Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Frederick Guthard: His Last Will and Testament (1791)

Frederick Guthard, probably as a young child, immigrated to the New World at the port of Philadelphia with his father Heinrich Guthard on August 30, 1737 from what we now know as Germany. The ship "Samuel" had brought them to their destination after a several months long journey from Germany to Rotterdam (of the Netherlands) and across the Atlantic Ocean. He settled in Pennsylvania. In 1790, he lived in the township of Exeter, population 893, comparable to most of the towns in Berks County at that time. This was rural farm country.

On Friday, May 6, 1791, Frederick and those close to him knew he didn't have much longer to live. His family helped draw up his last will and testament, and Frederick scrawled his signature on the piece of paper confirming his wishes for the distribution of his real estate and personal property. Within two days of that last stroke of the pen in his hand, he had departed this world and his body was buried near Schwarzwald Reformed Church in Exeter, PA. The church shared the name "Schwarzwald," the Black Forest of southwestern Germany, not far from Frederick's homeland.

217 years after Frederick Guthard's death, and about 100 miles southeast of his place of burial, one of his 6th great grandsons (yours truly) held Frederick's will in his hands. The yellowed and faded loose papers were neatly organized in a manilla folder in the files of the Register of Wills office in the Berks County Courthouse in Reading, Pennsylvania. I made photocopies, and in June 2010, I finally took a good look at my ancestor's estate record and transcribed it into a PDF document which you can easily view.

Take a look for yourself at the exquisite handwriting of the will in the image below (you can right-click on the image and open it in a new window to read it).

Frederick's will indicates he was survived by his wife Maria Catherina; six sons - John, Henry, William, Jacob, Frederick, and Peter; and two daughters, Catherina (widow of Isaac Wagner) and Magdelina (widow of Elias Wagner). The name "Frederick" has been very common along my Goodhart family line. Beginning with this Frederick Guthard of 1791, seven of my eight paternal ancestors have "Frederick" either as a first or middle name. Frederick means "peaceful ruler" in Old German.

Frederick was most likely a farmer, judging from the inventory of items listed in his will. Even if he had another primary occupation, the quantity of livestock and crops indicate he was able to live off the land he owned. For livestock, he had two cows, an old horse, six old sheep, three lambs, 6 "hoggs," five pigs (hogs are older and heavier than pigs), and "a half share of 4 hives of Bees." His crops consisted of wheat, rye, clover, indian corn, and flax. A "winowing fann" would have been used to remove the inedible parts of the grain crops. With a "flax brake," a "cloath press," and a spinning wheel, he (or other family members) were able to make linen bags, clothes, sheets, and various cloths, using the flax available on the land - or wool from his sheep. He was also part owner of an apple mill. Considering he had a grind stone, a crosscut saw, and an axe and hammer, he could have cut down trees on his land for firewood or to make furniture (or even his home).

Clothing was made of various materials - linen, flax, leather, felt, and even velvet. The family certainly could have produced the first four materials, but I'm unsure if they could have made the velvet "jacket" and "breeches." Velvet was probably not easy to make or come by.

He must have had an adequate kitchen (where his wife or daughters most likely worked considering the time period). He had a ten plate stove for cooking, along with kettles and pots. There was plenty of pewter kitchenware - more than a dozen plates, two dishes, two "basons" (basins - possibly used for keeping things cold), thirteen spoons, and a quart (for holding or serving drinks?). There was enough dining ware to serve the entire family and some guests.

He had a 30 hour clock, so they could keep track of the time.

Religion played a role in Frederick's life, as can be inferred from the place of his burial and the Christian references in the first paragraph of his will. He also owned a book of the new and old testament, as well as a "Folio German Bible." Oh, how I wish I could find that particular bible! Perhaps someone in another line of the family now possesses it.

I am fascinated with the knowledge that Frederick had a collection of various coins and currencies. I wonder where he got these - traveling? Did he hold onto these when he left Europe to come to Pennsylvania? Or were they passed down from his mother or father? In his possession were seven half Johannes coins (from Portugal), four Guineas (from England), eighteen French crowns, and 21 Spanish dollars. Since they assessed the value of all of Frederick's items, one can also get a sense of how much each of these currencies were worth in 1791 in Pennsylvania.

Frederick apparently had slaves according to his will, though they were not counted in the 1790 census. The slaves were considered one of the family debts in the inventory. Much of the money from the sale of Frederick's property was disbursed to neighbors. The reasons for this disbursement are not made known - maybe they were payments for services or products, before and after Frederick's death.

Frederick's wife Maria Catherina was given a third of the share of his personal property, and according to Frederick's will, she initially was to be given one third of the purchase money from the sale of his real estate. However, Maria Catherina later affirms (with her mark - meaning she was unable to write) that she was instead intended to receive one third of the interest made from his real estate. Was this a genuine mistake in the original will? Probably. Though it is interesting to think about the family discussion regarding this matter.

All told, the entirety of the financial matters seems to have been settled on or around June 17, 1792, more than a year following Frederick's death.

This was a learning experience for me in analyzing Frederick's estate record. Certainly, my research was not by any means exhaustive. Additionally, there is more I can do in looking at Frederick's entire life. Apparently, there are deeds and church records out there according to others' research, though I did not mention them here because I want to see them for myself before referring to them. It is amazing how different the terminology was compared to the present day. Many of the items listed in the inventory were completely unknown to me. Thank goodness for Google and Wikipedia.

Feel free to comment if you notice any errors - or if you have an observation or just want to appreciate the material!

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