Rachel’s life story, unfortunately, must be told through the life of her husband, children and the historic events that surrounded her in colonial Virginia.
We know Rachel’s first name thanks to the will of her husband, Joseph Rice, wherein he mentions his wife, Rachel, twice. We have no idea who Rachel’s parents might be.
Joseph wrote his will on December 14, 1765 and in the will, after leaving land to his sons and son-in-law, along with items to daughter Mary Rice, Joseph then turns to his wife, Rachel:
- Well beloved wife Rachel remainder of personal estate during her natural life.
- Sons John, William and Charles after decease of wife, 7 pounds current money of Virginia.
- Rest of estate divided equally after decease of wife. Wife Rachel and David Rice and John Watkins executors. December 14, 1765.
The will was probated on June 16, 1766, so Joseph died sometime close to June.
When Joseph died, three of his sons were underage, meaning that four children were not. If he had underage sons that were 20, 18 and 16, for example, that means that Rachel, assuming she was his only wife and the mother of those children, was approximately 43 years of age 16 years earlier, making her roughly 59 when Joseph died. This suggests Rachel was born about 1707.
The only other actual document we have involving Rachel is the 1767 tax list where she is listed with son John, which tells us that John is age 16 or over in 1767.
Update: A transcribed 1769 tax list shows Rachel taxed with 1 tithe, although who or why is not clear, adjacent Joseph Rice (1), Matthew Rice (6) with James Rice and 4 slaves, James Rice (1), William Rice and Ben Rice (2), David Rice and Joseph Rice (2), William Rice), Rachel Rice (1), John Rice (1), Matthew Rice, Jr. (1), Nathan Rice (1), Thomas Rutledge (1), John Rutledge (1), John Robbins (no number) and then Jeay Rice (1). Jeay is probably Icay. The next year for which tithes exist is 1776 and Rachel is gone.
This updated information means that Rachel was alive in 1769, so after that date but probably before 1776.
I believe Rachel eventually lived with her son Charles, assuming she lived that long, based on this item from Joseph’s will:
- To my well beloved son Charles Rice the remainder part of my land whereon I now live after the death of my well loved wife to him and his heirs forever.
If Rachel was born about 1707, her birth might have been recorded in the parish records of either Hanover County or New Kent.
The Saint Peter’s Parish Register exists for New Kent County from 1680 to 1787 and is transcribed here.
Only one birth of a Rachel occurred in the right timeframe.
- Rachel Jackson was married to Edward Bettes in March of 1708 and a daughter, Rachel, was born in 1709. Her mother, Rachel Jackson Bettes died in 1719.
Rachel might have been named after other Rachels as well, and some might have been named after her.
- Rachel daughter of Edward Huchens and Rebecca was baptized in 1686.
- Rachel daughter of Edward Johnson and Elizabeth was born in 1686.
- Rachel Cox was born to George Cox in 1690.
- Rachel daughter of Alice Doe was born in 1690.
- Daniel Murfield married Rachel Coker in July of 1708.
- Rachel Watson died in 1726.
- Rachel Slayden and her husband Arthur had children in 1730 and 1735.
- Rachel Watson, daughter of Alexander and Esther Watson was born in 1734.
- James and Rachel Blackstone had a daughter in 1735.
St. Paul’s Church in Hanover County was established in 1704 and has records beginning in 1706, but apparently only the vestry records remain. No Rachel’s appear before the mid-1700s.
If Rachel Bettes isn’t the right Rachel, and I’m not suggesting that she is Rachel Bettes, then either our Rachel’s birth record doesn’t exist or she wasn’t born there.
We know that Joseph Rice was found in Hanover County listed in a merchant’s debt book in 1743 and again in the 1744-1745 book. In 1746, Joseph purchased the land the family lived on the rest of his and Rachel’s lives on Sandy River in Amelia, soon to become Prince Edward, County, Virginia.
Since we know that three children were underage in 1766, they clearly had to have been born after arriving in Amelia/Prince Edward County – birthed in the new homestead.
Older children would have been born in Hanover County where baptism records don’t exist, so the wagon lumbering westward would have carried Joseph, Rachel and at least 4 children.
It’s likely that either there were more children and they either died or married and moved away before 1766, or, Rachel buried several babies in Hanover County. Perhaps a combination of both.
Most couples had children on the average of every 18 months to 2 years, for approximately 22 years of marriage. Someplace between 11 and 14 or 15 children would have been born, assuming no deaths at birth which would have resulted in an earlier “next” pregnancy.
Only 7 children total are mentioned in the will and Icay, although not mentioned, is very probably #8.
Religion is always a hot-button. Religious doctrine defines many of our life choices as well as our personal beliefs. For example, Joseph and Rachel did not own slaves, while most of their neighbors and even Joseph’s brother, Matthew, did own slaves. Based on Joseph’s land purchases and estate, the fact that he didn’t own slaves wasn’t based on money, so it clearly had to be based on a moral compass, likely a religious belief. Quakers, Brethren and some Methodists eschewed slave ownership.
Joseph Rice’s son-in-law, James Moore didn’t own slaves either, and James’s son William Moore had become a dissenting minister in the Methodist faith by 1775.
In 1759, Joseph Rice built a dissenting “meeting house” on his property in Prince Edward County.
Dissenters in colonial Virginia were those who did not want to worship in the Anglican church even though their actions were illegal at the time. Catholics were outlawed, but dissenters were any non-Catholic faith such as Presbyterians who arrived from Pennsylvania between 1738 and 1743, Methodists and Baptists. In Virginia, legal activities, such as marriages, were required to be performed by Anglican ministers, resulting in many marriages performed outside of the Anglican church not being registered with the clerk at the county courthouse.
