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  • Writer's pictureHistory Revealed

A Rose by Any Other Name - Virginia Ledgers Edition

Updated: May 11, 2020

We are excited to announce the publication of our Glassford & Henderson Index of Account Holders for the Alexandria and Colchester stores! What started as a disparate list of names across ten ledgers encompassing both stores has been consolidated into a single list of individuals, places, organizations, and store-related accounts from 1758-1769.

In the beginning, when we wanted to look for a customer, we went to each ledger's index transcripts opening and closing files, navigating through multiple folders. It became apparent that a more comprehensive list was needed to know which Henry Boggiss was which from ledger to ledger - to help us gain a clearer picture of the communities encapsulated by these two stores and the creation of a master list was born!

Each ledger included an index, like the one from Colchester 1760-1761 found above, albeit with either missing entries or missing pages. Initially, we combined all the indexes into a single document, but knew we couldn't stop there due to the known missing names and pages. It meant we had to go through each ledger, page-by-page, to make sure we had found everyone. What started as a list with 5,467 account holders grew to 5,901!

But, we didn't stop there either as we knew these account entries represented many duplicates with customers shopping at both stores and through the years. For example, we knew account holders like Mrs Constant Chapman, resident of Maryland, appeared in both the Alexandria and Colchester ledgers from 1764 until 1769.[1] Rather than have Mrs Chapman appear eight times in our index, we consolidated her account information into a single entry.

Constant Chapman purchased a hair sifter on June 13, 1765 for 2 shillings 6 pence.
Account of Mrs Constant Chapman of Maryland, Colchester 1765, folio 131; one of eight appearances in the ledgers.

After standardizing spellings of names and comparing names that appeared in multiple ledgers, the index became 1,865 names divided between individual account holders (1,771) and accounts that represented places (23), organizations (27), estates (22), or were store-related (22). In a few cases, we were unable to confirm if the multiple appearances represented a single individual or multiple (e.g. Henry Boggiss of Fairfax, Henry Boggiss tobacco inspector, Henry Boggiss Senior of Fairfax, and Henry Boggiss Junior, are all included, although likely represent only two individuals); we always erred on the side of more than less, so as we continue to do more research, our list may shrink or grow accordingly.

What can we learn about account holders from the index?

What were the most common surnames?

With a focus on counts above ten instances, the most common surnames were Smith and Williams with nineteen account holders, respectively.[2] Next up were Boggiss and Simpson with sixteen account holders, respectively.[3]

A challenge with all names is the standardization of spellings, especially for surnames. While we streamlined spelling variations like Johnson, Johnston, and Johnstone when it was clearly the same individual, sometimes that variation remained. While Johnston came in with 13 accounts holders, if we had included Johnson and Johnstones, the count would have been 17![4]

One of the interesting lessons of the surnames is being able to "hear" the pronunciation based on their spelling. The clearest to "hear" is the surname spelled today as Ferguson. In every instance in the ledgers, you can "hear" the Scottish lilt in the spelling for John, Joshua, Josiah, and Peter Farguson. Another instance is the spelling of Leroy as "Liroy" with a short "i" rather than a long "e". The differences between Johnson, Johnston, and Johnstone may also be due to pronunciation.

In contrast of the 1,771 individual accounts, 501 represented the only instance of a surname's appearance. Questions still to be answered regarding these singular instances: Did this uniqueness represent a lack of familial relationships to the community (or did their relatives simply shop elsewhere)? Were these individuals new arrivals to the Alexandria and/or Colchester region?

What were the most common male and female first names?

Like today, naming trends in the eighteenth century followed similar patterns.

The top five male first names in the Alexandria and Colchester ledgers were: John (272), William (234), Thomas (149), James (119), and George (59). According to the Social Security Administration, for the last 100 years (1918-2018), James, John, William, and Thomas have all ranked in the top ten for male names - clearly classic names that never go out of style! At the same time, there are many unusual male first names such as Bettisworth, Notely, Newdaygate, and Sharshall.

An interesting observation and difference in naming practices with today was in the use of Junior and Senior to identify male relationships. In the ledgers, the inclusion of "Junior" or "Senior" often simply meant age as a way for the store to distinguish between two men of the same age - with no direct kinship connection: Joseph Hutchison of Loudon County vs Joseph Hutchinson Junior, son of Daniel. To make matters even more confusing, who was the Junior or Senior may change over time: John King Junior and John King Senior appeared in the Colchester 1763-1764 ledger, and in the Colchester 1765-1766 ledger appeared two John King Juniors, different men with the same name with one being the "son of John". Only through following the accounts from ledger to ledger were we able to differentiate between them.

