Thursday, January 16, 2014

"A True and Perfect Inventory": Inside Clermont in 1844

In November of 1843, Edward Philip Livingston, the Chancellor's son-in-law and the master of Clermont, died at age 64.  He was survived by his second wife Mary C. Broome Livingston (b. 1810) and four children ages 31 to 21. 

Edward Philip (a grandson of Philip the Signer) had married the Chancellor's daughter Betsy, and the two had taken over Clermont in 1800.  After she died in 1829, he eventually remarried, and by the 1840 census, the household appears to be pretty big, consisting of Edward and his wife, along with three unmarried children and as many as ten servants!

But this article is only sort of about Edward P.

That is because Philip apparently died intestate--without a will--and on January 23 of 1844 two guys and his oldest surviving son  inventoried the assets of his entire estate.  Son Clermont Livingston along with William H. Wilson and Edmund Elmendorph were charged with accounting for every possible asset.  I imagine it was a big job.  It ran for 23 pages and included everything from a large box of raisins ($2.75) to two silver tureens ($600.00) to certificates of "New York State Stock at 5per cent per anum" ($2000.00).  Along the way, Wilson and Elmendorph included livestock, carriages and carts, small personal items for daily use, old curtains, fine carpets, and even the furniture in the servants room.  It is, according to the title of the document "A True and Perfect Inventory" of everything that was here three months after he died.

That is not to say that inventories of this nature aren't without their problems.  Object descriptions are brief at best and capture only one moment in time.  For instance, there's a bed in the library.  Why?  Was this where it usually stayed, or was it a temporary situation?  Judging by the $4 value--compared to others in the inventory--it was of a decent quality but not exceptional.  Who was sleeping in the library with 1610 books?  We don't know.  Similarly, there is no bed in the north east bedroom, but there are other articles that are consistent with a bedroom.  Had one of the four children already taken the bed out of that room to their own home?

You get the idea.  It's fraught with problems.  But still, chock full of delicious information.  In fact, after completing the transcription last Saturday, I can be pretty sure I'll be mining this document for a good long time.  In the meantime, I'll hit a few highlights just for fun:

One of the things skipped in my old transcript was the "store room."  Separate from the kitchen, it was full of durable foodstuffs that appear to have been stored in large quantity.  These foods were not meats or baked goods for tomorrow's dinner, but rather winter stores for facing the 2-3 cold months ahead of the Livingston family and their servants.  They were included in the inventory because they were assets.

Store Room

4          Gall[on] Preserves                                                  4
100      ? Loaf Sugar                                                         10
1          Barrel                                                                  20
12        ? Tea $6 Box of Tea $5                                         11
10              $5 5 gall[on] oil $5                                       10
1          Box candles $10                                                  
6          Brooms $1
            68 pepper 9/   1? cayenne 4 /   1? nutmeg  12/       3.13
1          ? cinnamin 2/   ½? mace 9/                                    XXX
½         ? cloves 2/  12? currants  12/                                1.75
1          Box raisins $2.75   12? almonds $3.75                  6.50
½         Old Cheese $2   14? Rice flour 9/
6          Box salt 9/
6          ? mincemeat 9/  6 do. vermicelli 9/                        2.25
2          Box catsup 6/   5 gall[on] molasses 1.00

I love the thought of this room, full of neatly-tied and sealed packages of food, all lined up on shelves and waiting for use. The smell of tea and coffee and spices.  The promise of plenty of delicious flavors for the winter.  I don't where precisely this room was, since it seems to have fallen prey to the Livingstons' various remodeling projects over the past 160 years, but I imagine it probably suffered from a bit of a mouse problem as well, like the rest of this house.  Was there a mouse trap in there too?  Were cats kept in the basements or working areas?

Some of the most expensive items are listed first. There is a considerable quantity of sugar put up: 100 loaves, valued at $10 (as much as one of the family's fancier bedsteads!) and a barrel at $20 (probably a different grade). One more sweetener also makes the list near the bottom: 5 gallons of molasses, one of the cheapest and most widely-available forms of sweeteners.  At 20 cents per gallon, it comes in cheaper than the oil or preserves, which are both $1 per gallon.  Preserves also appear in the list of things that Mrs. Livingston took from the house for herself.  Fifty-four jars of preserves, at $1 apiece!  It is possible that these were also originally stored in this room before she separated them out for her own use.

