Appraisers went about taking inventories in different ways. Sometimes when reading an inventory, you can tell that the recorders went from room to room listing the contents of the house. Sometimes they listed all the most valuable items first. Sometimes they listed all the contents by use—for example, all the farm equipment might be listed in one long list, rather than by building.
In Aaron Hutchinson’s case, the appraisers probably went room to room, beginning with the most valuable items. Note that the most valuable items were Hutchinson’s land, house, barn, sawmill, and store. This was frequently the case. Much of a person’s wealth was tied up in land. After listing the outside buildings, Hutchinson’s appraisers then went into the house. Most houses in the eighteenth century were modest in scale—one story with an unfinished garret, center chimney and two or three downstairs rooms.
Find the answers to the questions below by reviewing the inventory. You can confirm the answer by clicking on the arrow at the beginning of each question.
Making a living: Look at the first two lines of the inventory, how did Hutchinson make a living?
From the first two lines in the inventory, it becomes clear that Hutchinson made his living from running a sawmill, farming, and keeping a store. Potash, which was leached from ashes and used for soap and fertilizer, was frequently made by farmers and used as a medium of exchange for other goods. Hutchinson was 79 when he died. The lack of lumber in the sawmill and goods in the store indicates that someone else was running these businesses for him, perhaps even renting them.
The first two lines of the inventory reveal hints of Vermont’s rural economy—about barter with potash as a medium of exchange and about small farms with their value tied up in land and small industries providing extra income.
The Comforts of Home: How much were the beds worth?
The appraisers began with the most valuable items in the home—the beds. Why were the beds so valuable? Textiles were time-consuming to produce and costly to purchase. Beds were the mattresses while bedsteads were the wooden bedframes. Beds and pillows required quite a bit of fabric—often at this time, they would have been four-poster beds with curtains that could be completely drawn for warmth and privacy.
How many chairs can you find? How might they have fit into a small home?
The front parlor probably had either eleven colored chairs or nine white chairs (along with the bed(s)). The chairs, tables, and light stand were all lightweight allowing for a very flexible use in the winter they could all be drawn up before the fire or over to the windows for light. None of the chairs would have been upholstered.
What was hanging on the walls?
Except for one old looking glass, the walls of the house appear to have been bare, as were the floors.
A Man of Learning: After the furniture is a long list of books and clothing. What clothing did Aaron Hutchinson own? What do you think Aaron Hutchinson did for a living?
The inventory lists a hat, coat, velvet vest, a black gown, and small clothes (breeches), linen drawers (underwear), boots, and stockings. His silver knee buckles and stock buckle (like a necktie) are listed at the end of the inventory along with the other silver.
The Pomfret town history states that he was well-learned and able to lead services completely from memory. The history describes Hutchinson as a man who wore a three-cornered hat, a big powdered wig, short breeches with buckles at the knees, long stockings, and low shoes with polished buckles at the instep. He also wore a black gown when he preached.
Aaron Hutchinson had a large number of books. He was a traveling minister who had eight of his sermons published, the most famous one delivered at the convention for the founding of the State of Vermont in Windsor, 1777. His sermons were filled with references to Greek and Latin literature and translations of the Bible. The inventory confirms parts of this description by listing Bibles as well as books in Greek and Latin.
The Woman’s World: Can you tell where Mrs. Hutchinson did her cooking?
Mrs. Hutchinson cooked at a fireplace. Her equipment included firedogs (andirons), a crane with a trammel hanging down to hold her kettles, as well as a spider (skillet with legs under which coals would be laid), bake pan, and skillet for cooking on the hearth.
How many milkpans did Mrs. Hutchinson have? Why did she need so many?
Margery Hutchinson processed much of her own food. Rennet bags, a cheese hook, and sixteen milk pans reveal that Margery contributed to the family’s income through making cheese to sell or exchange for other goods.
What did Mrs. Hutchinson keep in the kitchen to light her home?
She kept her two candlesticks and snuffers nearby. She would have used her candles sparingly as they were expensive and time consuming to make.
Can you find any clothing or personal items belonging to Mrs. Hutchinson?
When inventorying a husband’s estate, appraisers excluded any personal property belonging to the Widow. After they finished valuing the estate, one-third was reserved for her to use during widowhood until she remarried or died. To find out what happened to Margery, we would have to return to the probate records to see if one-third of the estate included a portion of the house. By skipping ahead to 1818, one could search for Margery’s probate records and tell more of her story.
Conclusions about the Past: What can you conclude about life in Vermont in the Early Republic? Think about categories such as the economy, technology, religion, and education.
From the inventory we can learn much about life in Vermont at the turn of the nineteenth century. Assets were frequently tied up in real estate. Farmers had diverse streams of income and were immersed in a barter economy. Women contributed to this economy through their work in cheese making and other activities. Consumer goods that expressed a more refined way of life were available and included fine china, silver, woven fabrics, and books. While these goods were available, technologies to make home more comfortable weren’t as easily accessible. This home was heated by fireplaces, did not have warm carpets, and had bedcurtains for warmth at night. Furniture was lightweight and moveable so as to take advantage of the available light from flickering tallow candles or windows. The Hutchinson’s children would be the generation to take advantage of the goods and technologies that would become increasingly available in the new Republic.