Search This Blog

Their Lifestyle Was a Clue

Charles Miller's Estate: The Clues
Charles Miller died in Henry Co, GA before 1 May 1837. That date was when his will was proved. My sister found his will and sent it to me to help her determine what his occupation was.

His will was straightforward, naming his children and their inheritance. What was mysterious was the inventory of his estate. Generally when I had read inventory lists from other probate records it was fairly easy to discern their occupation. Most were farmers, but you could usually tell if they planted grains or had cattle or if they were a lawyer or doctor, based on what was in their estate.

But Charles's inventory was different. He had the usual household goods--tables, chairs, dishes, beds, pots, etc. But the rest was what seemed like a hodge-podge of things.

He owned a flax wheel and reel, 2 spinning wheels, a loom, chisels and saws, jointers and plains [planes], moulding [sic] tools, a groove plain, augers, hammers, sheep shears, 3 head of cattle, 5 head of sheep, an ox cart, a horse, ten geese, a bee gum (a beehive contained in the hollow of a tree, usually a red gum tree) and a cooper's addz (a tool for making the staves for a wooden barrel) amongst other things.

  • Was he a cattleman?  Too few cattle.
  • Was he a sheepherder? ..Too few sheep.
  • There were 2 spinning wheels and a loom. One spinning wheel and the loom would have been sufficient for a household, but why 2?
  • Perhaps he was a cooper. He had a collection of woodworking tools and several barrels.
  • Perhaps he made the barrels for a distilling operation or for tobacco storage.
No one category stood out to help determine an occupation.

His estate had the equipment and live stock to produce beef, mutton, cowhide, wool, cloth, honey, barrels, perhaps tobacco or liquor, furniture or equipment made with wood and even though the inventory did not include pigs, he owned a sausage stuffer.

He was apparently educated as he owned books and a quill.

The Historical and Cultural Clues

The variety of items in estate were a clue to his lifestyle. While a few court records indicate that Charles may have been a carpenter, in reality he, like many of his kin and neighbors, engaged in a variety of enterprises to make a living. This lifestyle was a clue to his origins. Church records indicated that he was a member of the Presbyterian Church. When these cultural clues are added to the historical facts of his arrival in South Carolina, the conclusion was easy--He was part of a group that came to be known as "Scots-Irish."

Charles came with his parents and siblings on one of the infamous 5 ships of Rev William Martin. This was a Presbyterian congregation that arrived in 1772 in South Carolina from Antrim in Northern Ireland.

This congregation was part of a larger ethnic group in Ireland whose ancestors had immigrated from Lowland Scotland in the early 1600s. These Scots immigrants were part of the Ulster Plantation effort by James I of England (James Vi of Scotland) in 1609. James hoped that the Presbyterian Scots would provide a heavy protestant influence in Ireland and thus put an end to the Irish Catholic conflicts with England.

Originally this group called themselves "Irish." This was logical since most of their families had been in Ireland for 150 years. Later on in America, they would become known as "Scots-Irish" or "Scotch-Irish." In England and Ireland they are known as "Ulster Scots."

How These Historical and Cultural Clues Solved the Mystery of Charles's Inventory

In reading about the Scots-Irish, I learned that they were by and large the opposite of the German farmers. The Germans were known for keeping farms that were neat and tidy. The Scots-Irish were not so tidy. Their habit was to clear a small area--enough for a rough cabin and a small garden. They did not fence their property and let their animals run untended in the woods. They frequently did not even bother to clear the stumps of the trees they felled for logs for their cabins.

They had eclectic farming operations--a few cattle, a few sheep, a few hogs, geese, etc. They made liquor, raised a little tobacco, a few vegetables, spun thread from the wool of the sheep and sold a variety of goods to make a living. They liked their leisure time.

near Bull Run, Chester Co, SC, 1825

Charles's estate inventory was typical of a Scots-Irish farmer, with lots of different means for producing an income. Like most Scots-Irish of his time, he did not focus on one product or crop, he engaged in many small operations--thus the two spinning wheels, the barrels for holding tobacco and liquor and a small number of a variety of animals. In some records he is listed as a carpenter.

Knowing that Charles's family was part of the Scots-Irish immigration to America and learning that the Scots-Irish were a rowdy group that had haphazard farming methods, led my sister to look in civil and criminal court records, where we found numerous records of lawsuits and minor encounters with the law. Member's of Charles's family had sued, been sued, arrested and charged with a variety of misdemeanor crimes. While Charles, his wife and children appeared to be an upstanding citizen, many members of his family were not and in reviewing these civil and criminal court records, we were able to determine exact relationships within the family.

What I Learned

I learned that if you know the lifestyle of your ancestor, it can help you determine their origins and when and where they might have immigrated to America.

I learned that studying the culture can lead you to look for records that will help you sort out the family.

I learned that civil and criminal records generally state relationships of the parties involved as part of the facts collected about the case.

I learned that when there is an oddity in the facts surrounding your ancestor, such as the seeming odd nature of Charles' estate, that oddity should be pursued. It can lead to more information about the family.

I learned that 14 American Presidents have Scots-Irish origins.

I learned that the Scots-Irish educated both their boys and their girls.

I learned that the Scots-Irish influenced Appalachian and Southern culture in many ways. Music, moonshine, NASCAR, hunting, fishing and deep religious conviction are important in the South because of the Scots-Irish culture.

If you want to know more about the Scots-Irish check out these websites:

The Scotch-Irish in America, by Henry Jones Ford (Library of Ireland)

Recommended reading to learn more about the history and culture of the Scots-Irish.


No comments:

Post a Comment