Women at that time didn’t have a lot of choice in selecting a faith different from that of their husband. Rachel was a dissenter’s wife, and therefore by definition a dissenter, whether or not she would have made that decision without the influence of her husband. Either way, that choice, whosever it was, affected her life in numerous ways. For example, the work that was performed by slaves elsewhere fell to the family members – and much of it to the wife.
While wives at that time weren’t sold as chattel property like slaves were, they didn’t have many rights and fewer realistic options.
Dissenting, however, seemed to run in Rachels’ family, so perhaps she had been raised in a family with “radical” religious ideas.
Rachel’s nephew through her brother-in-law, David Rice, was a Presbyterian minister, also named David Rice, another dissenter, who settled and was beloved in Kentucky.
William Rice, perhaps Rachels’ son, built a meeting house, believed to be Baptist, in 1775, just 9 years after Joseph Rice died in Prince Edward County. Rachel may have lived long enough to witness that!
Dissenting seemed to run in the family!
Joseph’s will provides us with the names of Joseph’s children, presumed to be Rachel’s children as well.
In order mentioned:
- Son-in-law James Moore, who is married to Joseph’s daughter. James Moore’s wife, possibly Mary Rice, was born about 1723 based on the ages of known children.
- John Rice, underage in 1765, so born after 1744, appears in Prince Edward County records as early as 1752, so this John is clearly not John, the son of Joseph.
- William Rice, underage in 1765, so born after 1744, appears in the county court records in 1766 as a patroller for 20 pounds of tobacco per day as pay. These records are likely for William, the son of Joseph and Rachel. In 1775, William Rice built a dissenting meeting house on the main road.
- Charles Rice, underage in 1765, so born after 1744, first appears in the Prince Edward records in 1761, so that Charles cannot be the son of Joseph and Rachel.
- David Rice, born before 1744, appears near Rachel on the 1767 tax list. Joseph’s brother Matthew also has a son named David.
- Joseph Rice, born before 1744, appears near Rachel on the 1767 tax list with 1 tithe and the 133 acres left to him by his father.
- Daughter Mary Rice who appears to be single in 1766.
- Icay Rice, not mentioned in the will, but in May of 1765, Joseph states in a deed where he sold land to Icay that he was his son. Ican first appeared in the county records in 1760 signing as a witness, so would probably have been born in 1739 or earlier.
While life on the frontier in a homestead was indeed challenging, especially when compared to life today, Joseph and Rachel were not poor by the standard of the time in which they lived.
In colonial Virginia, when a man died, the estate was appraised and his effects sold or at least valued.
One can tell a great deal about the life of the family by the estate inventory since absolutely everything was included, down to the silverware.
Let’s take a look at Joseph Rice’s estate inventory, because those items will tell us a great deal about Rachel’s life too. The wife owned nothing separate from the husband, so her possessions, except for her clothes, would be included in his estate inventory. I’ve left the spelling, which was not standardized at the time, as found in the original.
- 31 cattle
- mare, 5 horses
- 12 sheep
- 10 geese
- 16 hoggs
In that day and time, 31 cattle and 6 horses was a substantial estate. Five of those horses would probably have been stud horses, probably “rented out” to “cover mares” for local farmers.
- Cart, wheels, old rake
A cart would have been a two-wheeled device as opposed to a wagon with 4 wheels. Wooden wheels broke often, so the wheels were likely spares from “other carts.” You can see colonial carts here that would have been used to ferry tobacco from the fields. Carts can be pulled by people, but wagons need horses or oxen.
Primitive rakes were nothing more than a backbone of wood with wooden teeth, attached to a handle.
- 12 bells
These must surely have been cowbells. At that time, farmland wasn’t fenced so you needed to go and find your cows in he woods.
- 4 jugs, butter pott
The jug was probably stoneware. I wonder what Joseph kept in his jug. Some jugs were whiskey jugs.
The butter pott was probably included in the inventory with the jug because it too was stoneware – a cup or small bowl into which churned butter was deposited.
- some camphire and tickler (tuhler) bottles and a funnel
I can’t find either tickler or tuhler bottle, so perhaps this word is something different.
You can see a Camphor bottle, here. Camphor was used in colonial America as a purgative and was also believed to prevent illness. In 1793, a letter sent to a doctor in Philadelphia where a yellow fever outbreak was underway instructed people to use vinegar or camphor on their handkerchief when visiting the sick, to carry it in smelling bottles and use it frequently.
Camphor was a luxury, imported from Asia, the only place in the world where it was grown. In 1764, Sauer’s Herbal Cures Book referred to its usage. The Dutch imported Camphor into the Netherlands, which in turn exported it to the colonies. It was believed that because Camphor was acrid smelling and kept moths out of clothing, it would do the same for other agents of disease.
Most uses of camphor were external, because internal uses have unexpected, or maybe expected, results. Camphor “drives worms out of children and suppresses sexual passion,” so women were warned about not taking it internally. Camphor, especially camphor brandy, served to effect clandestine abortions. Fits, as mentioned by Sauer, were epileptic seizures.
Here’s what Sauer had to say:
I had to laugh. Yes, Camphor combined with Opium and brandy will assuredly “calm feverish delirium,” because you’re out cold!
So sniff it, drink it, use it as a poultice, make it into Camphor Brandy, or mix with opium and brandy and if it doesn’t kill you, it will cure you!
So, I’m guessing between the Camphor bottles, funnel and jugs, that perhaps Joseph Rice was medicating his family with this wonderful all-purpose remedy, as needed – like any responsible head of household in the 1700s would do.
- 4 pair cards
Given the word pair, these have to be wool cards.
Sheep were washed in a nearby stream before they were shorn in late spring or early summer. The sheep weren’t happy and resisted, requiring multiple adults.
This painting is from the later 1800s, but sheep shearing didn’t change much in a century.
Wool much be thoroughly greased before it can be carded using either rape seed oil or pig grease – three pounds of grease or oil per 10 pounds of wool.
