Everyday Life
     In Mother Bedford

Revealed Through Estate Inventories

   Right now, the people who are my relatives and friends know me, Larry Smith. They know I'm interested in certain things, such as the American Revolutionary War period or the Medieval Ages in Europe. They know that because I talk about what I've recently read. They know I'm involved with certain things, such as writing articles like this one. They know that because they see me doing it, or they hold the finished product in their hands. They know I have certain desires, such as the desire to own more antiques devoted to the art of spinning and weaving or the desire to experience a Medieval jousting exhibition. They know that because I talk about the historical sites and events, like the flax scutching festival at Stahlstown, Pennsylvania or the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire at Mount Hope, that I either have visited or want to visit. My family's and friends' knowledge of the essence that is me is based on the things they see (or at least think they see) me do and the things I tell them.

   Knowing Larry Smith is easy because I'm here, now. Knowing any of you who are reading this newsletter is easy too, because you are here, now. But how can we know our ancestors?

   There's absolutely no way to know many of our ancestors, right? Sure, we might have known our ancestors back to the grandparent level, or if our ancestors all married young, we might have had the luck to have known our great-grandparents. But probably the ones we most want to know are those who are long dead and the people who actually knew them are also passed away. So that means that we never can know what they were like and what their lives were like, right? We're stuck with just collecting names of parents and children, birth dates and death dates, right? Not necessarily.

   Inventories are the means whereby we can grab a glimpse of our ancestors' lives - if we know how to interpret them. You can't just copy an estate inventory and read it like you are reading this article. You need to keep certain things in mind as you begin to interpret an estate inventory. You need to have a basic knowledge of history. If you don't know anything about the history of our country and you come across the phrase "bewter plate" in an estate inventory, you might not know what the thing would have been. Assuming you do know a little about American History, you should recognize that the first word of the phrase is simply a mispelling of the word pewter, and that it refers to one of the most inexpensive forms of metal available to the early settlers. You probably were taught in school that the common settlers were only able to afford pewter dinnerware while only the rich could afford to dine on silver plates and dishes.

   It would also be helpful to have a basic knowledge of ethnic history. Different groups of people who resided in the same vicinity tended to share ideas and customs. Sometimes some members of those groups of people moved away from their homeland and settled among, and eventually became integrated with, other groups of people. Each group may have had different ideas and customs, but over time they might fuse into a whole different set of ideas and customs. For example, the Germanic people who inhabited the northern regions of Europe had their own ideas and customs, which included the eating of foods derived from pigs, such as bacon and sausage. They were rather nomadic and pigs were easily moved from one place to another without fuss. The Celtic people who inhabited the southern regions of Europe were more agrarian and they tended to establish homesteads where they would raise cows and grains. Because they weren't very nomadic, they had the time and patience to create foods such as cheese. When the two ethnic groups began to intermarry and share their ideas and customs, the foods that they ate also became intermixed.

   Although a family whose ethnic origins reach into the Middle East might have owned a sausage making machine, it is more probable that you will find that type of item in the estate inventory of an ethnically German family.

   Another thing you need to keep in mind is the fact that the use of money was not so prevalent in colonial America, and only became popularly used around the time of the American Civil War. Prior to that time, and even after the 1860s, most people engaged in barter to obtain what they wanted. It was only when the Industrial Revolution started in the mid-1800s that factory owners found it was easier to pay their workers with specie than with goods. As a result, many items found on an estate inventory might relate to the need to barter. Panes of glass were expensive items. The valuation of property in the 1798 U.S. Direct Tax was based, partly, on the number of panes of glass in the house. A settler who needed to purchase an additional cow might have chosen a pane of glass (that he had packed carefully when he made the journey from the east) to barter with the owner of the cow he desired. So when an estate inventory lists what might seem, to our modern eyes, to be junk, it may very well be actually listing the settler's bank account so to speak.

