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MO Bicentennial Minutes: Property in John Whittenburgh’s Estate Inventory – Part I

Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
Upper left: loom; upper right: pot trammels over a fireplace; lower right: flaxhackle; lower middle: steelyards; lower left: salt cellar.

Examining lists of property of deceased people provides windows to the past. The next two Bicentennial Minutes will examine the estate inventory of John Whittenburgh of Cape Girardeau County. Whittenburgh was a wealthy man who died in August 1821. He was involved in land speculation and farming, owning 15 enslaved people at his death. Household items and tools suggest some he enslaved were craftsmen or laborers.

Several items connected with cloth production were in the estate. Flax fiber had to be broken and separated, the latter using a flaxhackle, a crude comb. Workers spun fiber into thread using wheels designed for either linen or cotton. Cloth woven on a loom, with associated gears, reeds, spools, and other items, completed the process.

The estate included much furniture. An item unfamiliar to us today is an “underbed counterpin,” or bedspread for a bed fitting under a larger bed. Smoothing irons used for cloth and leather are called flatirons today.

Dining items included the dishes and plate, some made of pewter, an alloy consisting of 85-95% tin, copper, antimony, bismuth, and sometimes lead or silver. A pepper box and salt cellar held these condiments, although some years later the term “pepper box” applied to a derringer-style pistol.

Other items were steelyards, used for weighing items, and a sifter for removing chaff or sorting grain. Finally, every household had a hearth or perhaps in this case multiple fireplaces. Pairs of fire dogs and dog irons for elevating firewood, and fire tongs for moving embers were in the Whittenburgh estate. Finally, unfamiliar to us are pot trammel, chain, and horse--all related to holding cook pots or ovens at various levels over a fire. Until next time.

Bill Eddleman was born in Cape Girardeau, and is an 8th-generation Cape Countian. His first Missouri ancestor came to the state in 1802. He attended SEMO for two years before transferring to the University of Missouri to study Fisheries and Wildlife Biology. He stayed at Mizzou to earn a master of science in Fisheries and Wildlife, and continued studies in Wildlife Ecology at Oklahoma State University.
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