There is also a total of $16 worth of tea stored in this room, along with $10 worth of candles (not a food item, but apparently stored with the long-term supplies).  Without knowing the size of the box, it is hard judge the value and quality of these items, but they do represent a sizable expense.

At smaller expense are the spices: pepper, cayenne, nutmeg, cinnamon, mace, and cloves.  These are all pretty consistent with period cookery and could be used in sweet or savory dishes.  (I don't know what unit they are measured in as it was an unfamiliar symbol, but it is represented by a question mark in my transcription)  Adding up to a total of around $5, they don't account for much of the total value in the store room.  In fact, the raisins, almonds, and currants add up to more at around $8.

I also can't help but love the presence of pasta in this store room.  Six units of vermicelli, presumably dry, at 9 bits or $1.12 (half the monetary value listed at the end of the line).  According to The Food Timeline, long pastas were not all that exotic in early nineteenth century America and was partially popularized by Thomas Jefferson some fifty years earlier.  The practice of serving pasta with tomato sauce was only just creeping into the Americas at the time so I have to wonder how it was served in the Livingston household.

"Old cheese," rice flour, "catsup" (not necessarily tomato ketchup either, by the way.  It could have mushroom or even oyster as well!), salt, and brooms round out the list in the Livingston's store room.

A few furniture items on the inventory are things that we can specifically identify with pieces we still have today.  For instance, a "Hanging Lamp" ($4) is listed as being in the hall.  Curators have suggested that this one, pictured at right, is the one that lit Clermont's center hall in Edward Philip's day.

The list of furnishings in the dining room also includes a "Pier table mosaic top" at $20.  It's a fairly rare item, and we believe it to be one that's still in the dining room today, topped with marble of several colors in a design of interlocking rings.  (you can see the table both at left and a close-up of the table's top below).  Actually there were two pier tables in the Livingstons' dining room, the other one somewhat less fine at $7, but without more description, it is hard to guess which one it was.

Information like this can help us get a picture of what Clermont looked like at different points in time.  Even if we can't know precisely which pieces of furniture were in there, we can get an idea.  Reading further down the list, the dining room seems like rather a crowded place in the early 19th century since it also included the dining table with eight chairs, one small table, one tea table, two flower tables, a sofa, and an easy chair.  What's with the sofa?  Well, I can't be sure, but I know that Edward Philip's son Clermont like to keep a sofa in the dining room where he habitually sat and read, according to his son John Henry.  I can only assume that Clermont was was continuing a tradition or habit that originated with his dad.

I'd love to know which sofa it was.  The one at left (currently located in our Drawing Room) fits the right time period, but it's not the only one in our collection to do so.  And who's to say that the right sofa didn't leave the house in a successive generation?

Interestingly enough, there is almost no furniture mentioned in the Drawing Room portion of the inventory:

1 Mirror                                                                    80
Fender & fire irons                                                    15
1 Glass Chandelier                                                    10
1 Centre table                                                             5

I can only assume that the tables and seating furniture that were most likely located here (along with any carpets or ornaments on the mantel) were among those that Mrs. Livingston took for her own use, which are listed separately.  And I have to wonder what mirror that was that was valued at $80--the most expensive piece of furniture in the whole house!  It's even more than twice the price of the two "large" mirrors listed in the dining room.  Somehow this large mirror, pictured in the Drawing Room in the 1880s, doesn't seem to fit the bill.  Could it be the beautifully-adorned Lannuier that now resides in the Study? (below at left)

I could go on like this all day, but the fact is that with more analysis, the newly-completed transcript of the inventory will have a lot to tell us in the future.  Much more than just the fun tidbits popping out here and there, the inventory can provide valuable insights into the Livingstons and Clermont.  I will continue mining this for interesting stories to tell as we go along so stay tuned!

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