Smith Official DNA & One Name Study

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1797 Ledger of Ezra Smith, Topsham, ME-merchant

Bowdoin "Orient" April 7 1920

THE GOOD OLD DAYS IN TOPSHAM The phrase, "busy as a Topsham grocer," once coined by a Bowdoin graduate, could not have been applied in his sense of the word to the methodical accountant of an interest- ing volume lately received at the library. For this well preserved leather bound folio volume, the library is indebted to Mrs. Clara S. Patten of Brunswick, who received it from her uncle, Dr. Asher Ellis. The book bears on its first page the inscription: "Ezra Smith's Ledger, No. 1 Topsham, Nov. 1, 1797." Mr. Smith was an overseer of this college from 1800 to 1811. He was born in New Hamp- shire about 1764 and died in Hanover, Maine, in 1846. The three or four hundred pages of this ledger are completely filled with the accounts kept by Mr. Smith at his store from November, 1797, to September, 1801, and constitute au- thentic evidence of many of the so- cial and economic habits of our an- cestors in these regions some hun- dred and twenty years ago. Mr. Smith kept a general store and dealt in a great variety of articles from all kinds of groceries, vegetables, meats, and ardent spirits, to shoes, dress goods, stationery, dictionaries, and almanacks, but no other books. Money was evidently scarce in those days. Relatively few accounts were settled with cash, most of them with commodities produced by the custom- ers, such as wood, lumber, farm pro- duce, and labor. Many of them worked off their bills by hard labor for Mr. Smith at long hours and at the rate of 75 cents a day. Miss Martha Fitts is credited with $12.54 for twenty-five weeks' work. An- other customer settled a long stand ing account in part by surrendering "one share in schoolhouse," valued at $4. In fact, his store seems to have resembled a miniature produce ex- change or a mediaeval barter station rather than the thing we know to- day as a store. The first account runs against a man who in nine days, charges gal- lons and gallons of brandy at 38 cents a quart, rum at 25 to 28 cents, besides lamb at 3 and 4 cents a pound, sugar at 14 and 15 cents, also a "yard of pigtail" (whatever that may be) it 4 cents. For these goods he de- livers boards at $5 a thousand. With two or three exceptions Mr. Smith's customers were hearty drink- ers. Most of the accounts deal chiefly with rum and brandy with occasional charges for "syder." This, however, is not so difficult for us to understand when we consider that life hereabouts was then exceedingly monotonous and offered virtually none of the substi- tutes for alcohol that the highly or- ganized society of today presents. Of chief interest to us are the prices then prevalent. We note the follow- ing: Sugar, 14 to 20 cents; molasses, 75 cents a gallon; "bisket," 17 cents a dozen; coffe, 28 to 38 cents; cheese, 13 and 14 cents; butter, 15 to 20 cents; lard, 9 cents; flour, 6 to 8 cents; pork, 14 cents; lamb and beef, 3 to 4 cents. Considerable difference in the prices of the same articles on the same day seem to indicate that this was no one price store. Tobacco, 15 to 35 cents a pound; brandy, 38 cents a quart; ram, 25 to 28 cents. Eggs figure rare- ly in these accounts; possibly every family was expected to keep hens. However, on September 17, 1798, eggs were sold at 13 cents a dozen; apples, 42 cents a bushel; corn, 75 cents a bushel; shoes, 92 cents to $1.25; "knit- ting pins," 2 cents a pair; "chizzels," 17 cents each. There is a detailed record of the cost of building a brig, $5,633.54. One gets the impression that life was not easy in those good old days. Although most articles of food seem cheap, cloth and clothing were high, and labor at seventy-five cents for a long day must be regarded as ex- ceedingly unproductive when compared with present day accomplishments.

Linked toEzra Saint John Smith

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