What about the ladies? Female names tell a slightly different story. One hundred nineteen women held accounts between the two stores. While Colchester dominated for the number of female account holders at 70 (7% of total individuals), Alexandria had over half as many with 41 (8% of total individuals). Most interesting was having eight women who frequented both Alexandria and Colchester (4% of those who shopped both stores): Mrs Constant Chapman of Maryland, Mrs Mercey Chew of Alexandria, Mrs Frances Colvill, Mrs Hannah Hopewell, Mrs Mary Johnston of Alexandria, Miss Sally Johnston of Alexandria, Mrs Sarah Johnston, and Ruth Saunders (the likely widow of Daniel Saunders of Difficult Run).[5]

Of the 119 women, we find much less variation in naming conventions. The four top names include Elizabeth (18), Mary (14), Ann (11), and Sarah (10). Over the last 100 years, Elizabeth, Mary, and Sarah have all ranked in the top ten of female names; Ann is the only outlier ranked at 71. In addition, ten women were only identified as "Mrs" in the ledgers, leaving us work to determine who they were!

Speaking of "Mrs", we can say with confidence that in all but one instance, the use of "Mrs" in the account holder information tells us the woman was a widow.[6] When no title is used (Miss or Mrs), we are less confident and hope to identify clues through their accounts and social networks. When John McIntosh died sometime after March 1769 according to his account, Elizabeth McIntosh inherited some of the credit owed by the store to her husband enabling her to purchase fabrics, pins, leading lines, a mug, and black gloves (on June 23, probably indicating her husband's death was in the days prior); however, her account did not include a "Mrs" title preceding her name.

What were the occupations of account holders?

Of the 1,865 account holders, only 288 provide any definitive indication of what the individual did for a living as part of the account information (based on purchases and payments, we are sometimes able to infer an individual's occupation). For the most part, the occupations noted focus on someone's involvement in trade, in administrative, or in maritime activities.

When breaking down the occupation information based on stores, Colchester included the most occupation information, with account holders who shopped at Alexandria or both stores about the same.

Lists of occupations found in the store ledgers
Account holder occupations listed by store ledgers - Alexandria, Colchester, or both stores

Most of the occupations were expected given the trades found contemporaneously in towns like Williamsburg. One exception was the number of school masters, and even a preceptor (a head teacher who specialized in a specific topic, often law in the 18th century) who taught George Mason's children at Gunston Hall. All five educators appeared in the Colchester ledger; a surprise as we know a grammar school was to be constructed in Alexandria as a result of a lottery held in 1761. Enoch Hill, a school master in Fairfax, appeared in the Colchester ledger from the spring of 1764 until the fall of 1768 when Eli Cleveland paid off Hill's account (over £7) - perhaps pay owed to Hill for teaching Cleveland's children?[7] Alexander McPherson, the preceptor to Colonel Mason's children, opened his account in September 1767 and may have expanded his tutelage beyond Gunston Hall by January 1769 when a payment was made "By Thomas Neale, for one quarter schooling 26/3."[8]

Appointed administrative positions, like sheriff, tobacco inspector, and parish collector, provide us a window into not only the responsibilities of the job based on purchases made, but also more about the men who carried separate accounts. While we knew Robert Adams had been the sheriff of Fairfax County, the ledgers provide us the names of deputy sheriffs like William Gardner and Pierce Bayly. While Adams maintained an account as the sheriff, he continued to be referred to as the "late Sheriff" when he transitioned to having his own accounts.[9] In addition to Fairfax, the ledgers also include sheriff information for Loudon and Stafford counties.

From how far away did account holders come to shop at the Alexandria and Colchester stores?

Account holders came to Alexandria and Colchetser from as far away as New Jersey and Norfolk, Virginia.
Locations associated with account holders in the ledgers

Nearly half of the account holders included locational information - some more vague noting only the county (Fairfax, Prince William, etc.) and some very specific (the Flat, Saw Mill Concern, near Edward Snickers). The map above only gives general marker as we start to look more closely at placed like where Edward Snickers lived, and by extension those who lived nearby. While many of the most distant locations, like Philadelphia and Norfolk, were associated with merchant business, travelers navigating their way north and south passed through the stores making purchases as both Alexandria and Colchester were along those primary routes.

