Jacobs Estate

Jacob died at an age of about 73, without a will, leaving to survive him his wife Mary and all seven children, of which only his youngest, George, was then a minor, about age sixteen.[1] His wife and eldest son Jacob, Jr. were appointed by the probate court as administrators to settle his intestate estate under the guidance of the court. Jacob Sr. owned at that time 394 acres of land in Washington County, Maryland, on three tracts, Resurvey of Clalands Contrivance, Timber Bottom, and The Chance. In addition, he owned nearly 3,000 acres of land on a dozen different tracts in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. 

The estate, however, had an immediate cash flow problem. Three events conspired to set the family of this prosperous farmer back on their heels. The contract price for the largest of Jacob’s Bedford land tracts (475 acres), Dorfans Barn, had not yet been fully paid. He had also not yet acquired title. He had contracted with Philadelphia Quaker Henry Drinker in 1797 for the purchase at £1,326, but had so far paid only £338, twenty-five percent of the full purchase price.[2] A significant balance of £988 remained. Then, one of Jacob Sr.’s debtors owing him the considerable sum of £173, had decided that rather than pay the debt to the estate, he would submit to his own voluntary incarceration in the county jail under a new law enabling “insolvent debtors” to be legally absolved of a debt.[3]

Not long after the vendue, the family received an aggressive letter from Henry Drinker who, unaware of Jacob’s death, threatened him, demanding payment for his land. In this letter, he insisted: 

Should I not receive the sums due or a considerable part thereof without much further delay, it is my intention to put thy Agreemt into the hands of an attorney, to be prosecuted as the law in such case warrants. Life being uncertain, I desire thou would come to this City and receive the deed for the tract of land I sold thee in 1785 [a tract named Corunna] or inform me to whom I shall deliver it.  

Thy Friend [signed Henry Drinker].”[4]           

Drinker himself was ill, old, and felt he was near death (he died in 1809). He also became indebted and desperately sought cash to save his empire from the ravages of failed land speculation. 

If the Brumbaugh family were not able to pay Drinker, the largest debt of the estate, they might not obtain the benefit of whatever bargain Jacob had struck for Dorfans Barn. They also risked losing Jacob’s earlier down payment, plus interest on the sum and attorney costs. In addition, Jacob had already paid the full price of £476 for a tract called Corunna, but there had been no conveyance by Drinker to Jacob. These crises called for resolute and unified family forbearance on the one hand, as well as action by the administrators. 

Whatever the case, Mary and Jacob, Jr., as administrators, turned quickly to the business at hand, raising the money to meet these demands. Although they rose to this challenge, they did not receive the payment of £173 from that one bankrupt debtor.  

In 1800 the Drinkers deeded the long-ago purchased land tract Corunna to the administrators of Jacob’s estate. Over the next three years the administrators of the estate made sure to pay enough pounds sterling annually to keep the Dorfans Barn contract and pay off the huge debt. By 1803, both land tracts were added to the estate’s portfolio, making that portfolio even more land rich and cash poor.

Settling the estate, Mary renounced her legal interest of one-third of all the assets in return for an agreement by all the children, enforceable by the court, to pay her an annuity of £35. Accordingly, each child received 1/7th of the entire estate, either in cash or in kind and an obligation to pay Mary each year 1/7th of the annuity.

Meanwhile, the administrators of Jacob’s estate filed a proper inventory for tangible personal property owned by his estate. This was in accordance with an appraisal conducted on May 21, 1799 by John Schnebely and Ludwick Young.[5] They valued his goods at $2,501.13. (See a transcription of the inventory on this site along with the author’s comments).

Some key facts are revealed by the inventory, which are pertinent to the story of Brumbaugh. He owned no firearms and no enslaved persons at his death, which was consistent with his Brethren beliefs, and unlike most non-sectarian farmers.[6] He owned “12 old books” confirming his literacy, likely half religious and half farming books. In confirmation of Brethren practice, the listing notes that he owned “16 benches and a Table Upstairs.” This fact is consistent with holding home church services. Second-hand stories also described how Brethren drew together with their neighbors as a congregation without a church building. 

Jacob also owned two stills (a total of 200 gallons capacity; George Washington’s still, begun in 1798, had a 600 gallon capacity) 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 grains on hand, bushels of wheat, oats, rye, and buckwheat plus a myriad of tools and equipment, and supplies and products to maintain his buildings and grounds, plus crops in the ground, mostly grains, and several species of livestock and many horses. His farm had all the indications of a thriving ongoing operation despite Jacob’s 73 years. 

This inventory also shows how self-sufficient the Brumbaugh family was on their home farm. This enables one to gauge the striking degree of their thrift, a major contributor to the accumulation of wealth. According to a recent study of a general store in a neighborhood like Jacob’s in the approximate time frame, alcohol and textiles (including clothing) made up 57 percent by dollar volume of sales that other people (mostly non-sectarians) similarly situated spent money on. As Jacob’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. 


[1] No petition for a guardian of a minor (his youngest child, George was then 16) was filed, or anyway none is extant in the files of the Register of Wills for Washington County, Maryland. 

[2] Land Records of Bedford County, Pennsylvania, Book F, 348.

[3] J.B. Jr. to H.D. 20 April 1803, Box 22, Drinker Archive, HSP.

[4] H.D. to J.B., 8 June 1799 Henry Drinker Papers, MS Collection 176, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Box 21. Drinker had in March of 1797 rebuffed Jacob Sr.’s effort to renegotiate his payments, calling Jacob’s arguments “childish” and not worth a retort, and chiding him for “imprudently” paying a tax needlessly. This correspondence is related in detail in Appendix V. 

[5] Washington County, Maryland, Administrations, Book B: WK 937-2, 307-310 (images 253-256), MSA.                 

[6] A review of inventories filed in the estates of five of Jacob’s 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 Brethren preacher and Mary was married to one, so it is unlikely as well that either of them owned firearms. 

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