Learning Gained from the Inventory of Jacob’s Estate in 1799

These are some things I deduced from a careful review of the estate inventory of tangible personal property prepared for my 4GGrandfather Jacob Brumbaugh’s 1799 estate in Hagerstown, Washington County, Maryland, where he lived on a 900-acre wheat and grain farm, while owning 12 more farms in Morrisons’ Cove, Bedford Co, Pa,; he was survived by his widow Mary Elizabeth and 7 children (1 daughter Mary married to Dunker minister Samuel Ullery, and 6 sons: Jacob, John, David, Daniel, Henry and George):


Some key facts pertinent to the Brumbaugh story are confirmed and others revealed by a close examination of the inventory. He owned no firearms at his death which supports the conclusion he was a Dunker and in further confirmation the listing notes “16 benches and a Table Upstairs.” This fact is consistent with holding home church and with stories that many Dunkers homes had second stories where they drew together with their neighbors as a congregation. 

Brumbaugh also owned two stills and all the accoutrements of a significant distillery along with 450 gallons of whiskey in inventory, confirming his secondary occupation as a distiller of what were then referred to as ardent spirits. 

Brumbaugh’s farm was well stocked with a myriad of tools and equipment, supplies for a rainy day, and products to maintain his buildings and grounds, plus crops in the ground mostly grains, and several species of livestock . His farm had all the indications of a thriving ongoing operation despite Brumbaugh 73 years . 

In addition, Brumbaugh owned “12 old books,” an indication of some literacy (though letters he wrote were probably scribed by the schoolmaster). Lastly the inventory shows how self-sufficient the Brumbaugh family was on their home farm. This enables one to gauge their thrift, a major contributor to the accumulation of wealth . According to a recent study of a general story in a neighborhood like Brumbaugh’s in the approximate time frame, alcohol and textiles (including clothing) made up 57% by dollar volume of sales that other people spent money on. As Brumbaugh ‘s family did not need. to buy these products, their cash outflow was reduced and they could keep more of the gross receipts of the sales of their farm products. 

A review of inventories filed in the estates of five of his children also reveals an absence of any firearms. The remaining two children, for which there are no inventories extant , were John and Mary. John was a Dunker preacher and Mary was married to one, so it is unlikely as well that either of them owned firearms. 

The List of Articles Sold at the vendue of Jacob Brumbaugh, deceased, was also illuminating: 

The vendue held on Wednesday and Thursday, June 5 and 6, 1799, drew more than 77 people to bid on the 330 lots into which the auctioneers had arranged his goods and chattels. Brumbaugh family members bought in 138 items or 41% of the total number of lots. The widow Mary only bought in 15 lots for herself with four of her seven children buying in the rest. Son David had a fondness for horses and furniture, sons Jacob, Daniel, and Henry for farm equipment and supplies. Neither daughter Mary (or husband Samuel Ulery) nor son John, who all lived 80 miles away, nor youngest son George, a minor, purchased anything. 

Over 77 persons purchased at least one lot, and the only women doing so were widow Mary and one other. Of those persons who purchased one lot or more, 33 men or 43% of the purchasers had German surnames (e.g., Engle, Butterbaugh, Volgamott, and Ridenour, etc.) and the rest either English, Scots, or Scots Irish names (e.g., Watt, Halbert , McFerrin, McLaughlin, Johnson, Jones, and Ferguson, etc.). 

Probably many persons attended who bid on nothing, coming principally for the liquid or other refreshments as 49 men or 64% of those who purchased something purchased three items or less. Another hint that a good time was had by all is that 440 gallons of whiskey had been inventoried, yet only 356 gallons were listed as sold at the vendue. All of 84 gallons of good whiskey seemingly disappeared into thin air! About a gallon per person. 

Of the 16 benches listed in the original inventory as found “Upstairs,” only 9 were disposed of at the sale and they were bought in for £1 and change, purchased by son Jacob, Jr. whose wife was a confirmed Dunker per her obituary (chances are they were passed on to whoever was currently holding house church). 

The eight-day clock, often viewed as an heirloom  in many estates, had been appraised at $25 and was sold outside the family to a Hershberger for £12. A gray mare and a gray gelding were the highest priced items, selling for £45 each. 

A sign of the confusing monetary system at the time is that while the estate inventory and appraisement was listed in dollars and cents, the list of articles sold at the vendue was listed, and the auction presumably conducted in pounds, shillings, and pence. 

List, Washington County Register of Wills (Accounts of Sale), 1787-1802, Maryland Hall of Records #16,278, pp. 259-269. 

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