Wool cards were typically leather covered wood with wire teeth. Matted wool was place on one card and them “combed” with the other, unmatting the wool much like brushing hair. You can see how, here.
By 1830, this process had been mechanized. The fact that Joseph Rice had 4 pairs of cards tells us that Rachel and her two daughters spun wool thread to be woven into clothing and the sheep tell us where it came from.
- 3 drawing knives
A drawing knife is a traditional woodworker’s tool used for shaping wood by removing shavings.
Here’s a contemporary draw knife being used to construct a flatbow. According to Wikipedia, drawknives were used to remove large slices of wood for faceted work, to debark trees or to create roughly rounded or cylindrical billets. In essence, it’s used for curved shaving.
Did Joseph and his sons use these 3 for clearing his land and debarking the trees?
- parcel carpenter tools
Carpenters tools consisted of mallets and hammers, wood screw vices, calipers possibly, chisels, saws, boring tools, wooden tools or metal braces and planes to smooth rough surfaces. Adzes would have been used to rough cut the wood or strip the bark from the wood before the more refined tools were used to make furniture or possibly for the interior carpentry of a home. You can read more here.
- parcel shoemaker tools
Shoes are a universal necessity. The fact that Joseph has shoemaker’s tools suggests that he made the shoes for his own family. The above image is from 1658 in a shoemaker’s shop, and below, from the Maine State Museum.
By Billy Hathorn – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34037637
Shoemaking is typically a specialized skill, where the shoemaker makes shoes for many people and families. Every land-owner was indeed a jack-of-all-trades and the master of at least one.
Shoemakers also made boots. Shoes at that time were not constructed for left and right feet. Shoes needed to be switched back and forth so the shoe was not deformed to fit one foot at which point they were considered “ruined.”. Shoes were also passed down in families and inherited.
- two old swords, pistol barrel
Old swords, so let’s suppose they were Joseph’s swords from when he was a young man, from about 1730 or so.
This Antique Arms gallery shows a wide variety of swords.
As I’ve discovered, there are multiple types of swords – two handed swords, one handed swords and sword styles varied in different places in the world.
This plate from The Expert Swords-man’s Companion by Donald McBane (1728) shows a Scottish fencing master holding a basket-hilted broadsword, but on the table beside him are shown broadswords and smallswords. On the wall behind him, we see flintlock pistols and a target. Joseph Rice may have had all of these things.
- 3 reaphooks, meal sifters
A reaphook is also known as a sickle.
Google shows several early primitive grain sifters. A meal sifter might have been for flour.
- old baskets, wool, flax
Baskets were heavily used, so not many remain today from the 1700s. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has a lovely basket-making article and slideshow on their website. Every family needed many baskets and white oak was preferred because it was the only tree in Virginia that would split thin and remain flexible enough to weave.
If you’ve never tried it, basketmaking is a long, tedious affair and makes your hands raw.
Wool and flax were both used to make thread to weave into cloth for clothes.
The perennial flax plant has beautiful blue flowers. Rachel probably loved the blooms, reaching across the horizon in a sea of blue.
The flax plant, shown above, became linen, eventually, after much work. The seeds from the pods were harvested, also known as flaxseed which can be eaten, then ground into a meal or turned into linseed oil.
The soft, flexible fiber used to weave clothing is extracted from the bast beneath the surface of the stem of the flax plant is called roving and looks similar to blonde hair.
The hackle or heckle tool is used to thresh flax and prepare it for weaving.
You can read more about flax production here.
- bed (2), bedstead, furniture, bag of feathers
Rachel and Joseph had 2 beds, possibly two bedsteads and furniture, along with a bag of feathers that would have been curated from the geese to stuff the bed or beds. Some beds were stuffed with straw, so feathers were a luxury. Do you have any idea how many feathers it takes for a feather bed? 90 pounds
This article shows beds and bedsteads from a wealthier non-frontier home, but the basics are the same. The difference would have been that cabins wouldn’t have had ornate hangings.
Wikipedia tells us that:
Feathers for a featherbed could be saved from geese or ducks being prepared for cooking. In England servant-girls were often allowed to keep feathers from poultry they’d plucked and could save them to make a featherbed or pillows for their future married life. Live birds might have their soft downy breast feathers harvested three or four times a year, as described in an account from 20th century Missouri. Some poultry feathers were undesirable for mattress-making, especially chicken feathers. The best featherbeds were filled with a high proportion of down; larger feathers needed to have their quills clipped.
Lengthy preparation and good aftercare were essential. Before use, all feathers and down had to be aired outdoors in sun and breeze or stored indoors in a warm dry space; this would reduce smell and eliminate moisture. Even so, there could be what Harriet Beecher Stowe called “the strong odour of a new feather-bed and pillows”.
In other words, you could either smell the feathers or smell the stove. Apparently either or both was better than not sleeping on feathers.
- barrell with salt
According to “Salt in Virginia,” Virginia has plenty of salt on its eastern edges – not to mention that seawater could be boiled. Apparently, Joseph purchased salt by the barrel, given that it was necessary for the preservation of “bacon,” as all pork was called at that time. One thing is for sure, Joseph couldn’t produce salt on his plantation unless he owned a salt mine.
- 3 old chests and a box
This blanket chest from Virginia in the 1730s is probably very similar to the chests owned by Joseph and Rachel.
Additional photos of this beautiful primitive chest, which is for sale, can be seen here. Take a look at the closeup photos, especially of the beautiful joints. Be still my heart!
- Corn, cotton, tand leather
Crops and leather. Leather, of course, was used to make shoes, some coats, breeches and furnishings. Nothing that died went to waste, except for humans.
Believe it or not, the history of hides and tanning in Virginia was a political minefield. Virginians couldn’t obtain enough leather from England, and the English didn’t want the Virginians exporting hides to England and ruining their markets. You can read about leather workers in Virginia here.