   The trick to discovering the secrets in estate inventories is to put the different bits and pieces of history and ethnicity together. Let's go back to the bewter plate for a moment. That particular item on the estate inventory might have told us that the family was not one of the richest in the neighborhood. But you can't take any single item found on an estate inventory and interpret the entire life story from it. You need to look at all the items and see how they interrelate to each other. The estate inventory of my mother's great-great-grandfather, Heinrich Naftzger included the aforementioned bewter plate along with one bewter dish. There were no other utensils, specifically for the purpose of eating, mentioned in the estate inventory. Now there were a variety of cooking items, such as one meat tub, one iron pot and a frying pan with feet. It seems odd that the Naftzger family, which raised fifteen children, would only have owned one plate and one dish from which to eat. The actual story probably would have noted that the Naftzgers used wooden plates, which would have had no value, and hence would not have been included in the estate inventory. The estate inventory does list a kitchen tresser with all in it, and it is possible that dinnerware, wooden or otherwise inexpensive, might have been included in that catchall entry. So, perhaps the family was not as poor as would first appear; but then they probably weren't all that well to do either. Mr. Naftzger was listed on various of the tax assessment returns as having been a shoemaker. That profession was confirmed on the estate inventory by the inclusion of a shoemaker's stool and bench (which would have included the tools of that trade) and a lot of lasts (which refers to the forms over which the shoes were constructed.) Books on the subject of early trades and professions might give a clue as to how lucrative the shoemaker's trade was. One last thing to note is the fact that the family's "Germanic" Swiss background could be identified in the crout tub and the sausage machine.

   The estate inventory of Jacob Schmitt, Sr provides a unique view of family life on the frontier in the variety of items that this family possessed in the year 1797. Jacob Schmitt Sr was of German descent; of that there is no doubt, as evidenced by the manner in which he spelled his surname, Schmitt with the familiar German "Sch" combination that looks very much like a capital G in handwritten script. In all probability he was the immigrant progenitor of his line in America. Unfortunately that cannot be proven because little is known of his early life. Jacob Schmitt made his first appearance in any type of record, public and private, in Bedford County in the years 1774/5.

   In the year 1774 Bedford County possessed only a few small towns; Bedford, Frankstown and Huntingdon being the most notably settled. Jacob Schmitt brought his wife and first child to settle on the eastern slope of the Blue Knob mountain. The spot that he chose to homestead on was unsettled for miles around. The closest neighbors the Schmitt family would have for nearly ten years would be those settlers residing about six miles north in the vicinity of Frankstown and the few families which had settled where the borough of Hollidaysburg now stands. The town of Bedford lay nearly thirty miles south. The tax assessment returns for the year 1775 (which were made out in the autumn of 1774) show a total of 83 resident families in Frankstown Township, Bedford County, which encompassed the area of the entire present-day Blair County, plus the northern third of present-day Bedford County and a portion of present-day Centre County. The majority of those families were settled in the previously mentioned vicinity of Frankstown/ Hollidaysburg and in the Morrisons Cove. The Schmitt family was truly the pioneer homesteader family in the vicinity of Blue Knob.

   Jacob Schmitt Sr died during the summer of 1797. His Last Will and Testament was probated in the Bedford County Court House on the 1st of July, 1797. He was laid to rest in a small plot to the west of his log dwelling house on his homestead property. He was survived by Rosana and his two sons and daughter.

   Jacob Schmitt Sr made out his Last Will & Testament, which was filed, along with an estate inventory, in the Bedford County Court House on the 1st of November, 1796. The estate inventory tells a great deal about the Schmitt family's life in Bedford County. As noted previously, between the years 1775 and 1785 the population of the immediate region around Jacob Schmitt's homestead was rather sparse. Although his homestead was not completely cut off from civilization, it would have been necessary for Jacob Schmitt to provide for himself as best as he could for the majority of his everyday needs. The estate inventory, taken when Jacob died in 1797 reveals a farm consisting of one horse, nine sheep, one hog and ten assorted cows. These were just the animals owned by Jacob Sr, and there is no doubt that Jacob Jr also possessed a number of similar farm animals (which could have provided meat on the plates of the whole family if neccessary). The inventory also listed five acres of wheat, four acres of rye and almost three acres of oats and flax. The basic, necessary grains were augmented by the flax, which would be used for the production of thread and cloth. The complete estate inventory follows:

