Sunday, March 13, 2011

The History of Land

I spent today transcribing a document I found last year at the New Jersey State Archives which conveys 200+ acres from Thomas Hayes and his wife Margaret to Earnest Mange, believed to be the Ernest Mann of my family (one of them at least).

Besides the difficulties of reading the handwriting of old European script and the poor quality of the scanned image, I need to comment about what seems like the excessive length of this document for its purpose, which was to say Thomas Hayes was selling land to Earnest Mange. I think the document goes on at some extreme length for three reasons:

a) the document is apparently giving the entire history of ownership of the land in question. This is a BIG thing for a genealogist to realize - that a description of YOUR family's land transaction might well be recorded in the land transaction of those who came later. So in this particular case, if you are looking for surnames STACY, POUNELL, ATKINSON, POTTS, WRIGHT, KNIGHT, JANNEY, KIRKBRIDGE or SCOTT in Sussex County, New Jersey before 1783, you would probably find some interest in the document I have just transcribed.

b) the document gives loooooong descriptions of the boundaries of the land by degrees and chains and links, but also by cornerstones and lanes of neighboring lands. So in my case, the land in question is bordered by George SUMMERS (who would be father-in-law of my Ernest Mann), as well as SIMMS, PENROSE, PARKER, and VANATTA (spelling of these surnames may vary as transcription of this document was a challenge). Another great lesson: my family might be mentioned in the land descriptions of neighbors!

c) the legalese about heirs and executors and dowers goes on and on in what I assume is fine English tradition. This document was signed by a judge of the court of common pleas in the STATE of New Jersey, which in April, 1783 was almost but not quite yet a locale found in an independent nation. George Washington and the Continental Army had spent almost half of the Revolutionary War in New Jersey. And yet now there was true hope of peace: Cornwallis had surrendered in Yorktown in 1781, the preliminary articles for a peace treaty had been signed in Paris in November, 1782, King George III would sign the treaty in September, 1783 and the American Congress would ratify the treaty giving them separation from Great Britain in January, 1784. The American Constitution and election of the first American President were on the near horizon.

So the length of this conveyance document aside, I find myself wondering about my ancestor whose first language was German, who had traveled so far to disembark in Philadelphia in 1754 and there work as a stocking weaver, who in 1776 applied to become a tavern keeper in Oxford, New Jersey, and who was now about to make himself an American landowner. I find myself imagining it was an amazing day for my Ernest Mange, the 13th of April in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty three.

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate all the hard work you are putting into this site. It is a treasure trove and I know the hard work it represents and how time consuming it is. You have to love it to do it.
    I love how you are posting the history of the time. I think that is what is missing in so many genealogy sites. They put out the bare facts or just what the family is doing, when all that is going around in the community and country at large always had a great impact on their lives just as it does for us today.
    I am amazed at how the families came over from their homelands, adjusted well and worked and made a life for themselves here so quickly. America is a unique land in that we allowed people to come here and own private property, to speak out on issues they were concerned with, to work at what trade they chose and to worship where and when they chose to do so.
    The original Pilgrims came here primarily for religious freedom from the State imposed religions of their home country, arriving in a land that was totally unknown and with a contract calling for them to put everything into a common store that was produced with each one entitled to one common share. All buildings and houses constructed were to go to the common store, but Governor Bradford found this didn’t work too well. So he took a bold step and assigned a plot of land to each family to work and mange on their own, which worked amazingly well. Incentive to work or personal motivation was tapped into.
    The system our German ancestors left of guilds and apprenticeships were restrictive and abused. They also could not branch out on their own. The Guild authorities were strict. There were the apprenticeships, too, which actually often were just using someone for ‘surplus labor’. Many times, important trade secrets were not taught as a protection for the trade, which meant the apprentice could not do the job on his own.
    According to Isabel V. Hull in her book on Germany, legitimacy was the guilds’ obsession. Only those with legitimate births could become ‘master’s of the guild’. This would be verified before signing them on. The master’s wife also so had to not only be of legitimate birth, but she had to be a virgin before marriage. If the birth of the first child occurred before nine months, this could lead to being kicked out of the guild. Premature birth was considered illegitimate as well. Also adultery would be grounds for losing your statist. The body of the ‘master’ and his family and the guild property along with his workshop were to be pure at all times. ~No hanging around women of low character or inviting them to guild property and so on….
    But in America, a man could pursue his destiny of choice and become as successful as his hard work and brilliance would lead him. Of course, there were always the outside factors at work, sickness, untimely death, war, Indian battles, and often the new comers were taken for ‘suckers’ and ripped off in various ways. But, after the horrible conditions and severe restrictions on career and religious freedom in the ‘old country’, America sounded wonderful and many of them came over with great anticipation.