Tanning isn’t a pleasant process. It stinks, literally, and was relegated to the edges of a community or a specific stream branch. Hence, in Halifax County, James Moore’s land included Tan Trough Branch. Probably as far as possible from any house because no one wanted to go there when things were “odiferous.”
A hide to be tanned must be removed from the body before the heat leaves the animal. It gets worse from there. Wikipedia tells us about the history of tanning:
Formerly, tanning was considered a noxious or “odoriferous trade” and relegated to the outskirts of town, amongst the poor. Indeed, tanning by ancient methods is so foul smelling, tanneries are still isolated from those towns today where the old methods are used. Skins typically arrived at the tannery dried stiff and dirty with soil and gore. First, the ancient tanners would soak the skins in water to clean and soften them. Then they would pound and scour the skin to remove any remaining flesh and fat. Next, the tanner needed to remove the hair from the skin. This was done by either soaking the skin in urine, painting it with an alkaline lime mixture, or simply allowing the skin to putrefy for several months then dipping it in a salt solution. After the hairs were loosened, the tanners scraped them off with a knife. Once the hair was removed, the tanners would “bate” (soften) the material by pounding dung into the skin or soaking the skin in a solution of animal brains. Bating was a fermentative process which relied on enzymes produced by bacteria found in the dung. Among the kinds of dung commonly used were those of dogs or pigeons.
One piece of trivia you never wanted to know. Each animal contains exactly the right about of brains to tan its own hide.
Parent: Why, I ought to tan your hide.
Sassy child: No need, I have enough brains to do it myself.
Here’s a tanner at work in Nuremberg in 1609. I guarantee you, no one but no one wanted this job.
- money scales
Colonia Williamsburg tells us that the colonists didn’t have paper money. Their only money was made of precious metal and there really wasn’t any standard. Therefore, when credit and barter weren’t used, coins were weighed on a scale. Coins were often cut into 8ths, hence the saying, “pieces of 8.”
This set of scales, complete with weights, is probably fancier than Joseph and Rachels, but it functions in exactly the same manner.
- ladle, fleshfork
A ladle is typically a large circular spoon. This one has a maker’s mark.
Both a ladle and a fleshfork would be used for cooking. A fleshfork is a long-handled typically two-pronged fork used to hold down meat while being carved. The ladle and fleshfork would probably have been part of a cooking set that hung on a fireplace.
- parcel of old books
This one hurts me. I would love, LOVE, to know the names of those books, because they would tell us so much about their owners. Books were precious commodities and rare on the frontier. This also tells us that Joseph knew how to read, and it’s possible that Rachel did too. If Rachel had signed a deed, would have known for sure. It’s likely that these books were religious in nature, but one glaring omission in the inventory is a Bible.
- some bottles and old punchboles
Early bottles were all hand-blown glass and reused until they were broken.
I took these photos of a glassblower at the Jamestown Glass House in the authentically reproduced glass-blowing studio.
A punch bowl is interesting in that it suggests entertaining. A ladle would also be utilized with a punch bowl.
According to this article:
In the 18th century, drinking was the most popular of all tavern recreations…The kind of drink offered by an individual tavern was a factor in its location, the availability of supplies, and the economic status and aspirations of its tavern keeper. Drinking habits did not differ significantly from colony to colony, where the majority of the inhabitants were British. Rum was the most popular distilled liquor of the time. Punch was a combination of then luxurious ingredients. The drink was made using the rinds and juice of imported lemons, limes, and even oranges, commonly mixed with rum, and white or brown sugar. Lime punch was the most popular version of the drink…punch was served warm and sold in taverns by the bowl. Toddy–rum mixed with sugar and water–and sangre–a mixture of wine or beer sweetened with sugar and flavored with nutmeg–were also dispensed by the bowl. Wine, imported from Spain and Germany, was also served in taverns, but was not widely available outside the cities. Madeira, served during the meal, was the most expensive and popular wine. The consumption of wine, like punch, was limited to the more affluent. Many colonials drank cheaper, fermented beverages made locally. Cider (hard cider) was sold by the jug. Beer was either imported from England or locally brewed. Brandy was usually imported, but native varieties were sold, made from peaches, apples, or cherries. Homemade liquors gained popularity during the Revolution when the importation of alcohol, beer, and wine was halted.
—Early American Taverns: For the Entertainment of Friends and Strangers, Kym S. Rice for Fraunces Tavern Museum [Regnery Gateway: Chicago] 1983 (p. 85-96)
This might explain the punchbowl, the jug and the cyder.
Beyond the home, colonials consumed food and drink within another social setting–the tavern. Ordinaries dotted the colonial landscape. Ferries and courthouses were prime locations. The numerous watercourses that interrupted overland travel in North Carolina often necessitated ferriage. While waiting for ferrymen and perhaps for favorable winds, travelers needed an opportunity to rest and refresh themselves. Ordinary keepers emanated chiefly from the middling ranks of society. Indeed, the occupation of ordinary keepers may have been a springboard to prominence, for the proprietors of public houses made many acquaintances…and maintained a creditor’s hold over many of their patrons. Dinner consisted of meat (sometimes two dishes), hot or cold, salted or fresh, with or without corn or wheat bread, and with or without small beer or cider. Supper and breakfast included a hot meat and small beer. Often breakfast consisted only of tea or coffee and wheat bread, hoe cake, or toast. A variety of alcoholic liquors was served in the provincial taverns. They were rated by the gallon, quart, pint, gill, and half-gill but often were sold by the bow, nip, or dram… Rum generally came from the West Indies or New England. Cider might be the ‘common Carolina’ variety or it might be imported from England or New England. It was sometimes designated as ‘summer’ and ‘winter’ cider and rated in quality from ‘good’ and best.’ Also popular were beer, brandy and wine. Varieties of beer included those form Europe [and} from the colonies. Ordinaries offered homemade peach and apple brandy as well as the imported drink. Mixed drinks, particularly punch, greatly appealed to the colonials. Punch, consisting of five ingredients, usually contained rum with ‘loaf’ or brown sugar. Another favorite was the toddy, made of rum, brandy, or whiskey…
—“The Colonial Tavern: A Gathering Place in the Albemarle [North Carolina],” Alan D. Watson, A Taste of the Past: Early Foodways of the Albemarle Region [North Carolina], James C. Jordan III guest exhibition curator [Museum of the Albemarle: Elizabeth City NC] 1991 (p. 36-41)
Joseph never applied to have an ordinary, but this sure makes me wonder, along with his location, if he didn’t have overnight travelers as guests from time to time – especially given that people would have traveled for significant distances to attend the meetings at his dissenters meeting house.