one pair of oxen one spinning wheel Three tin cups
one Cow Bell one do Sundry Iron Artikles
one Flacked cow one Cleck reel Five old sickles
one red cow one old bag of Wool Five old Buckets
one Red cow one pair of Stilyards one pot rack
one Red cow three pairs of Wools one Vinigar Cagg
one Brown heffer Cards one Mall & three Wedges
one Red heffer one Table one Matick & sprouting how
one Red Steer one Walnut Chest Five axes & one addz
one Brown Steer one Do Five hilling hoes one
two spring Calves one old Chest shovel & one spade
Nine Sheep Five Chairs one Box of Iron
Five Acres of Wheat one Rifle Gun one saddle and Bredle
Four acres of Ry one six gallon pot Two Duch soth--
one plow & Bag clevis one small pot One Large Clevis and Mall rings
one harrow one Washing tub one Hundred & fifteen pounds
Two acres & three one Bucket      of shugar
     Quarters. of oats & one pail Ten Baggs
     flax one puter Beason one half Bushel
one Wagon one small Do one grap hook & old
one Wind Mill two Tin cups Twelve panes of Glass
four pairs of Drawing Two puter plates Five pounds of Blew yarn
     Chains Collars and six spoons two knives Two pair of Buckskin Britches
     hems & two old B--- & two forks Two Lindsay Jackets
     Bands one Large Washing tub one Corderoy Jacket
one cutting Box & Knife Two ten gallon Kettles one White Jacoat with sleaves
one packsaddle Two Caggs one lindsay Coat
one man's saddle one Churn one Blue Coat
Two Flax Brecks one Butter tub one great Coat
one shovel plow one Bakeoven two yards of Coating
one hog one Skellet & Frying pan Four & one half yards of
one Doubletree & small one Skellet      fulld lindsay
     Clavis sundry old puter plates Three shirtcloathes
two small Grindstones      & Dishes Four old shirts
one plow one Tankard one cotten cap
one five plate stove one Copper Tea kittle Three pair of stockings
one small ten plate stove one Tea pot one Black silk Handerchief
one sorrel mare one Coffey mill one Wool hat
one Bedstead Bed & Four Iron leadles & one Thirty pounds of Tow yarn
     Bedcloath & Curtains      fleshfork Two Bells
one Bedstead & Bedding one Flat Iron Three ogars and one
one Do one handsaw      Drawknife
Thirty pounds of yarn one side saddle one grindstone
one Chaff Bed one Large Bible and one small Bag of Wool
     seven small Books

   We can take a closer look at Jacob Schmitt's estate inventory to determine the type of life his family had on the frontier of Bedford County in the late 1700s.

   For the handling of the farm animals we find that Jacob Schmitt possessed one cow bell, four pair of drawing chain collars, four saddles (including a side saddle that would probably have been used by Rosana), and one doubletree (probably used on the pair of oxen). The farm implements which Jacob and his sons would have used to plow and work the fields included three plows and a harrow along with the hand tools of five hilling hoes, one shovel and one spade. One wagon was recorded on the inventory, but whether that was a farm wagon, or one used to travel to town is not known by the brief description.

   An interesting item on the inventory was a machine called a wind mill. This item consisted of a trough-like box with a screen bottom and a paddle wheel mechanism at one end. As a handle was turned, the paddle wheel would blow a stream of wind lengthwise through the box into which flailed grain would be shoveled. The screen bottom would simultaneously shake. The wind would blow the chaff away while the shaking screen would allow only the good grain kernels to fall through to a waiting box or other receptacle.

   The remainder of the hand tools recorded on the inventory included things such as axes and an adze and a handsaw - items used for the felling of trees and the subsequent fashioning of them into building material. Unlike a collection of similar tools which someone today might own and store in a side shed, to be used every now and then, the tools that the early settlers owned were generally put to use on a daily basis.

   The grindstone was one of the essential tools on any farm that needed to be even partially self-reliant. Without the ability to keep his tools sharpened, the homesteader's life was quite a bit more difficult. Dull tools require more energy to use than finely sharpened ones. Jacob Schmitt's inventory shows that he owned five old sickles. These were no doubt used at harvest time to gather in the wheat and other grains. Despite the description of them as being "old" sickles, they were probably kept sharp by the three grindstones that Jacob owned.

