• History Revealed

You never know what you'll find

In this week's #TranscriptionTuesday on Facebook, we featured transcribing challenges from the Alexandria store ledger from 1767 to 1768. The account in question was 'Charges on Merchandise' (folio 6) also known as the store's costs associated with running the business. What makes this account interesting is all the small details of daily life that begin to appear as you look at the transactions.


Meals at the store

The Alexandria store, with a few exceptions, moved mostly dry goods as its primary form of merchandise available for sale. However, in the Charges on Merchandise account, we see many examples of fresh foods coming into the store. For example, the exchange of merchandise for needed goods, like foodstuffs to likely feed Sam, the enslaved man working at the store. Exchanging Paduasoy ribbon for chickens happened twice and probably to the same (unnamed) person.


Excerpt from Charges on Merchandise account (folio 6) in cursive handwriting
'To 1 1/2 yd [yards] pady [Padausoy] Ribbon 6d paid for Chickens' (18 February 1768)

Other interesting foods acquired by the store include: limes and lemons, venison hams, salmon, oysters, butter, cider, and cheese. Most of these foods would have been either caught, cultivated, or created locally by nearby residents rather than imported and offered for resale by customers. In addition to Sam, Henry Riddell and Colin Campbell, the store's manager and assistant, may have also had access to these foods as would other day laborers hired by the store at various times. Who would have been responsible for cooking has yet to be determined.


Compensation for services rendered

Excerpt from Charges on Merchandise account (folio 6) in cursive handwriting
'[To] 1 agate tea Pott 9d pd [paid] Peggy Dennis for sitting up 12 nights with C.C. [Colin Campbell] when sick' (5 December 1767)

In late November 1767, the store's assistant, Colin Campbell, must have become very ill as Peggy Dennis was compensated for staying up with him for 12 nights. Her nursing efforts were worth only 9 pence or, in this case, an agate teapot.

Now we need to find out who Peggy Dennis was as she did not have her own account, and the only other appearance of her in the 1767/1768 ledger occurred in February 1768 when William Shaw (folio 53) provided her rum for unidentified services. And, from what illness did Campbell suffer that he was bedridden for nearly two weeks?

Excerpt from Charges on Merchandise account (folio 6) in cursive handwriting
'[November] 18 To 5 yds [yards] 3/4 Check 3/:1/4 1 Handr [Handkerchief] 11d 1/2 paid Mr. [Josias] Claphams boy for bringing down the horse'

Another example of services rendered can be found in the tip provided to 'Mr. Clapham's boy', who was most likely enslaved. The Alexandria store purchased a bay horse from Josias Clapham on 18 November 1768 (folio 7) and Clapham sent it via a young man who took receipt of the payment (£28), and was provided a gratuity by the store for his efforts in the amount of 3 shillings, 11 3/4 pence worth of fabric and a handkerchief. We may never learn who this young man was, but we do know he was given the freedom to bring a horse to the Alexandria store, entrusted with a sizable cash payment, and given a gratuity that provided him (or a relative) the ability to have personal expression in his clothing with the checked fabric and handkerchief.


Evidence of travel

The Alexandria store was only one of a larger network of stores in the Chesapeake region of Virginia and Maryland belonging to the John Glassford & Company, and we see its inter-connectivity in the Charges on Merchandise account with the travel of its manager, Henry Riddell. Riddell's expenses as he traveled between stores were compensated by the store - whether it was for overnight stays in taverns, ferry fees, or his horse's boarding. He traveled to the Loudoun, Virginia, courthouse several times over the year, as well as to Dumfries, Colchester, and Boyds Hole stores in Virginia. In Maryland, Riddell went to Bladensburg, Piscataway, Port Tobacco, and Georgetown/Rock Creek. The John Glassford & Company owned stores in all these towns and Riddell must have been visiting them.


Excerpt from Charges on Merchandise account (folio 6) in cursive handwriting
'[March] 9th To Cash HR's [Henry Riddell] Expences at Rock Creek at a Sale of Negroes 3/:'

Two of Riddell's travels took him to Georgetown (11 February 1768) and Rock Creek (9 March 1768) to attend a slave auction. The auction was advertised to occur in early February (28 January 1768, Maryland Gazette), but the next issue of the Gazette indicated a date change still to be determined (4 February 1768, Maryland Gazette). Eventually, William Lee ran the advertisement again in the Maryland Gazette on February 25 advertising the sale to be held on the 9th of March.

Given Riddell submitted two charges to the store, he must have been unaware of the cancellation of the sale and had already traveled to Georgetown, but he was clearly in attendance for the sale held on March 9, 1768.

Although Henry Riddell was in attendance on behalf of the Alexandria store, the ledger does not indicate he purchased any of the enslaved men, women, boys, or girls advertised. Why was Riddell at the sale? It looks to be a bit complicated. Most likely to confirm William Lee would be able to pay off his debt to the Colchester store. According to Lee's account (folio 213), Alexander Henderson, on behalf of the Colchester store, loaned Lee £49..4..0 plus interest, Sterling, while in Williamsburg (date not indicated). Riddell may have attended to sale to find out how Lee would be paying his debt. When looking at Lee's credits to the Alexandria store, Thomas Moss (folio 155) paid his bond, plus interest, to Lee as payment for Lee's account. The bond issue date? March 11, 1768, just two days after the sale of the slaves. Confused? William Lee borrowed money from the Colchester store and to pay it back, sold slaves at Rock Creek at an auction attended by Henry Riddell, the Alexandria store manager, who went to keep his eye on Lee. Thomas Moss (also a customer at the Alexandria store) purchased at least one of the slaves at the auction and rather than pay Lee directly, Moss paid off Lee's account at the Alexandria store, thus leaving Lee with no debt to the stores.


Many times the store accounts leave you with more questions than answers because you never know what you might find in them. Even with unanswered questions, the ledgers do reveal people and events we did not know about before and that do not appear in the history books. Stay tuned for more discoveries!

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