How many accounts did each store have?

Not surprisingly, the Colchester store represented the majority of the accounts with eight ledgers and an eleven year time period. However, if we look at each store individually, Colchester had 1321 account holders over the eleven years and Alexandria had 759 account holders over only four years. The average number of account holders per ledger in Colchester amounts to 165. By comparison, the number of account holders per ledger in Alexandria was 380 - a significant difference probably explained by the more urban and maritime tradition of the town, but warrants additional exploration.

Account holders from Alexandria, Colchester, or both stores

Another component that needs to be explored is who the shoppers were at both stores - 215 accounts (197 of which represent individuals) appeared in both stores representing mobility and possibly socio-economic status.

What comes next with names?

Because we know account holders only scratch the surface of who crossed the threshold of the stores to shop, our next goal is to identify all those named and unnamed from within the accounts themselves. We want to develop social and geographical networks for each store, between stores, and within the community writ large and to be able to show change over time.

To accomplish this goal means teasing apart every entry looking for names or the inference of names. While the index gives us a head start, there is much work left to be done. We hope you will stay with us as we start this next element of our Glassford & Henderson Shopping Stories project!


[1] Mrs Chapman appeared in eight of the ten ledgers: Colchester 1763-1764: 202; Colchester 1765: 131; Alexandria 1765-1766: 26, 131; Colchester 1765-1766: 104; Colchester 1766-1767: 91; Alexandria 1767-1768: 33; Colchester 1767-1768: 98; and Colchester 1768-1769: 98. Learning more about her is of interest as her will and dower allotment, as well as the probate inventory from her husband (Nathaniel Chapman) can all be found at the Fairfax County Historic Records Center.

[2] Smith: Benjamin, Clater, Daniel, George, Gideon, Hancock, Henry, Captain John, John, Mary, Nancy, Nathaniel, Nathaniel Junior, Peter, Samuel, Temple, William (Fairfax), William (Loudon), and Withers. Williams: Aler, Alexander, Bazil, Benjamin, Benoni, David, Elijah, George, Jeremiah, John, Notely, Owen, Ridge, Thomas (Fairfax), Thomas (Overseer, Loudon), Thomas (Loudon), Thomas Bowler, Walter, and William.

[3] Boggiss: Mrs [FNU], Henry, Henry (Inspector), Henry Junior, Henry Senior, John, Richard, Robert Junior, Robert Senior, Sally, Samuel, Sarah Ann, Thomas, Thomas (Prince William), Vincent, and Winifred. Simpson: Mrs [FNU], Baxter, George, George Junior, George Senior, Gilbert, John (Overseer), John, Moses Junior, Moses Senior, Rhody, Richard, Thomas, William, William Junior, and William Senior.

[4] Johnston: Frances, George, Mary, Nancy, Sally, Samuel Junior, Samuel Senior, Sarah, Susannah, William (Overseer), William (Prince William), William (Ravensworth), and William Junior. Johnson: Thomas and William. Johnstone: Jacob and John

[5] The three Johnston women were likely all related (although their accounts reveal no direct connections). Sarah was the widow of George Johnston Senior, Mary was Sarah's mother-in-law, and Sally was possibly Sarah's step-daughter.

[6] Mrs Mary Rogers appears in the ledgers, under her husband's account, Richard, as well as her own (Colchester 1758-1760: 142, Colchester 1760-1761: 107, Colchester 1765: 59, Colchester 1765-1766: 51). They may have been estranged she appears to have resided in Fairfax (with her sons), while Richard was noted to live in Stafford.

[7] Enoch Hill appeared in five Colchester ledgers: 1763-1764: 195; 1765: 126; 1765-1766: 101; 1766-1767: 89; and 1767-1768: 96.

[8] Alexander McPherson appeared in three Colchester ledger: 1766-1767: 208, 1767-1768: 198; and 1768-1769: 169.

[9] Robert Adams as sheriff appeared in Colchester 1765: 171 and 1765-1766: 156 , then as the late sheriff in Colchester 1766-1767: 164 and 1767-1768: 169. Although not listed as such, he was likely the sheriff for Fairfax County in the Alexandria ledger 1765-1766: 115, 185.

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