Of course, guests would have meant more work for Rachel, and possibly a little extra income too. How I would love to step back in time and have a meal with Rachel.
- rifle, smooth bore gun belt, shot bagg
By Antique Military Rifles – originally posted to Flickr as Kentucky’s, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6369561
An absolutely beautiful smooth longbore flintlock antique rifle can be seen here and here’s something about the history of shot bags and powder horns. View a muzzleloader re-enactment here along with the history of the accoutrements.
- 2 smoothing irons, 2 candlesticks
A candlestick would have been the holder for a candle. The inventory doesn’t specify the material, but some would have been silver or brass and others perhaps pewter. It’s possible, but unlikely that they were wood. A few were blown glass candleholders and some were porcelain. I find it odd that there were only 2 for the entire house.
A smoothing iron is for ironing clothes, specifically linen. Truthfully, I never even thought about people on the frontier and ironing. I assumed (yes, my bad) that they wouldn’t have had any clothes “fancy enough” for ironing, nor would they have wanted them given the rigors of the lives they led. I was obviously wrong.
As it turns out, I have two smoothing irons, or parts of them.
These were children’s toy irons.
My mother told me that they were placed in the fire or on the stove, then used hot. When they cooled, they were put back in the fire to reheat. It was always best if you had two irons. That way, you could be using one while the other was heating. As we see below, Rachel had either one or two spares. I don’t know if the “iron” itself included one wedge or not.
- 2 iron wedges, parcel of old hoes and axes
You can see two types of iron wedges above.
Hoes were critically important for weeding which prevented damage to crops and increased production. Weeds sucked water and nutrients from plants. Iron implements were a scarce commodity and expensive, so anything like hoes and axes were sharpened and well cared for.
Colonial hoes shown above, thanks to Google.
Axes came in a large variety of shapes and sizes.
You can’t chop trees down and clear land without axes.
- parcel of pewter dishes
I would wager that the pewter dishes used by Rachel and family were utilitarian and not decorative. Some pewter plates were beautiful, armorial and inscribed.
Pewter was the social step above eating from wooden trenchers, but not as upper-crust as silver or porcelain. Pewter was the common man’s plate. I wish they had said how many were in a parcel. Often in estates, there aren’t enough plates for each family member to eat from one.
Pewter plates were relatively common, so lots of these are for sale today.
- parcel of cyder casks
Casks were a type of barrel which was made by a cooper.
This painting shows cider making in 1840. Those were not small barrels.
If Joseph and Rachel had cider, which fermented into hard cider, they obviously had apples, which implies an orchard. Rachel probably made apple pies and when apples were in season, apple everything including apple butter. Yum!
I can’t help but wonder if three are any old apples trees on Joseph’s land today. If so, that might be indicative of where his house was located.
- parcel of salt
How much is a parcel?
- 4 old saddles and horse harnesses
Leather would also have been used to make both saddles and harnesses. Colonial Williamsburg has a saddler shop with wonderful photos. Saddles came in various styles and sizes – including side-saddles for women – but those are often mentioned separately in estate inventories.
- 3 bee hives
Everybody loves sweet things – even our ancestors.
Some hives were boxes. I wonder if all 3 hives provided for their family, or if they sold to neighbors. I’d bet some of that honey went in the punchbowl to sweeten the rum punch.
- whip and cross cut saw
Whips varied widely by purpose. Riding whips served more as reminders to the horse, but the cat o’nine tails was a torture device. Since Joseph and Rachel, thankfully, did not own slaves, let’s assume it was for the horses and used sparingly.
Crosscut saws cut across the wood grain and are used by 2 men to fell trees. Ironically vintage saws are rare on the market today because they are coveted for their high quality over contemporary models.
- 6 iron potts, a grinstone, pan
You can see a collection of old iron cooking pots here. Iron pots would have hung over the fire in the fireplace.
It’s hard to say whether the grindstone was one that was used manually or one used in milling. Since it’s combined with pots and pans, I’d wager that it was a kitchen manual grindstone, similar to what the Indians used to grind their corn and grains. We used to find these in the fields at home, generally with their stone remaining in the groove.
- loom and slay
A weaver in Nurnburg in 1425. Weaving didn’t change until the industrial revolution in the 1800s.
You can read about and see examples of colonial weaving, spinning and dyeing here. I’m not a weaver and I don’t exactly understand the purpose and function of a slay, so I found a YouTube video where a weaver explains and shows this process. The slay is an integral part of the weaving process. Weaving seems to have a language of its own.
If Rachel had flax, wool and a weaving loom, you can rest assured she was dyeing the textiles too, probably in the tub and pails listed next on the inventory. It seems as if the men taking the inventory were listing things as they walked around the house.
- washing tub, water pails
Bathing wasn’t common or popular and might have happened once a year in the late spring. Today we would turn up our noses, but then, everyone simply smelled the same way.
- wollen wheal
A woolen wheel was used for spinning the wool into thread before weaving, of course.
Spinning wool at the Conner Prairie living history museum loom house.
- 2 tables, parcel of chairs
It’s interesting that they have 2 tables to go with that parcel of chairs. This might imply that their house was larger than the typical cabin which was about 16 by 18 or sometimes smaller. Their tables were likely made in Prince Edward County with Joseph’s carpentry tools, not hauled overland in their wagon.