   An interesting item listed was one box of iron. At first glance, without any auxiliary information, this would appear to indicate a box of scrap iron items. It is possible, though, that it was just what is stated; bits of iron. In the years after Jacob Sr's death, when Jacob Jr and Rachel Schmitt owned the homestead, a small blacksmith shop is known to have stood in the grouping of buildings around the house. That blacksmith shop probably existed on the estate during Jacob Sr's time. According to the recollections of various people still living who resided in the vicinity while the blacksmith shop was still standing, it was a small building with a furnace just large enough to forge or repair small items. It certainly was not the elaborate, large bellows-operated furnaces intended for the business of any and all the neighbors. More than likely it was just a simple work shop where the Schmitts could repair their tools or fashion what was listed on the inventory as sundry iron artickles. The inventory lists a mall, which would have been a shortened name for mallet, or hammer. This item could very easily have been used in the blacksmith shop. We can also look back at the wind mill recorded in the inventory. It is possible that this item substituted for the bellows mechanism to supply air to the furnace.

   The estate inventory reveals that Rosana Schmitt was equipped with the tools necessary for her to do her share of the duties around the homestead. Because the wife did not, legally, own anything in the estate (except for items she brought with her as part of her wedding dowry, such as linens articles and her own clothes), the inventory taken at the time of Jacob's death shows those things which she concerned her time with.

   It was a rare situation in which any single woman would engage in the process of clothmaking, in all its varied aspects, by herself. Normally, the individual housewife would prepare the yarn, which would then be taken to a professional weaver to be made into cloth. The evidence of the estate inventory of Jacob Schmitt in which a loom does not appear would conform to this statement. In that household, though, there were all the other pieces of machinery which would have confirmed that Rosana and her daughter, Agnes Elizabeth would indeed have been able to (and no doubt did) produce the yarn needed to be sent to the weaver.

   The Schmitt family owned two spinning wheels; one was probably a small flax wheel while the other was a larger wool wheel. The fact that the Schmitts raised both flax and sheep would lead to the assumption that the two wheels included one of each type. There was also the necessary cleck reel which would have been utilized to measure and wind the woven yarn. The professional weavers often required that the yarn delivered to them be already measured, otherwise the price of the finished product would have to be higher to compensate for that additional work. There were two flax breaks with which to pound the dried plant stems into individual fibers. There were also three pairs of wool cards that the Schmitt women would have used to draw the wool over in order to separate the coarse and fine hairs, and to line the strands up for spinning. The Schmitts would not have raised both flax and sheep just for the variety of the yarn produced. Their motivation was probably to avoid being caught without raw material due to natural disaster. If they had raised only flax, there would have been the possibility that the crop might be destroyed by weather conditions such as a drought. If they had raised only sheep for the wool, there would have been the possibility of the sheep dying. By raising both sources of the raw material for their yarn, and knowing how to spin either material, the Schmitts were assured that they could meet their needs for clothing.

   At the time of Jacob's death, Rosana possessed two bags of wool (one listed as a small bag and the other as an old bag). The standards by which people measure their lives and live by vary from time period to time period and place to place. We cannot know what was meant by labeling the one bag of wool as "old". Perhaps it was carded wool that never really measured up to Rosana's liking, but she might have kept it to be used and spun if she ran out of fresh stock.

   At the time of Jacob's death, Rosana also possessed spun yarn, ready to be woven or knitted. Thirty pounds of yarn is recorded along with five pounds of blew yarn. These would have been used primarily for clothing material. Another listing which reads on the inventory as thirty pounds of tow yarn would refer to a heavy, coarse hemp (or flax) yarn; no doubt this item was more like rope than yarn per se. It might have been produced when time permitted for use by Jacob and his sons around the barn (such as for tethering the cattle and horse). Four and one half yards of fulld lindsay was in the Schmitt household in 1797. "Lindsey" was an abbreviation of the name "Linsey-woolsey" which was a popular type of woven cloth in the 1700s. Linsey-woolsey, as the name implies, was cloth made with both linen (from the flax plant) and wool fibers. The fibers would be spun separately into yarn, but would be mixed when the cloth was woven. The linen was used for the warp and the wool for the weft. This combination produced a cloth that was both warm (like pure wool) but also more durable (like linen). The addition of the word "fulled" to this item's description means that it would have been boiled and caused to shrink so that the action of the weather would not affect it after the cloth was cut and sewn into clothes. (Our modern notion of "pre-washed" and "pre-shrunk" denim is nothing new.)

