Gilbert Smith was a shoemaker and doctor from New Marlborough, Massachusetts, and his son Gilbert Jr. was a prosperous farmer from Sheffield, Massachusetts. Includes merchandise sales, labor accounts, lists of boarders, and documentation of the sale of homemade butter and cheese to local merchants, as well as trade with the substantial rural black community of the region.
The two account books document two generations of Smiths
in New Marlborough and Sheffield, Massachusetts. Gilbert was
a doctor and a partner of Richard Smith in a local store in
the southwest corner of New Marlborough. The earlier account
book reveals his trade with the residents of New Marlborough
and the neighboring towns of Sheffield, Massachusetts and
Canaan, Connecticut. The accounts reflect typical merchant
and labor activities. It is not known what he sold in his
store because entries are made to the general term “sundries”
with number notations that obviously correspond to stock
numbers. One interesting sidelight is Smith’s trade with the
substantial black community of Sheffield and New Marlborough
which, in 1800, numbered about 120.
Gilbert Jr. was born in 1801, just three years before his
father’s death. He disappears from the manuscript census
schedules in 1810 and 1820, although he may have lived with
relatives in either Sheffield or New Marlborough. Throughout
the earlier account book, there are notations made by the
younger Gilbert which suggest he obtained a farm in 1823,
either by inheritance or as a tenant. In either case, the
reusing of his father’s account book and the type of entries
made hint at a rather marginal existence. Many of the entries
reflect Gilbert Jr.’s need to earn additional income by
laboring on the farms of other local residents or by taking
in boarders. Among his early labor accounts are particularly
numerous days of work for Lovett Taft (pp. 29-30, 45, 54)
between 1823 and 1825, and for David Rood (pp. 45, 46)
between 1825 and 1827. Among his boarders between 1823 and
1827 (the years for which he has notations in the early
volume) were Hubbel Smith, Phebe Abbot, Luke Hadsell, and
Theron Morgan. While working for others, however, Gilbert had
to purchase labor for his own farm; an interesting account of
his payments for labor in 1824 is on page 48.
The second volume is a ledger which covers the years 1827
to 1846. His continued moderate success is reflected by his
continuing to work for other Sheffield residents such as
William Daily and Daniel Whitman. In addition, he continued
to take in boarders and to board his own farm labor. In 1830,
for instance, the Smith household had ten residents,
including five children under fifteen years of age (only
three of whom were Gilbert’s), Smith, his wife Ann, an older
woman (perhaps Phebe Abbot), a white man in his twenties, and
a black farm laborer.
By the mid 1830s, Smith had become more prosperous,
principally by selling large quantities of butter and cheese
to local merchants. In 1833, for instance, he realized over
$500 from the merchants A.C. Russell and J.W. Howe; in 1834,
he made $475. Although income dropped by half in the late
1830s (perhaps due to hard economic times but also due to Ann
occupying her time with child rearing), earnings again
climbed over $500 annually in the early 1840s. During this
time, Smith’s hiring of farm labor became more regular; in
1831 and 1832, he employed labor for only four months; by
1837 he was hiring a man for six months at more than three
times the total labor cost ($93). By 1850, the Smith
household had been reduced to five: Gilbert, Ann, their two
minor sons, and an eleven year-old housegirl. Smith’s farm
was by then worth over $10,000, making him one of the more
substantial farmers in Sheffield.
The ledger is revealing for several reasons. First, it
gives some insight into the wages for agricultural labor from
1830 when Samuel Ebow made $7 a month to 1841 when Levi
Gorham made $15 a month. Secondly, it demonstrates the
importance of family labor in the general maintenance of
nineteenth century farm life; the butter and cheese probably
made by Ann Smith and her children supplied much of the cash
necessary to make the farm prosper. By the mid 1830s, Gilbert
Smith rarely did odd jobs for extra cash; by 1860 the Smiths
owned $2,000 worth of personal property.
Three documents were included in the ledger. One was part
of a New Year’s sermon drafted by G. Smith (1828); one is a
recipe to make boot “parnish” (polish); the third is a
promise to pay the interest and principle on a note, dated
March 20, 1841.
The collection is open for research.
Cite as: Gilbert Smith and Gilbert Smith, Jr. Account Books (MS 205). Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Acquired from Charles Apfelbaum, 1987.
Processed by Ken Fones-Wolf, 1989.
- African Americans--Massachusetts--Economic conditions--19th century
- Agricultural laborers--Massachusetts--History--19th century
- Agricultural wages--Massachusetts--History--19th century
- Dairy products--Massachusetts--Marketing--History--19th century
- Family--Economic aspects--Massachusetts--History--19th century
- Farmers--Massachusetts--Sheffield--History--19th century
- New Marlborough (Mass.)--Economic conditions--19th century
- Sheffield (Mass.)--Economic conditions--19th century
- Smith, Gilbert, 1801-
- Smith, Gilbert, d. 1804
Types of material
- Account books