“TWO BUSHEL OF RYE AND ONE BUSHEL AND HALF IS TO PAY FOR A SAW AND A HARNES”: RARE POST-REVOLUTIONARY LEDGER KEPT BY AN INDUSTRIOUS NEW ENGLAND MERCHANT, CIRCA 1790-1820
[STILES, Abel]. Merchant Ledger. Connecticut, circa 1790-1820. Small folio, contemporary gray paper boards rebacked. $2500.
Rare New England merchant’s account book for the years just after the Revolution through the War of 1812, a remarkable view into early American life, with hundreds of inked entries from Abel Stiles of Connecticut recording the details of bartering for cattle, gallons of cider brandy, bushels of rye, and much more. Scarce in contemporary boards.
As America emerged from the Revolution into a new century, New England merchants, whether contesting Jefferson’s Embargo Act or agitating for secession in the War of 1812, remained “the most colonial part of the new nation… The contribution of New England—a stronghold of conservatism and radicalism, of genteel Brahmins and of unwashed immigrants—to the new nation was far out of proportion to her numbers or her extent… The supreme proof of New England ingenuity was her ability to turn her rocky soil and heavy winters to profit” (Boorstin, Americans, 3-10). That truth is especially clear in this fascinating account book kept by a prosperous New England merchant from 1790 through the early 1820s. The ledger belonged to Abel Stiles of Southbury, Connecticut, who appears to have been the owner of a farm, cider-mill and distillery. Within are careful inked entries listed by person, dated and also indexed, with notes of amounts paid or items traded—whether for rye, vinegar, cyder [sic], corn and apples, pork, quarts of rum, pounds of tea, yards of cloth, and so on. With currency still in short supply, bartering was common—trading items or labor for grain, cattle or brandy, for boarding a horse overnight, or laying a “9 row stone fence,” or for a trade noted on January 27, 1801, stating that “Hawley Hendick hath agreed to work with me for one year for twenty three pound, fiffteen [sic] pounds in trade and out of the house and Nine pounds in Cash. Abel Stiles.” In addition, each account has a debit and credit side, and the purchaser or trader is shown to have typically signed with an “X” through their entry when settled. With eleven ledger notes of various sizes laid in.
Light scattered foxing, expert restoration to contemporary boards.