Lessons From Ephraim Cutler’s Store Ledgers

Yesterday, I finally had the opportunity to get to the Marietta College Library’s Special Collections department to do some research on my old friend (and 4th great-grandfather), Elijah Staats. I had been tipped by another researcher that there was a receipt in one of their collections from Elijah, given to Ephraim Cutler in 1798.1 My hope was that I could uncover some business or other relationship between Ephraim Cutler and Elijah Staats that might explain why Elijah had come to Marietta or perhaps who and what he was involved with there.

Here is that receipt:

1798 receipt bearing the signature of my gggg grandfather, Elijah Staats

 

I emailed what I was looking for ahead of time, and the extremely helpful Linda Showalter had the receipt pulled and ready for viewing, as well as several letters from Benoni Staats (son of Elijah) to William Cutler (son of Ephraim, and a state representative at the time).2 Unfortunately, the receipt was just that. However, on the back of the paper was written, as you see in the image above (click for full size), “Elijah Staats” and what appears to be “Rent”. While this could also be “Rec’t”, the “Rec” combination does not appear to be the same as it appears on the front in “Rec’d.” This was a curious development. What was he renting from Elijah? Land seemed the most likely, as I knew that Elijah at that time owned three 100-acre lots purchased in 1797.3 Linda Showalter informed me that Ephraim operated a number of stores in that time period.

I asked whether there were any store ledgers, and there were two. They were not even cataloged yet, and my eyes lit up at the romantic idea of finding answers to mysteries in an uncatalogued store ledger from the 1790s, Bingo, right? Not exactly. I combed them for any trace of Elijah or other names I might recognize, and found none. They were clearly for two different stores: one appeared to be in Waterford Twp, Washington, OH4 , the other was possibly from Ames Twp5 , in what is now Athens County, but I couldn’t tell for sure.

I never did quite figure out how his accounting worked, but there were long lists of items people purchased: bear meat, whiskey, wheat, gunpowder, and various other necessities. At Waterford, there was a mill nearby, and the ledger included a list of people who worked “on the mill” and “for the mill”. There were also labor agreements between Ephraim and other individuals, stipulating how long they agreed to work and how much and when they would be paid. On 27 Feb 1804, William Green contracted to work for eight months. He would be paid a total of $100 in three payments. He must have done a good Job, because on 2 Jan 1805, he signed a one-year agreement worth $150. Mixed in were some Justice of the Peace proceedings.6

So I drove three hours to see a receipt I already knew about. I looked through two ledgers that didn’t contain my ancestor. Then I drove three hours back home.7 You may be thinking it sounds like an interesting waste of time – an unsuccessful search. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

First, It gave me some perspective on the $15 receipt. While not an enormous sum, it was substantial. If an average worker almost ten years later only made $12.50 a month, a rental payment of $15 in 1798 was not exactly chump change. And from what people purchased at the store, I could see that this was a pretty rough-and-tumble frontier area. Gunpowder, bear meat, and whiskey? I mean, c’mon, that’s the stuff movies are made of.

Second, and more importantly, it piqued my curiosity. I googled “Ephraim Putnam” and “store”. It brought up the free Google book below8 . Take a read through the 20-30 pages in which Ephraim Cutler describes his difficult journey with his family from New England to Ohio. Read about his landing at Marietta, subsequent move to Waterford, Ames (which confirms my thoughts about the second ledger), and Olive Green. Read his descriptions of the people, places and events.

This guy came here at almost the exact time my ancestor did. This guy KNEW my ancestor. So go ahead. Go ahead and read Ephraim’s story – a rich, first-hand account of life where my ancestor lived that transports me to that time and place. Add in the things I learned going through the ledgers. Add on the fact I now have a document (or at least a copy) written by Ephraim Cutler and signed by my ancestor. Go ahead, Go ahead and tell me it was a waste of time. I didn’t think so either. Plus, I still have a mystery to solve, and that keeps me going.

 

  1. Elijah Staats to Ephraim Cutler, receipt of payment, 19 Mar 1798, Ephraim Cutler Family Collection; Marietta College Library Special Collections, Marietta, Ohio. []
  2. Benoni Staats to William P. Cutler, 17 Sep 1860- 24 Apr 1862, Ephraim Cutler Family Collection; Marietta College Library’s Special Collections, Marietta, Ohio. Seven letters petitioning various causes. []
  3. Washington, Ohio, Deed Books, 5:7, Isaac Johnson, Sr. to Elijah Staats, 28 Aug 1797; Washington County Courthouse, Marietta.   Washington, Ohio, Deed Books, 5:113, John Miller to Elijah Staats, 29 Aug 1797.   Washington, Ohio, Deed Books, 5:114, Rufus Putnam to Elijah Staats, 20 Apr 1797. []
  4. “Ephraim Cutler, 1790-1820,” uncatalogued manuscript collection, store ledger and account book; Marietta College Library’s Special Collection, Marietta, Ohio. []
  5. “Ephraim Cutler, 1797-1823,” uncatalogued manuscript collection, store ledger and account book; Marietta College Library’s Special Collection, Marietta, Ohio. []
  6. “Ephraim Cutler, 1790-1820,”  William Green agreement, 1804-1805, unpaginated. []
  7. not entirely true – I made another stop on the way home at the Noble County Genealogical Society’s open house in Caldwell. []
  8. Julia Perkins Cutler, and E. C. Dawes, Life and times of Ephraim Cutler: prepared from his journals and correspondence. (Cincinnati: R. Clarke & Co.1890), 17-51; digital images, Google Books (http://http://books.google.com: accessed 6 Jun 2012). []
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One Response to Lessons From Ephraim Cutler’s Store Ledgers

  1. You really nail it here, Chris: some of the very best sources for details of the lives of our own ancestors are found in records that don’t mention our ancestors but tell us more about the time and place and common experiences our ancestors would have shared!