Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tis the Season - to Buy Stuff

During this holiday season, retailers hope that we go out and buy a lot of stuff.  Stuff for gifts and stuff for ourselves.  I count myself lucky to be able to buy stuff.  Some aren’t so lucky.

On the other hand, most people used to live with a lot less stuff.   I was thinking about this the other day as I was organizing some papers.  I came across a transcript of an estate inventory from 1782.

My ancestors, Antoine Barada and his wife, Marguerite DesRosiers, were married at Post Vincennes, in what is today the state of Indiana.  They moved to St. Louis with their children not long after St. Louis was founded.  Antoine Barada died in 1780.  Two years after his death, Marguerite re-married.  I previously wrote about the marriage contract for Marguerite DesRosiers’ second marriage.

It was customary under French and Spanish law to inventory the estate prior to the re-marriage of the widow so that the children of the deceased knew what was to eventually come to them.  (St. Louis was a French city living under Spanish rule at the time.)

And so, on April 30, 1782 an inventory was taken in the presence of Don Francisco Cruzat, “Grand Captain, Infantry Colonel, Commander-in-Chief of the Louisiana Territory and Governor of the Western Part of Illinois and its annexed parts”.  The Widow Barada brought two witnesses who were the named executors of the estate:  Baptiste Becquet and Gabriel Dodier.   Becquet and Dodier were both originally from the town of Nouvelle Chartres in Southern Illinois and had come to St. Louis with the first group of settlers.  They were brothers in law; each had married the sister of the other.  Becquet’s daughter, Marie, had married the Widow Barada’s son, Louis, the year before.

The remaining estate of Antoine Barada was valued at 928 livres.  More than half of the value was the wooden house “with no stone” located on First Street in St. Louis, described as being on a lot 120 feet in front and of “customary depth”. Inside the house was the second most valuable possession:  a bed with a feather mattress.  There was a pair of sheets and a down comforter for the bed.  The only other furniture was two walnut dressers, one table and two chairs. For tableware there were seven tin plates, nine tin spoons, five old iron forks, one big spoon and eight “used” ceramic plates.   The kitchen accoutrements included one saucepan, two earthen jars.  At the fireplace were two iron andirons and two iron hooks.  There were three iron cans and one millstone.   Three iron bars and miscellaneous other iron pieces rounded out the estate.

And that was it.   Perhaps there had been more and it had been gifted to their various children upon their weddings.  But we have no records of that. 

The Baradas were not particularly poor people.  Oh, they weren’t rich like the Chouteaus, but they had a house and were considered upstanding citizens.  But like most people of that time, they didn’t have a lot of stuff.