiliar Indians attacking the colonists. The boys hid a safe distance away, and later made their way to the camp or villiage of friendly Indians, where they stayed and grew up. The story, supposedly written by a decendant, went on to say that this Dodson/Dotson married and was never taken seriously about this claim … but that he was adamant about its truth until the day he died.

    When I was looking (years ago when I was in the Army), I found no record of the name Dotson or Dodson associated with Roanoke. Still, I believe that there may have been children and indentured people who were not named nd perhaps not counted in the surviving rolls and records. I’d like to find that sheet again.

    • Oh my gosh, it’s good to “see” you again. I remember you well. Had no idea we were cousins though. Truly small world. I would very much like for you to find that sheet too. Do you know about what year that was? I don’t think they have lateral files now, but maybe more info would help. I do know there is a persistent rumor that John Dod at Jamestown was the founder of the Dodson clan. This sounds somewhat familiar.

      • Hello, again.

        Now that you mention “Dod” the sheet may have said that, but it was among “Dodson” family-related papers.

        I’ve inquired about this on-line several times, but never got a responsee. But then, I moved quite a bit and lost access to a number of old email addresses … as well as whatever people might have sent me in response.

        I was in the Army, in my second enlistment when I went to Ft. Wayne (or Fort Wayne ?) it was in conjunction with a training. That would put the date in 1981 or 1982. I thought at the time that someone could easily take the sheet rather than pay the nickle to copy it. I know that I did copy it, but in the intervening third of a century, I can no longer find it. I will look again, but I don’t hold out much hope.

        Another interesting question up the Dodson line is whether the early ancestors named Durham are associated with Port Royal, Southampton, Burmuda, OR Port Royal, Virginia (now) in Caroline County, VA ? I have looked at a few trees available on the internet and marvel at that discrepancy.

        Dorothy (the last DURHAM in the Dodson tree) was born June 05, 1686, in North Farnham Parish, Richmond, VA. She married Thomas DODSON in 1701.

        Both Dorothy’s father, Thomas (5, b: 1661, d: 1715), and her grandfather, Henry (4, b: 1633, d: before 1734), were both born in Port Royal, but both died in Virginia … the father as much as 20 years after the son. Henry (4)’s father [and Dorothy (Durham) Dotson’s Great Grandfather], Thomas (3, b: 1604 in England), died at Port Royal … at no more than 49 years old, before 1653 … when his son, was about 20. Let’s say that the Henry took his son off the island when the young man’s grandfather died, in 1653. That would have the family staying in Port Royal from at the latest, 1631, until, at the earliest departure of 1653, or about 20 to 30 years.

        Of course, THIS Port Royal (in Bermuda) is not the famous Pirate harbor of the same name in Jamaica … once called “wickedest city on earth.” By the time that Jamaica’s anti-piracy law finally cleaned up the other Port Royal in 1681, the three generations of Durham’s who had lived in Bermuda were either dead or already living in Virginia. The port in Jamaica had only been swamped by pirates in 1662. We don’t know the year the Durham’s left Bermuda, but is reasonable to believe that their stay at Port Royal overlapped the heady days of the buccaneers at the one in Jamaica for around (what must have been) 10 worrisome years.

        The Durham ancestors lived in the Port Royal in Bermuda between 1631 and 1653. After they left, the pirates continued to reign supreme in that port [Nick Davis of the BBC News, Kingston (2012), said of Port Royal that, “it was a buccaneers’ paradise with one in every four building said to be a bar or a brothel”] for another 28 years. Ten years after the authorities got serious about removing the pirates from the other Port Royal, an earthquake, a tidal wave and then a fire destroyed the place. But before it got what sounds like the Sodom & Gomorrah treatment, you can bet that our ancestors said a prayer of thanks that the pirates didn’t do to THEIR Port Royal what they did to the other one.

        But, you have to wonder, what were our 17th Century ancestors doing in Bermuda while all that “Black Sails” stuff was happening on that other Island?

        In any case, I believe that they were NOT at the town of Port Royal in Virginia, as some charts say.

        Curtis

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