An October 29, 1777 Estate Sale

Did you know that the State Archives in Raleigh is the repository of the original copies of some estate sale records dating back to the 1700s when Cabarrus County was part of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina? These fascinating records for persons known to have lived in the area that later became Cabarrus County are also accessible on microfilm in the local history room at the main branch of the Cabarrus County Public Library in Concord, NC.

John Morrison’s Estate Sale

My great-great-great-great-grandfather, John Morrison, died in 1777 in old Mecklenburg County. A native of Campbeltown, Scotland, he lived his last thirteen years in the vicinity of the present-day Cabarrus-Mecklenburg County line. His estate papers provide a record not only of his possessions but also the names of many local people. I’m very proud to say that he was a farmer.

Robert Harris, Jr. served as clerk at John’s estate sale on October 29, 1777 – exactly 240 years ago today. Mr. Harris made note of every item sold, who bought it, and how many pounds, pence, or shillings they paid.

Buyers

The buyers were James Moore, Joseph Robb, Evan Shelby, Isaac Sellers, John Robinet, John Murphy, Francis Miller, William Driskill, James Alexander, James McCall, John and James McGinty, Joseph Bigger, Hugh Kimmons, Archibald McCurdy, John Springs, John Carothers, Joseph Calbreath, Alexander Allen, Benjamin and Robert Cochran, Steven Pritchet, Peter Borris, Robert Harris, James Stafford, John Ross, Alexander Finley, James Finney, Hector McClain, Samuel Montgomery, William Wylie, and John Finley.

Most of the surnames listed above are no longer found in our community because many families moved west in the 1790s and early 1800s. Some of the buyers lived in the area that remained in Mecklenburg County after the formation of Cabarrus in 1792, so some of the names are probably from the Mint Hill area.

Summary of Items Sold at Estate Sale

Items sold at the estate sale included eight horses; 19 sheep; 25 head of cattle; 17 hogs and a parcel of pigs; three hives of bees; 17 geese and ganders; 25 pounds of wool; a parcel of books; a great coat; two straight coats and jackets; one pair of blue britches; a pair of old buckskin britches; and a fur hat.

Also, four saddles; five bells and collars; five other collars; six bridles; two sets of horse gears; an “M” branding iron; three augurs; a drawing knife; nailing and stone hammers; a broadax; three weeding hoes; two maulrings; a wedge; a clivish; a sprouting hoe; a mattock; two falling axes; three spinning wheels; two horse trees and hangings; a cutting knife and stone; a sythe and cradle; four sickles; a flax brake; a pair of wool cards; and a pair of cotton cards.

Also, barrels for flour, rice, beef, and salt; a tapper vessel; two cedar churns; oak and walnut chests; two smoothing irons; a looking glass; one whiskey keg; and various other tools, household items, and pieces of furniture.

Other items included 6.5 pounds of iron and 14.5 pounds of steel. Steel as we know it today had not yet been developed. In 1777, steel was the name for sharpening rods used to sharpen knives and other cutting edges.

Half a wagon?

The most puzzling record in John Morrison’s estate papers is that John Springs bought half a wagon and half the wagon implements. Since no one bought the other half, it has been speculated that Mr. Springs knew that John’s wife, Mary, needed the use of the wagon but also needed the proceeds from the sale of the wagon and implements. After all, Mary was a widow with seven children still at home and a baby on the way. Perhaps Mr. Springs made a verbal agreement to let Mary Morrison keep the wagon even though he paid half the value of the wagon at the estate sale.

Another possibility is that John Morrison had bought the wagon and implements from John Springs but had only paid half the bill at the time of his death. Mr. Springs, instead of saddling Mary Morrison with the additional debt of the unpaid balance chose to simply buy back that half of the wagon and implements. When Mary Morrison died in 1781, there is no mention of a wagon in her will or her estate sale.

Lots of ammunition!

Other intriguing items sold at John Morrison’s estate sale were the 17 pounds of gun powder and 55.5 pounds of lead. That’s more gun powder and lead than a farmer needed. So why did John Morrison have so much of both?

