Perches & Pizza

I am up to 230 letters or other documents transcribed, and have had an interesting time with the transcription. I wrote previously about the crossed lines and the bad handwriting, making it difficult to decipher some letters, but I’ve run across another difficulty. Horton Howard also appears to have been a well educated man, with an extensive vocabulary – including words that have changed in meaning or are no longer commonly used.

On February 18, 1827 he wrote about visiting a property that his son-in-law either had purchased or was considering for purchase. In his words,”there are two large rooms and 2 of good size with a passage, each room a good fireplace & a handsome Pizza.” This is most certainly not the Pizza that we know today, yet his handwriting is very clear in this phrase. Could he have meant piazza?

Another puzzle appeared in describing this property in a phrase that was less clearly penned, so that I wasn’t sure if he wrote about perches or finches, and couldn’t figure out what a fish or a bird could have to do with measuring distance when he wrote” also there appeared at a distance say of 25 perches is a tolerable Barn stabling etc.”

A little research on units of measure solved that one! It was indeed perches which turns out to be another word for the distance also known as a rod or pole. This measure is equal to 5 ½ yards, 16 ½ feet or 1/320th of a mile.


Estate Inventory – 1788

At the age of 18, Horton Howard was the executor of the estate of his grandmother, Frances Horton. His inventory of the estate lists many items that were utilitarian in their day, including 1 watering pot, 4 tin pans, 1 pair of shears, 2 grind stones, 1 Hachet [sic], 4 hoes, and 1 lantern.

Some items have long since gone out of style or use – 4 chamber pots, 1 sidesaddle, 2 wheat riddles (strainers or separators), 1 churn, and 1 old riding chair. The riding chair was a small carriage with 2 large wheels, carrying a sitting chair mounted on a small sleigh-like platform. Carriages were taxed by the number of wheels, the riding chair could be pulled by a single horse, and this carriage was easier to drive over narrow and bumpy country roads.

There are also many items indicating comfort and an appreciation of the finer things in life. 9 Queen China cups and saucers, 1 punch strainer, 8 blue & white bowls, 2 looking glasses, 26 sitting chairs and 2 wine glasses.


Only 2 wine glasses?  And 26 sitting chairs? I’m intrigued by the juxtaposition of 26 chairs and only 2 wine glasses.  Can we assume she once had more and didn’t bother replacing them as she grew old? Or did she hold large meetings at which serving wine was not appropriate?


Manumission Laws in North Carolina

A friend who follows this blog asked me why Horton Howard and other Quakers would have had difficulty in freeing their slaves. Why couldn’t they make such decisions about their own property? This is a complex issue – requiring a longer and more technical bit of writing than most of my blog post.

The southern states relied heavily on slave labor for necessary agricultural work. Once the slave was purchased, the cost of maintaining the slave was minimal. Freeing of slaves led to many fears among slaveholders: fear of economic disruption from losing their labor pool, fear that freed slaves would be a bad influence on remaining slaves – perhaps encouraging them to want freedom, and fear that the freed slaves (who had been denied education and therefore had limited skills) would become a burden on the state, counties or local governments.

So how did the North Carolina slaveholders protect their interests? Laws of 1715 and 1723 prohibited manumission of slaves except for meritorious service as approved by a county court. Slaves appropriately freed had to leave the state within 6 months, and any former slave returning to the state could be taken up and sold into slavery to the highest bidder.

The Quaker population, meanwhile, grew increasingly opposed to slavery and found ways to work around these laws. Some of them deeded their slaves to a local Meeting, with one or more of their members appointed as Trustees. The slaves then lived in virtual freedom, they might receive wages for their work or obtain work on their own, until their legal freedom could be obtained.

In 1777 addition restrictions prohibited a slave owner from allowing slaves to hire themselves out, thus preventing the slaves from accumulating funds to buy themselves out of slavery. Any slave transgressing this law could be taken up and put to hard work for the benefit of the county for as much as 20 days. This would have made the Quaker trust ownership of slaves less advantageous.

That is enough information for now – I will write more on this subject later.