This collection contains 204 items, chiefly probate inventories, receipts, records of sales of decedents' property, indentures and other legal documents. Eighty-seven of the items pertain to the estate of Robert Toombs (d. 1826). Most of the items date from between 1778 and 1830. Twenty-one items date from 1839 to 1867; there are no probate inventories for those decades. Almost all of the material in this collection comes from Wilkes County, but a few documents are from other counties.
The probate inventories provide a wealth of details about the lives of Wilkes County residents, enslaved and free. Inventories can be used to reconstruct some details of slaves' lives. These documents show the number of slaves on plantations with the monetary value assigned to them, often give names of slaves, and indicate if women had children. Sometimes appraisers noted the names of a woman's children. For some decedents, the records of the disposition of estates show the scattering of slaves to various slaveholders as well as the distribution of other property. The "List of the property sold of Lewis Biddles Estate Deceased," has unusual value: It breaks down the slaves sold into family groups (information beyond the more frequent notations of mothers and children). A poignant 1828 estate sale record relates that Old Andrew and Old Amy were "offered & no bidder." The collection includes other material about slaves and slavery, such as records of the hiring out of slaves and a 1784 bond that expressed a preference for a "country born negroe boy." Four court documents from the late 1780s and early 1790s reveal cases of "Negroe Stealing" but with scant detail. Another court document, from 1792, declares that a Capt. John Man "saw a Negro man Ben, said to be the property of Richard Baily on the morning of the 29th June Instant, much wounded, which appeared to be done by shooting." Man testified that one Norcut Slaven had told Man that Slaven "has shot the said Negro Ben." The court took action against Slaven and other men, though the documents do not show the final outcome of the case. The records in this collection can be used to study the economy of Wilkes County. In addition to slaves, inventories list livestock and equipment, such as plows, cotton cards and looms, and blacksmiths' tools -- details that allow scholars to study the extent of plantations' self-sufficiency or participation in the market. With qualifications due to uncertainty about completeness, these inventories can be used to study wealth and consumption over time and to compare the lifestyles of the well-off versus the poor. The records also allow analysis of levels of literacy. The collection also offers information regarding material culture and consumption. William Grant furnished his house with "3 Painted Pine dressing tables," "1 Dozen Rush Bottom Chairs," and several pieces of mahogany furniture among other things. Inventories indicate that Wilkes County residents might own musical instruments, pillow cases, sugar dishes, custard cups, decanters, looking glasses, and books (occasionally listed by title) to name a few of the consumer goods that turn up in the records. The "Inventory of the estate and effects of William Rogers" suggests that Rogers may have been a teacher or bookseller. His books included Lessons for Reading, Schoolmasters asst, two copies of Ovid's Metamorphoses, a few dictionaries and a number of grammars. Some other miscellaneous inventory items listed were traps for rodents, 55 gallons of peach brandy, 22 thimbles, spice mortars, coffee mills and waffle irons.
Inventories can be used to study women's and men's legal and financial roles. Some probate inventories contain lists of debts. Women rarely served as administrators or controlled property that went through the probate process, but a few women appear in this collection in those positions. Women's presence is greatest as buyers of property sold at estate sales and as slaves. The collection contains a few wills, receipts, contracts and miscellaneous legal documents.
Approximately 80 documents about Robert Toombs's estate provide an especially full record of one family's spending on goods and services. Toombs's wife, Catherine, settled the estate's accounts over the few years after Toombs's death in 1826. Pages of accounts and receipts show the cost of education, library fees, the children's board, food, clothes, furniture, postage, medical services (including those of midwives), legal services, piano tuning, transportation, and taxes. The records also show the price that Toombs's got for their cotton and corn. A picture of the lives of the Toombs's family emerges from these records. The sons attended Franklin College, daughter Sarah Ann played the piano. The family received the Wesleyan Journal according to a receipt for paying postage for the journal. To drink, the Toombses might choose from coffee, gin, whisky or "the best Madeira Wine."