John wrote his will on August 30, 1777. By September 3, he was dead. It is speculated that he was stockpiling munitions for the patriots’ cause in the American Revolution and that he was shot by Tories, but we will never know the real story.

My sources

The sources I relied on for writing this blog post are as follows:  John Morrison’s Mecklenburg County estate papers on file at the State Archives of North Carolina in Raleigh, NC; What Did They Mean By That? – A Dictionary of Historical Terms for Genealogists, by Paul Drake, 1994; and Descendants of John & Mary Morrison of Rocky River, by Alice Marie Morrison and Janet Sue Morrison, 1996.

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The Descendants of John & Mary Morrison of Rocky River, by Alice Marie Morrison and Janet Sue Morrison

I regret that Marie and I did not know about the existence of John and Mary Morrison’s estate papers when we compiled and published Descendants of John & Mary Morrison of Rocky River in 1996.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet

They’re All Uncertain Times

Events of the last week prompted me to write about uncertain times for today’s blog post. It soon occurred to me that all times are uncertain because we cannot see into the future.

We tend to think the time we’re living in is more unpredictable than any other time, but if you’ll stop and think about it, you might see that life is and always has been full of doubts, worries, and stress. The unknown can do that to you.

I think about the uncertain times my known ancestors lived through:

English-speaking Lowland Scots being taken into the Gaelic-speaking Kintyre Peninsula in the southwest of Scotland to be tenant farmers in the 1600s and being required to attend a church where only Gaelic was spoken;

Scottish immigrants crossing the Atlantic and settling in the Carolina backcountry/wilderness in the 1760s; and

Those Scottish immigrants facing the American Revolution and not knowing what the outcome would be.

On December 23, 1776, in “The Crisis,” Thomas Paine wrote the following:

“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.”

My ancestors lived through those times. The deaths of my Morrison great-great-great-great-grandparents during the American Revolutionary War left my great-great-great-grandfather orphaned at the age of nine. He and his siblings were cared for thereafter by his uncles and their wives, but it must have been more than frightening.

Then came the following trying times:

War of 1812;

American Civil War;

Reconstruction Era in The American South;

My maternal great-grandmother’s death in childbirth in 1881;

My paternal great-grandfather’s accidental death while felling a tree for lumber to build a kitchen in 1886;

Spanish-American War;

World War I;

The Great Depression;

My paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather both dying as young adults;

World War II;

Korean War; and

Illnesses and epidemics.

Living in the age of modern medicine and miracle drugs, it’s difficult for most of us to empathize with our ancestors who lived with the possibility of dying or watching their children die of typhoid fever, tetanus, flux, or polio.

When the Salk polio vaccine became available in the late 1950s, I did not fully appreciate what it meant to my parents. For me, as a child, I just remember our family going to the gymnasium lobby at Harrisburg High School on three Sunday afternoon after church to get an oral vaccine on a sugar cube.

The 1960s and years since have brought the following times of uncertainty:

Vietnam War;

Civil Rights Movement in the United States;

Numerous wars in the Middle East;

Rumors of more wars;

Terrorism; and

Incompetency and recklessness in The White House. (Don’t blame me; I didn’t vote for him!)

All of my ancestors down through my grandparents were farmers. I can’t imagine a life full of more uncertainties than one in which one’s livelihood is at the mercy of the weather.

I believe that God created the world with everything we need to not only survive but thrive. Human beings have brought on many uncertainties by not being good stewards of the world that God has entrusted to us – its animals and natural resources. Come to think of it, we have created most of the uncertainties ourselves – war, poor planning, poor agricultural practices, greed, and envy.

Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, volcanoes, and wildfires happen, but even many floods and wildfires are caused by man’s carelessness.

I attended two funerals in less than 48 hours last week. One was expected after a long battle with cancer, but the other one was quite sudden. Life is full of uncertainties.

Reviewing some of the events and hardships my ancestors faced, and the things I’ve witnessed in my 64 years has helped me put recent events and concerns in perspective.

The sun comes up. The sun goes down. The world keeps spinning around and revolving around the sun. What an amazing world!

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Photo by Simon Hesthaven on Unsplash

 

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann and Among the Living by Jonathan Rabb.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have lots of productive writing time.

Janet