- shears, iron skillet, pickler bottle, bridle bitt
What the heck is a pickler bottle? Google failed me.
Given the wool, shears could have meant shears to shear sheep, above, or scissors. Or maybe one item was used for both activities.
Cast iron skillets would rust if left wet or neglected, but given that most kitchens only had one or two pots or kettles and maybe one skillet, it was in use every single day. Rachel had 6 pots, probably of different sizes, but only one skillet.
- 3 beds, furniture
I wonder why these 3 beds were inventoried separately from the other 2. I’m guessing that perhaps these were located in the loft and were of a different quality. Note there are no bedsteads.
- 3 cattle hides, knives, forks
At that time, sometimes families didn’t have enough utensils for all family members, so they shared or ate with their fingers, or both. Some families didn’t have enough chairs either, so sometimes benches were used or people sat on the floor or outside. I seldom see benches listed separately. They were considered very utilitarian, roughhewn and slapped together, while chairs were considered luxuries and furniture.
This English dinner setting from about 1750 shows the silverware of the timeframe. Spoons weren’t used, and often people ate directly off of the knives.
Dishes weren’t washed as we know it today. They were wiped off and used again.
- parcel of wax and talon
I think this may be tallow, not talon. Women made tallow candles using cotton or linen wicks, another use for that flax. Tallow candles were smelly, given that they were made from animal fat, but they could be kept for extended periods. Wax candles were not unpleasant, but wax was less plentiful. Tallow was used by poorer people. Some people used candle molds, but wicks could also be dipped into tallow to form candles for those too poor to afford molds.
Maybe Rachel used wax candles for company and tallow for everyday when no one else was around – although there are no candle molds listed.
Beeswax would have been made into candles too. You can read about the various methods of candlemaking here.
If you want to try making tallow candles, here’s how.
- spectacles, razor, hone
Spectacles! Either Joseph or Rachel needed these, or maybe both and they shared them. Spectacles would have been considered a luxury and probably only utilized by someone who was trying to read. If Joseph Rice built a dissenting meeting house in 1759, it’s certainly possible he was the one reading and preaching on Sundays in his meeting house. Unless of course there was a traveling preacher who would have stayed with him, probably enjoyed some punch, and then preached up a storm on Sunday!
This person has a collection of 1700s spectacles on Pinterest.
And another one here.
Glassblowers in the 1700s tried to blow lenses of various thicknesses based on a cursory examination. This causes me to wonder how Joseph acquired his spectacles. I don’t know if there were glassblowers in Amelia or Prince Edward County, but I’m guessing not. That means that either Joseph went back east or somehow the spectacles made their way, perhaps with peddlers, to his plantation.
A razor at that time would have been a straightrazor.
I have to tell you, the thought of running one of these implements over my neck, right by my juggler vein, makes me shudder.
A hone is a stone used to sharpen the razor..
These instructions from the 1840s provide instructions for how to shave with a straightrazor.
- paper, some bottles, old file
If Joseph Rice had paper, someone was writing, and it was most likely him. Paper was being made in America by 1690, but that “paper” was made out of old clothes, cotton and linen, rags and scraps, pulverized into mush and formed into somewhat of a parchment. Before 1816, all paper was made by hand.
This example of “paper” currency wasn’t really paper as we know it today, meaning created from wood pulp.
Glass bottles were blown and were never thrown away.
Early bottles like these ones from the Jamestown Glasshouse were seldom clear. Green and blue were the most common colors.
- pair bullet moles
This would be bullet molds, not moles, although that could be the pronunciation at the time.
Early firearms were not made to any particular standard, so neither was the ammunition. Every person had to make their own bullets using a bullet mold which looks something like a pliers that formed the musketball shape. Ironically, these early musket balls were cast from lead which was superior to iron and able to be cast using a ladle over a wood fire. Iron required much higher temperatures.
Of course, today we know that lead is a poisonous, toxic metal.
Firearms were often sold with the bullet mold, customized for the bore and chamber of that particular gun.
- 3/4 of a hoggshead crop tobacco
From other estate inventories, I’ve noted that a hogshead of tobacco was about 1300 pounds. Others are recorded as holding 1000 pounds.
Either Joseph’s land didn’t produce much tobacco, or this is what was remaining to be sold upon his death. I notice that Joseph’s estate didn’t list any wagons which would have been required for tobacco farming. Maybe one of his sons had already purchased his wagon.
Tobacco was the primary cash crop in colonial Virginia and extremely labor intensive. I wrote about tobacco production, here.
Without slaves, the work fell entirely to family members and paid laborers, that is, if Joseph could find any.
The absence of slaves speaks volumes. Clearly Joseph and Rachel could have afforded slaves, so the fact that they never owned slaves can only be a reflection of their convictions.
It would be an interesting study in Prince Edward County to inventory who did and did not own slaves based on tax lists and see if a common thread can be determined as to religion or even perhaps migration patterns. That might help identify Rachel’s family too.
The Undiscovered Gem
We have a list of what “Joseph” owned when he died, including things like plates, silverware, pots, pans, looms and other items that would have belonged more to Rachel than Joseph.
But there’s one thing of value that Joseph and Rachel probably didn’t know that they owned. An undiscovered treasure that remained dormant for the next 200 years or so.
When I write these 52 Ancestor articles, I research the county in which the ancestor lived, their neighbors, tax lists, deeds, history and anything else I can find. In this case, the estate inventory was especially enlightening, especially in terms of Rachel since we have so few documents that tell us anything about her life.
Knowing that Joseph and Rachel had a barrel of salt along with an additional parcel of salt, I was curious as to where the closest salt mine was located, so I googled salt mines in Prince Edward County, Virginia.
I didn’t find a salt mine, but I found something else much more interesting.
