The Magazine of Early American Datasets (MEAD)

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We organized this data set to investigate whether gender had a significant impact on how appraisers conducted probate court estate inventories. If society drew a distinction between a man’s world and his work and a woman’s world and her work, then it may have associated different goods with the different worlds. This could have created ‘men’s possessions’ and ‘women’s possessions,’ ascribing gender to material objects. Acting within this set of cultural assumptions, probate appraisers might have wittingly or unwittingly inventoried estates differently on the basis of female involvement with the estate.

We used the York County Estate Inventories are available through the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation at Over the 101 years to which we restricted ourselves (1700-1800, inclusive), we obtained 693 usable inventories. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation lists 852 items in this collection. One hundred and eight were inventories filed prior to 1700. Of the remaining documents, not all were estate inventories, and some documents were verbatim repeats of previous documents. Still others were simply not useful due to excessive information loss.

Time Period: Start Date of Data Coverage


Time Period: End Date of Data Coverage


Date of this Version

Fall 10-31-2016


York County Estate Inventories are available through the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation at

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Our empirical strategy was to analyze the inventories for items (a) the archeological record (according to Bedell) indicates were ubiquitous (i.e., most could afford them and most owned them) but not inventoried, and (b) items related to gendered activities, such as sewing, laundering, dairying, brewing, and cidering equipment and poultry for the ‘woman’s world’ and razors and hunting equipment/weapons for the ‘man’s world.’

We emphasize the concept of “apparent wealth” of the decedent as revealed in the inventories. The actual net monetary value of each estate prior to death was almost certainly different from the sum of the monetary values of the inventoried possessions. Particularly in Virginia, real estate was almost entirely absent from the estate inventories. Cash on hand and clothing were rarely inventoried. Items deemed to have no market value were omitted. The inventories cannot account for any distribution of assets prior to death, or assets deliberately hidden by inheritors or friendly appraisers to protect them from creditors. the inventories do not generally list debts owed by the estate and rarely list debts owing the estate. To obtain a more complete picture of an estate’s net worth, one would need the decedent’s probate inventory, the will or settlement document, and the account of administration.



Date Posted: 01 November 2016