J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Accounting for New England Ancestors

The Holiday 2006 issue of New England Ancestors magazine, from the New England Historic Genealogical Society, has an article titled “Cataloging unidentified account books,” by Timothy G. X. Salls, which is now available online. This article examines one item from the N.E.H.G.S.’s archives: an account book.

Such a document can be valuable for showing commercial relationships, cycles of business and debt, availability of certain goods, &c. But if you have no way to put an account book in its original context, it looks like a maddening string of names and numbers. Salls explains how clues in this book let him identify its original user and glean a bit of his story.

This book, it appears, was owned by Henry Quincy (1727-1780), son of the prominent Boston magistrate Edmund Quincy. He was first cousin to the lawyers Josiah Quincy, Jr., and Samuel Quincy. His sister Dorothy married governor John Hancock, his sister Esther married provincial attorney general Jonathan Sewall, and his sister Sarah married militia general William Greenleaf. According to this account book, in 1774-75 Henry’s customers included several British army officers. He seems to have stayed out of politics (especially after financial reverses in 1766).

The Revolutionary War didn’t go well for Henry Quincy. Salls writes:

The six unnumbered pages are the most interesting since they contain an “Account of furniture & their cost & value left in the dwelling house of Henry Quincy also an account of stock in his warehouse left by him when he by permission of General Gage with his family left his possessions in Boston May 6th 1775”.
After the war began, there was, naturally, a rush to get out of the besieged town. You didn’t want cannonballs falling on your head. Of course, once you had left, who would look after your home and business property?

Paul Revere’s wife left his eldest son, fifteen-year-old Paul, Jr., to look after the family’s North End shop. Years later former British soldier John Moies recalled how “I was desired of John Andrews to go into Mr. Samuel Elliot's Store in Wilsons Lane and to watch there” as the military prepared to evacuate in March 1776. In Henry Quincy’s case, the best he could do was take an inventory of everything he left behind.
The four-page inventory was valued at £261:4:9 and sworn before Justice of the Peace John Foster in Providence on December 28, 1776. The fifth unnumbered page notes that in March 1775 Henry Quincy left “one box containing books & accts of every denomination in his own private concerns” dating from 1748; “two boxes of my father Salter’s [i.e., belonging to the father of his first wife, Mary Salter] books & papers including Mr & Mrs Powndings books accts & other domestick papers as well foreign; one large trunk of Edmd Quincy’s papers, receipts, bills, & letters foreign & domestick”; and in his warehouse a “blue painted chest on wheels with the late compy of Edmd & Josa Quincy’s accts & books of every sort as well as their foreign & domestick papers.”

A note at the bottom of the page states that Henry returned to Boston on April 17, 1776, “to collect what effects might be left & found my house emptied of every thing, my warehouse as well, not a floor to the store from the roof to the cellar all carried off or destroy’d.”

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