   Rosana had two yards of coating when her husband died. Since the material is not noted, we might assume that it was wool. Wool, being the warmer of the two cloth materials Rosana could produce, it was no doubt used for the coats the family wore. The flax based linen would have been the material of choice for the various shirts mentioned on the inventory.

   Before leaving the subject of yarn and cloth, we might also take a look at the actual clothing left by Jacob Schmitt, and the other cloth items in the Schmitt household. Two pair of buckskin britches leads the list of clothing. What more stereotypical item of clothing could be found in the frontier settler's collection of clothes? Although these trousers were not "woven" from yarn spun by the Schmitt women, the chances are great that the animal skins were sewn together by Rosana with thread she might have spun herself. Because of the fact that deerskin clothing was considered to be crude after linen amd woolen material became available, we can only wonder at the reason Jacob had two pair of the britches made of buckskin. Perhaps he used them during times of rough weather because they held up better and were warmer. It is interesting to note that no other forms of trousers are recorded in the inventory. That may be because Jacob Schmitt might only have owned the pair he was buried in along with the two pair of buckskin ones. This is not meant to imply that the Schmitt family was too poor to possess any others; as can be seen by many of the items inventoried, the opposite appears to have been the case. What this lack of a large number of clothes seems to point to is simply the thrifty attitude the early settlers had toward clothing. Unlike today's clothing industry, in which items are made to sell toward whims of fashion with less emphasis on durability than on style, the early settlers' clothes were made to last and to take the stress that they would surely be subjected to. Since "fashion" was not the overriding concern of the frontier settlers, their clothing would by made with the type of work they were engaged in as the primary dictator of the fashion. For this reason, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that the two pair of buskskin britches along with whatever pair of pants Jacob was buried in were adequate for his at the time of his death. The material of excess or worn out clothing was put to use in the making of quilts and the like. Four or five pair of trousers for a frontier settler would have been an excess at that time.

   To continue on with the clothing inventory, we find two Lindsay jackets and one Lindsay coat, one corderoy jacket, one white jacoat with sleaves, and a blue coat and a great coat. Of these items, the jackets mentioned would refer to lightweight outer-garments that reached no lower than the waist level. Jackets often were more on the order of what we would today call vests, without sleeves, and meant to be worn over a shirt in cool weather, or under a heavier "coat" in colder weather. The sleeveless, vestlike jacket would allow for warmth over the chest and back areas at the same time that the arms would have freer movement without the hinderance of fitted sleeves. It should be noted that shirts of the period (of which Jacob's inventory lists four) were made of linen, as a rule, and were far warmer than those worn in modern times. The type of work a man engaged in dictated the apparel he would wear. In the case of farmers who needed to be outside for much of their work, yet who needed free and easy arm movement, the vestlike jacket over a sturdy linen shirt was ideal.

   Corduroy is the name given to the weave of a fabric rather than to the basis of the material. The corderoy jacket listed in Jacob's inventory might refer to a flax/linen yard material woven in the ribbed pattern of corduroy, and then fashioned into a waistcoat for formal attire. This might have constituted Jacob's dress clothes for special occasions.

   The two items recorded as "coats" were probably constructed on the order of what we today would think of as heavy outer-garments for cold weather. The one was listed simply as a blue coat. This coat would have been simply a standard, sleeved coat that extended below the waist - probably to knee length and having a wide collar for protection of the neck against the wind. The great coat, on the other hand, would have been similar but with a small cape overlaid across the back and shoulders so as to give even more warmth to that vulnerable area of the body. Great coats tended to extend a few inches below the knees, or mid-calf so that they would overlap the top of boots.

   Three shirtcloathes are mentioned in the inventory. It is possible, though I have not been able to verify this, that these shirtcloathes would have been what people of later years would call night-shirts. They would have been shirts with long tails intended to be worn in beds while sleeping. A cotton cap is also mentioned, and it might have been a night-cap to be worn in bed (but since we cannot see the style of this item, we can't make a definate assumption of its actual use). Three pair of stockings, no doubt hand woven/knitted by Rosana and one wool hat round out the inventory of clothing with the exception of one rather extraordinary item.