Discovered in 2 locations in Rice, Virginia.
The village of Rice, of course, is Joseph Rice’s plantation.
This specimen was listed with several photos.
Amethyst is a crystal, so this stone has not been cut or faceted.
One location, a farm, was identified, but is no longer owned by the person who owned it at the time of discovery. Yes, I’m very tempted to have a look at the deed books and track his land backwards in time.
One farm is noted as half a mile east of Rice, and the other as a mile north. Clearly a vein runs under this land.
Depending on the actual location, at least one of these discovery locations could have been on Joseph’s original land and the second on the Atwood land Joseph purchased.
In other words, this beautiful purple crystalline stone peppered the lands of and near Joseph Rice. It probably extended to the lands of James Moore and Matthew Rice too, and of course, Rachel lived there until her death. She is probably buried with amethysts in the soil surrounding her grave.
These specimens were discovered topside, meaning no digging or mining was involved. I wonder if Rachel’s kids used to bring in “pretty rocks” found on the farmland or in the streams. Maybe after plowing revealed treasure buried for eons.
A rock collector died in 2013, and as luck would have it, the large photo above shows the specimen from his collection. It was for sale, but not anymore.
I bought it.
I’ve always loved purple, and amethyst has a long and storied history. Greeks believed Amethyst prevented intoxication. Medieval European soldiers wore amethyst amulets for protection in battle with the belief that amethysts healed people and kept them cool-headed. Amethyst beads have been unearthed in Anglo-Saxon graves in England and Anglican bishops wear an episcopal ring often set with an amethyst, an allusion to the description of the Apostles as “not drunk.” Tibetans consider amethyst sacred to the Buddha. It seems that many cultures appreciate the beauty of amethyst and have woven it into their folklore.
In the Old World, amethyst was considered one of the Cardinal gems, meaning one of the 5 gemstones precious above all others. That lasted until amethyst was discovered in large quantities in Brazil in the 1800s. Between 1746 and 1766, when Joseph owned this land, Amethyst was as valuable as diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies. Indeed, amethyst, if discovered then, would have been more valuable than everything else in the estate put together, including the land.
Just think, Joseph’s sons and son-in-law, James Moore sold this land away, not realizing what they had at the time.
In the Middle Ages, Amethyst was considered royal and used to decorate English regalia including the Crown Jewels.
On the Royal “Head of Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross,” shown above, used during coronations, above the pear-shaped diamond is a huge amethyst surmounted by a cross pattée encrusted with an emerald and small diamonds. To give perspective, that huge diamond is 530.2 carats, so that amethyst must be at least 100 carats if not more. That would probably be about 2 inches across. The diamond is 10 cM long, which is just slightly less than 4 inches long and 2.5 inches wide.
Rachel, you would have been rich beyond your wildest dreams with the precious Amethyst discovered on your land. It would have been like winning the colonial lottery. You could have had enough beds and plates for every family member and a fire tongs too!
Yes, I know this amethyst isn’t of the highest quality, but it’s certainly precious to me. I feel this stone has been waiting for me to find it, thanks to Rachel, since 2013 when the original collector died. My own crown jewel!
Perhaps it was always making its way to me:)
This stone is about 1x1x1.5 inches and I am ordering a special pendant so that I can wear it as a memento and tribute to Rachel Rice.
I name my stones, and Rachel is also the name of my daughter who passed away, so I have a special affinity for this gift from Rachel’s land. I’ve never before had an actual physical gift from the beyond.
Rachel, thank you. This stone is dedicated to you!
This amethyst is purple, of course, but from time to time the sun glints blue, as you can see in the photo below, reminiscent of the beautiful flax blooms on Rachel’s land.
I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.
Thank you so much.
DNA Purchases and Free Transfers
- Family Tree DNA
- MyHeritage DNA only
- MyHeritage DNA plus Health
- MyHeritage FREE DNA file upload
- 23andMe Ancestry
- 23andMe Ancestry Plus Health
- Legacy Tree Genealogists for genealogy research
Thank You for all the added pictures and time taken to give more details to the time period, describing what life was like for Rachel. I so enjoyed this story.
💞 Ally n Cali
Sometimes the history is most of what we have for. our ancestors. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Roberta, fascinating, as usual. I always learn so much from your ancestors!
On quibble, however… I think the “iron wedge” in the inventory was more likely for splitting logs. Smoothing irons were either one or two piece irons for “smoothing” clothing. I remember my parents, who both grew up in rural Mississippi, using both devices — and always it was a two-word phrase: “iron wedge”, “smoothing iron”.
That’s certainly possible. Thank you
You have given me a great gift with this story.
It looks like Rachel was my double 6th great-grandmother on my father’s side, if my genealogy research is correct. There might be another line descending on my mother’s side. I might be wrong. My research is always in progress, and never really done depending on what I may find in documents.
Not long ago, my daughter gave me a small carved amethyst angel, and she has matching one. Mine rests on my front window sill. Now I know why it is there. A photo of it belongs on Rachel’s page in my tree.
The Rice family probably did sell or trade their pretty stones privately. Later in North Carolina families collected gems found on their land and quietly sold or traded them. The Rice family likely kept this quiet for obvious reasons.
I inherited an old butter tub from my father’s mother, although it probably does not date back to the Rice. I know my great-grandmother used it. It is blue ceramic with age-crazed white on the inside. One of the kid’s jobs was churning butter. My grandmother had me doing it when I visited. That was when I learned to like buttermilk. She also made whipped cream to go on those home-grown strawberries. Dad said when he was a boy, they kept butter in the butter tub cool on a special shelf built into the side of their covered well. Mom said they used shelves in their spring house to keep things cool. I have seen elaborate, walk-in spring houses with a heavy door on the side of a hill that kept food about 40 degrees all year. It was like walking into a refrigerator. The house was built nearby. The lives of some of our ancestors was not so primitive as we might think.
