Probing the Past

I’ve added a link to my blogroll for this excellent site (from the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University and Gunston Hall Plantation). You’ll find, in addition to resources for teachers, a fully-searchable archive of 325 probate inventories from the Chesapeake region of Maryland and Virginia from the period of 1740 to 1810. As the introduction says–

Probate records provide valuable information about the lifestyles of people during the colonial and early national periods. Such listings of possessions, from a time when household goods were not widely mass-produced, illuminate a family’s routines, rituals, and social relations, as well as a region’s economy and connection to larger markets. They also shed light on attitudes and policies toward slavery. For famous people, these records enrich our knowledge and understanding of their daily lives and values. For ordinary people, they offer a rare glimpse into their lived experience. These records also provide an opportunity to engage in comparative studies with other eras and to analyze how culture changes over time.

The project was begun by researchers at George Mason’s home, Gunston Hall Plantation, as a way of building a context for data about Mason and life on his plantation. The criteria used in selecting the 325 estates therefore assure that this is primarily a portrait of the wealthiest planters of his day. A few others sneak in because they have features of special interest, such as room-by-room inventories. Three Magruders by name and other Magruders by female descent are included. Note that in the record for Nathaniel Magruder (who met the room-by-room criterion) the transcriber omitted two pages, including the page where slaves are inventoried. All pages seem to be present in the scans of the original document.

 

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