   I had mentioned in the above, that the range and quantity of items in the Schmitt estate inventory reveals that the family was not necessarily poor. The limited number of certain items reveal moreso the sort of thinking that pervaded 17th and 18th Century attitudes about possessions: waste not, want not. To own an excessive number of items that would merely go to waste by not being used was simply unheard of. Jacob Schmitt Sr did own one item that seems somewhat out of place in his frontier home: one black silk handerchief. What makes this item stand out from the rest of his clothes is the word "silk". In the 1700s silk was made solely from the thread spun by silkworms. There were no synthetic, silk-like materials available, so if the word "silk" is used, we can assume that it was indeed true silk. The silk available in the United States generally came from Europe, at a high cost to consumers. Silk production in the colonies was encouraged throughout the middle and late 1700s, but the production results were rather meager. In the years 1772 to 1773 the total colonial production resulted in only 485 pounds available for export. No matter how or where it was produced, the black silk handkerchief that Jacob Schmitt owned when he died in 1797 would have been a special, expensive item.

   The estate inventory of Jacob Schmitt gives us a glimpse of the domestic comforts of the pioneer settlers' home when we look at the furniture the Schmitt family owned. The log house which Jacob Schmitt built as his dwelling house was one of customary proportion for a log structure, being 16 by 30 feet. A spring house that was 13 by 13 feet was constructed close by. A barn and a stable were also part of the group of structures that stood on the homestead property. In close proximity was the house that Jacob Schmitt Jr and his wife Rachel built circa 1785 and lived in. Their properties included a log house which measured 20 by 25 feet, a kitchen which measured 15 by 15 feet and one barn.

   Although, by modern standards, we might think that the Schmitt dwelling house was small, being only 16 by 30 feet, it was just about as large as could be accommodated by the logs from which it was constructed. But the settlers did not necessarily desire larger structures because of the difficulty in heating them in the winter. Jacob's estate inventory, like any other, does not detail the structure of the house, so we cannot tell from it how many fireplaces were in the building. What we do find it the presence of two "stoves". The item listed as a five plate stove, and the one listed as a small ten plate stove were what we today would call a "Franklin" stove after the man who refined the design to include a flue. These stoves were basically iron boxes into which heated coals from the kitchen fireplace would be placed at bedtime. The heat radiated from the iron "plates" of the box for quite some time after the coals died out. The Germans had started using these iron warming constructions in the 1740s and brought them to America. It was later that Benjamin Franklin found that they would be more practical heating devices if they could be vented properly. Besides the stoves, the Schmitt family, like just about every other family, possessed a bedstead with all the trappings needed for warm sleep. The inventory lists one bedstead bed & bedcloath & curtains and two other bedsteads with bedding. The term "bedclothes" referred to the sheets and blankets along with the canopy and curtains that were made from linen. The item referred to as "curtains" in this inventory would probably have been a canopy and curtains made from a heavier material than linen - no doubt wool or linsey-woolsey. The homesteaders would climb (literally, because the bed's height was often at least three feet from the floor level) into bed and then pull the curtains shut to keep out the cold that would envelop the house at night.

   The Schmitts house was probably only one room, known commonly as the keeping room. In that room the beds stood in the corners and clustered close to the fireplace would have been the spinning wheels and other spinning accessories as noted previously. The remainder of the family's furniture would have been placed around the perimeter of the room until needed. That other furniture included one table and five chairs, and three chests. The homes of the 1700s did not have closests included as part of their structure; chests doubled as places to store clothing and linen and as extra seating.

   The various pots, cups, skellets, and other cooking tools reveal nothing out of the ordinary for this family. The churn, coffey mill, and bakeoven were the only items that might have been expensive articles for the family to acquire. Many of the rest of the items, such as the tin cups and puter plates would have been fairly easy to obtain at the trading posts in the nearby towns.

   The inventory shows that the early frontier settlers, like Jacob Schmitt, despite the fact that they had to be self-sufficient and self-reliant on themselves to eke out a living, were indeed able to do so. Although Jacob Schmitt's Will did not call it such, many homestead properties were known as "plantations". The idea of a "plantation" being a community unto itself, with the needs of that community being supplied by the members for the most part, and requiring minimal outside help shows why that term was applied to the Wills of these frontier settlers of western Pennsylvania in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Apart from the occasional luxury item, such as Jacob's black silk handkerchief, the industry of the plantation's members normally provided for all the wants and needs of the whole family. Although we cannot personally know this family who resided in the mid- to late-1700s, we can obtain a fairly good image of them through their estate inventory.