The two candle holders mentioned might have been used on the two tables, were likely metal, and held more than one candle. They probably had other small candle holders of something like carved stone or fired clay that were very common, not of value, or worth mentioning. They probably had dipped beeswax candles for their nice candle holders, since they had bees, and the bees helped pollinate their orchard and gave them honey. Tallow candles for everyday use. This was the way I was taught. There are nice things, and there are things for everyday use. People do not tend to live like this today.
There were different types of irons for clothes. I inherited a ruffling iron. It makes ruffles ironed into collars or other dress ornamentation looking like ruffles potato chips. It works like the smoothing irons, but is made in a half circle, not flat, and has grooves and a handle. It is used with a rocking motion. I had to try it out. The women and girls wanted to look nice, even if it took extra time. It makes an odd sort of paper weight for me.
Dad had a collection of old carpenter’s tools he either inherited or bought second hand. He gave some of them to my male cousin, and I do not know what happened to them after my cousin died. Dad used to show them to me and explain or show their use. I do not know how old they were, but they looked like the ones in the photographs. They were his treasures, and the tool photos made me think of dad. Dad was the last generation of carpenters who learned as a boy from his father how to make things the old way if he had to. The technology moved on doing his life time, and he moved on with it, but he still remembered the old ways.
I feel a special affinity for the ancestors you write about, Roberta. I must be a lot like them through DNA and the traditions of how I was raised. I sometimes imagine the women looking over my shoulder when I take something out of the microwave, or put clothes in the washing machine. I can almost hear whispering astonishment, and cackles of glee !
Thank you in particular for this article on Rachel Unknown Rice.
I forgot to mention that Joseph Rice may have had other children, in particular daughters, not mentioned by name in his Will. There is a mention of dividing things to all my children, apart from the named children. There are other Wills written during this time in which the husband of daughters was mentioned and not the daughter’s name. It can be confusing.
It surely can.
Rosemary, thank you so very much for sharing. I love the Amethyst angels:)
Thank you all your insight and hard work to bring it to life for me. You have made me see how easy we have it today as far as day to day work. Now I think our world is more full of far reaching mental challenges, which can be harded to recover from. Thank you again for the look back !
Fantastic coverage of everyday items.
This technology is of great fascination for me, but it is rare to have so many descriptions in one place. Thank you so much, Roberta. I will share.
The shearing illustration is called “Shearing the Rams” and came from a sheep station not far from where I drove past last week. (You can see the horns in the painting.) Rams were the toughest to control, and the calm, measured and expert way in which the shearers are managing them – cutting evenly without knicks and cuts – is one of the highest tributes anyone can pay to a shearer. This is like a modern photo of Super Bowl winners scoring a victorious touchdown.
Camphor wood chests were often collected by English seamen who sailed to the East.
They kept their clothing moth-free while they travelled, but more importantly were often a valued engagement or wedding gift to a sweetheart. She might have worked on the linens and blankets, but he provided the chest – if she was lucky.
That’s fascinating. Thank you.
Lydia Rice married Robert Farguson 21 Jan 1761 in Prince Edward Co, VA; the marriage bond says Joseph Rice was Lydia’s father. Joseph’s 1765 will states:
I give and bequeath to my son in law James Moor one hundred acres of land he now lives on divided by the tract I live on by a line that was run by Robert Farguson to him and his heirs forever.
I have not researched Robert Farguson to see if maybe he died before Joseph Rice. Possibly, James Moore married Lydia Rice Farguson, widow of Robert, and then later married Lydia’s sister Mary Rice?
Thank you. I don’t have that marriage record, so I’m very grateful. We can add another child for Joseph and presumably Rachel.
FYI, I went to my local Family History Center, looked at the grantor deed index for James Moore. He is listed twice as a grantor: Book 2 p.6 to Noel Waddill recorded 1760 and Book 3 p.404 to David Lewis recorded 1769. The first deed does not list James’s wife, but the second show his wife as Mary Moore. It was dated 19 Dec 1769, for 136 acres in 2 tracts, 100 acres willed to James by Joseph Rice deceased and the other tract of land sold to James by Abraham Womack and Noel Waddill. James Moore signed with an “m” snd his wife Mary Moore signed with a “x”. I can send you the deed images if you like.
Thank you. I will email and I would very much appreciate that deed. So while we don’t know his wife’s name in 1766, 3 years later it was definately Mary.
Roberta, That’s a well-written piece about Rachel & Joseph Rice. May I ask, did you buy the amethyst stone from someone living on Rice land? There’s that little Rice crossroads, very close to Burks Old Tavern, so I thought I should assume that Rice families lived there. Since two Burks brothers married Rice girls, they apparently lived close-by. Did you actually trace thru the old deeds to find current owners of Rice land?
I recognize your name as a DNA expert, & we’ve communicated before. So we’re distant cousins, sharing the immigrant,Thomas Rice. You said you could not find any Rice dying & leaving an inheritance back in England, correct? So you did look. It appears to have been Rev. David Rice who started that legend in his bio.
All these surnames are involved with my Burks family, too, some of them marrying in, so I’ve seen them in the records many times, either living close-by or as in-laws: Moore, Womack, Cocke, Dejarnett, Owen, Watkins, Brackett, & others.
I’ve visited Burks Old Tavern twice now & made friends with current owners. They have a shadow box of pottery chards & other artifacts which Boy Scouts have found on the land. It’s one of their favorite places for digs. My Richard Burks had a general store across from the tavern/ inn (still standing as well), so he had a lot of English pottery imported for his store. Some of the English chairs he stocked came down through the generations, at least to my great-great grandfather, pictured sitting in one in Marion Co, KY.
Thanks for the heads-up about your article on Rachel.
Debora Baxter Jackson
I bought the amethyst from a collector who is deceased but who found it on the land. I would loke to see the pottery shards and artifacts.