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Friday, August 26, 2016

Mr Newel’s House, or Turn Off Your Spell Check—It’s 1745!

I found among my father’s papers a typed transcript my great-grandfather financed of a very old book of records of the proceedings of the town of New Cambridge, Connecticut, from the 1740s through the 1820s. Transcribing the typed transcript for the internet appealed to me, but it is proving to be more challenging than I thought since of course spelling was not standardized until almost a hundred years later, and the different town clerks were creative to say the least.

There are several entertaining vignettes here. One of the first things they did after breaking away from Farmington was to debate and vote again and again on hiring a minister for their “society” as they called the town. A Mr. Samuel Newell was chosen, but the protests of the minority of voting members stalled the conclusion of this matter for several years. Finally, after a number of the dissenters formally declared their allegiance to the Church of England, the matter seemed settled. Here is part of what they contracted with Mr. Newell after he had accepted the job.

We the subscribers ebnezer hamblin leu samll gaylord ens edward gaylord being inhabitants of new Cambridge the fourth sosiaty of the Town of farmington and being chosen and impowrd by an act and vote of the inhabitants of new Cambridge at an ajornd meeting holden in new Cambridge above sd on the 20 day of July Ad 1747 do? for and in the behalf of such inhabitants of sd sosiaty as are lawful voters and have power and authority to make such contracts and agreements joynety and severelly Bind and oblige ourselves our executors administors and assigns to pay and satisfie to mr samll Newel to his executors &c the ful and just sum of one thousand pound in Bills of Credit of this Coleny in old tener at or before the first day of october A d 1749 for and in consideration of his contracting with us to be and his becoming our gospel minister & the duty and respect due to him as such and for his setelment amongst us
N. B. The Condishon of this obligation is such that if the above sd ebnezer hamblin leu samll gaylord edward gaylord shall within the space of one year and two Monuth from the day above of these presnce in good workman like maner erect build and set up one new tenement and dwelling house for the sd mr samll newel upon his land in new Cambridge whare he shall direct of thirty eight feet long and 23 feet wide and sixteen feet and half between joynts with a lintow ajoyning the back side 20 feet long and six feet wide containing five rooms below and shall workmanlike finish the lower rooms in the maner following viz well ceil the dwelling room and make sutiabel cobard and shelves for such rooms and lath plaster and whitewash the paler and bed rooms side and over head makeing all sutiabl convenant good and work manlike doors and partions suler? and chamber stars and dig and stone and a proper celler at lest sevin feet deep from the lower floor and the bignes of one end of the house from the chimny and in good and workman like maner Build and paint a stack of chimnys consisting of 3 funels from the botom and 2 more begining at the chambers making at least 2 brick ovens of a sutiabel bigness and in workmanlike maner make the window frams and shashes and glass for the whole house viz nine windows? consisting of 24 squairs of glass 6 and 8 size and one of eighteen squairs and seven with 12 of the same size and this is to be done by the later end of September A d 1749 and that they the sd Ebnezer hamblin samll gaylord edward gaylord thir excrs adm’r and asigns shall find and provide at thir own cost and charge all and all maner of timber stone brick laths Nails Iron glass lime clay sand and all other Materials whatsoever shall be fit and nesesery to be usd in and about sd Building and they so doing in maner and by the time above sd shall be quit of the above sd writen bond and oblygation otherwise it is to stand in ful force and Vertue & signed deliverd this 20 day of July A d 1747

                             hez Rew                    ebnezer hamblin
                             gershan tuttel          samll gaylord
                                                                 edward gaylord

Probably leu means Samuel Gaylord was a lieutenant, and for his brother Edward, ens probably means Ensign. Remember that in those days the only lawful voters were men over age 21 who owned land.

Bills of credit of this colony remind us that every colony in America issued its own currency, although they all followed the basic English system of pounds, shillings, and pence (not the modern decimal system though). Some further research turns up the possibility that these bills of credit were not worth the same face value as actual money. They may be worth up to a third less.

The meaning of old tener referred to the fact that English money had recently (in 1717) been revalued and put on a gold standard after international trade imbalances and problems with the Royal Mint had resulted in low levels of sterling silver in the country. Apparently the colony of Connecticut was resisting the change to some degree. Were the colonies always somewhat in revolt? Probably!

Consider Mr. Newell and his compensation for the job of preaching. He gets a nice little five-room house with a lean-to on the back, a stone-lined cellar, staircases to the upper floor and to the cellar, and chimneys with fireplaces large enough for cooking in, let alone those nine glass windows, something of a luxury. Besides the house, he gets grain to sell or consume and firewood to heat his house (those details are in the meeting minutes, not in this letter of contract; I’m not sure why, or whether there was another contract they didn’t copy into the book). Additionally, Mr. Newell gets a thousand pounds for the next couple of years’ worth of other expenses. In today’s money, that’d be somewhere around $200,000, but these are bills of credit, which probably reduces the value by as much as two thirds, to between $65,000 and $70,000. Still, not a bad pay package!

But considering that he had to deliver those good old hellfire-and-damnation sermons that seemed to be the popular thing in 18th-century America every Sunday of the year, I don’t envy him the house and grain and firewood and money . . .

Not to mention that I get spell check.

House built in then-New Cambridge for my distant kinsman Thomas Barnes, 1748


  1. As your said, "Fascinating!" Appreciate your background knowledge and understanding of the language. It adds greatly to the context. If the preacher enjoys such sermons as you note, and many did, then he'll live well on that generous salary.

    1. Thanks Stefan! I did some further research on those bills of credit and discovered they weren't worth as much as regular money, so I updated the post to reflect that he wasn't as rich as we might have thought at first. Then too, the subsequent years show that his regular yearly salary was just over a hundred pounds a year, with firewood, until 1753 when they decided he could have 160 a year and get his own firewood. . .


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