Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Daily Expenses for a Gentleman in Philadelphia, 1772

Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Isabella reporting,

I love primary sources - letters, diaries, receipts, journals, inventories, and so on - that can act as an instant link to the past. (Apparently many of you agree: one of my most popular posts explored the inventory of an 18thc. woman's wardrobe.) Reading the elegant handwriting in faded ink, turning over the still-crisp papers, seeing the very human blotches of ink, misspellings, or doodles, can all make the intervening centuries disappear.

Last week I went searching through the papers of Philadelphian John Cadwalader (1742-1786) in the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Cadwalader was a prominent merchant and landowner, and during the American Revolution, he became one of General Washington's commanders. He kept voluminous records of his finances and daily expenses, many of which survived and are now in the HSP's collections.

Looseleaf pages like this one, left, from January, 1772 might seem like the driest of accounting, a day-by-day catalog of Cadwalader's expenses. But the entries reveal not only more about Cadwalader's own personal and household spending, but also fascinating details about life in the 18thc. city.

In addition to the money given to "Jem Sampson for marketing" (I'm assuming he or she was the cook, though there is also another entry marked "paid to the Cook"), much of the household's food was bought directly from specialized shops or from individuals. Cadwalader lists items on this sheet for almonds, loaves of bread, yeast, lemons, and squab pigeons. Another page includes "a String of fish" and a payment to "a Woman on the German-Town Road for Eggs." He bought wine, too: "Mr. Morris for 5 Bottles Frontenacc."

Of course I was interested in seeing what was spent on clothing. Other pages have numerous expenses for Mrs. Cadwalader's wardrobe as well as his own, but two of the more expensive bills on this page are paid to "Isaac Parish for a Hat", and a whopping £4 for a "Muff & Tipit" to keep Mrs. Cadwalader warm. (To put that in perspective: modern estimates are that a common laborer in the 18thc. colonies earned roughly £40 annually, a schoolteacher earned £60, and a minister around £100. Odds are none of them were spending £4 for a muff and tipit.)

There are many entries for postage, for letters carried to New York and sent to far-away London. He paid for services like chimney-sweeping, "for Quilting a Cradle Quilt," and "for Bleeding Moll Singo & Jem Sampson." He had energy costs: "6 Cord Wood from over the Schuylkill [River]." Other pages include the annual fee for his church pew, payments to Charles Willson Peale for portraits of his family (including the one right), contributions to what would become the University of Pennsylvania, and alms to the poor, all signs of responsible, respectable 18thc. gentleman.

But there's another side to all this lavish spending that only appears in a couple of references: the expenses pertaining to the "Negroes." Scholars today guess that the Cadwaladers had at least seven slaves in their city house, and there were surely more working the family's sizable plantation on the Sassafras River in Kent County, Maryland. Were Jem (perhaps short for Jemima) and Moll among those enslaved people? The most important slave in George Washington's household during his presidency in Philadelphia in the 1790s was his cook, Hercules. Could Jem have had that trusted status with the Cadwaladers, too? (If anyone knows for certain, I'd love to learn more.)

And all that from what amounts to an 18thc. check register.

Above: Looseleaf page from John Cadwalader papers, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Lower right: John and Elizabeth Lloyd Cadwalader and their Daughter Anne, by Charles Willson Peale, 1772. Philadelphia Museum of Art.


Siusaidh said...

I have a copy of a diary kept by my 4th G-Uncle, William Caswell, while on a journey with his father, (Gov) Richard Caswell (NC) to the Continental Congress where he notes they purchased gloves (7 ss, 6d), stockings (2£, 16s), shoes (10s), shoe buckles (1£), 2 rings (27s, 6d ea), silk stockings (2£, 8s), boot garters (3s,9d), a cane (2s, 6d) and other items, including tooth brushes (16d) and ribbon and he even notes that he "lost out of my pocket 15s". Still wondering what an "oil baze" is, he paid 1 shilling for.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Siusaidh, what a treasure! Fascinating to see all the things they bought in the "big city." I wonder if they felt they needed to upgrade their wardrobes once they arrived, or if their purchases were to take back home. Thank you for sharing!

George said...

Interesting coincidence -I was looking at Cadwalladers' papers last year as he was the administrator of the will of William Neate, father in law of my ancestor Henry Chapman who was sent to America from London to collect the debts of the estate. Many of HC's letters home were preserved. He was initially based in Philadelphia, then in New York. The letters cast light on the estate papers and vice versa and the latter suggest why HC never returned home to his wife and family.

Anonymous said...

Please note that Charles Willson Peale's middle name is spelled with double L's.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

George - So why DIDN'T he return? I'm curious now...:)

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Anonymous, A careless error, and now corrected. CWP deserves to have his name spelled correctly - especially since today is his birthday: April 15, 1741.

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