[ The USGenWeb Project ] [ John Nelms Store Accounts ]

Transcribed From the Original Store Ledgers by John E. Jacob

[ The MDGenWeb Project ]



*NOTE: I am paraphrasing the account made by John E. Jacob Jr. of Salisbury Maryland, and I feel indebted to him for the information he has shared with all, in this book, that he put together to share with others.

John became the Storekeeper of Salisbury by 1758. The Salisbury area included about 15 houses, plus the Venables Mill, the store and a tavern. William Winder was probably the owner before John Nelms acquired it. (John rented it from William for 10 years before he acquired the store and more acreage.)

The site of the business is now under, or just north of, U.S. 50 after it has crossed the Wicomico River and started up the hill on its east bank. Two of the original ledgers, "D" & "I", still exist with names of customers and what they bought and traded.

Customers with approved credit were entitled to one year of free credit after which 6% interest per year was added. John Nelms neither bought more than he could pay for, nor charged more than his customers "could say grace over". One of his ledgers states that he had 130/0/0 in specie in a pot. He maintained his own cash reserve.

What did he sell? Rum, brandy and wine, sugar, spices and tropical fruit. Clothing materials, sewing supplies, wares for head, feet, and hands, tools and harnesses. Books and tobacco products for relaxation. He also provided kitchen utensils and candlesticks. He had for sale or trade, virtually all a local buyer could want at a price he could pay.

One significant omission from the things Nelms took in trade, was tobacco. There is no record in either ledger that Nelms dealt in tobacco. By 1760 the country near Salisbury had shifted to a corn and lumber economy. There was no tobacco inspection station in Salisbury, and he may have been unwilling to take the risk that he could make a profit on the Eastern Shore tobacco which was marketed in Glasgow rather than in London because of its inferior grade.

Some of the things that Nelms did ship were lumber, shingles and some corn directly to the West Indies, and maybe received some shipments of rum, sugar and lemons in return. Unfortunately, none of his purchase records have survived. What IS known is that he visited Baltimore frequently and may have purchased most of his stock from wholesalers there.

The ledgers are fascinating because of what they tell us about local customs. Christmas was not a bonanza for the merchant. Sales in December were at nearly a twelve month low. There is no evidence of the purchase of items as Christmas gifts and there are recorded sales on Dec. 25th, so it was not a holiday. Spring purchases were connected with the upcoming planting season rather than for new clothes, or "Easter Bonnets".

Business was done on credit. There was little hard cash or specie available. Customers received one year's credit without interest. Thereafter, it was charged at 6% annum. Most cash payments on account were made in the Spring; trade credits for farm products came in during the Fall. Making shingles was pretty much a winter occupation, so shingles were delivered and credited in the Winter or Spring.

Nests of tubs were a item sought after by the storeowner. The tubs ranged in size from a quarter peck to wash tubs, all nesting inside the wash tub. These tubs continued to be made and sold into the machine age when the nests with wire bindings brought $1.00 against 50 cents for those with split wooden bands.

Myrtle wax was used for skin care by the women of the day.

The ledgers, as genealogical treasures, are packed with family information. If a wife bought on her husband's account, it was so listed. Also if children bought or took delivery of items, they were named also. If a widow succeeded to her husband's account or paid off his bill, this fact was carefully noted, as was if a new husband had his wife's old account charged to his name, this was recorded under both accounts. This means that we can tell who the new wife was and the approximate date of marriage. Family use of credit was common. There are many charges recorded by siblings, and even cousins. Every purchase showed the name and relationship of the buyer to the debtor.

Another great aspect of the records: Was an ancestor a "rummy"? Did they pay their bills or did Nelms have to sue for recovery? Did the man buy silks and satins for his females, or only the needles and thread to sew together clothes of country linen woven on the loom at home? Did he show his piety by the purchase of a Bible or a book of sermons? Or could he read at all? Did he buy silk kerchief and silver show buckles for himself while buying cheaper items for the family?

Therefore, there is much to be learned by reading store accounts of ancestors.

All of the names in the ledgers are listed alphabetically, and the information from their accounts are listed in chronological order of each transaction. This shows the period of business activity and should tie in with dates of birth or death where known.

In addition to Salisbury, Nelms' trading area served the area north to the Nanticoke and east to the Pocomoke. West beyond Quantico business was spotty and this was also true to the south and southeast indicating the location of stores in White Haven, Princess Anne, and Snow Hill. However, there were customers from the islands indicating that people from Smith and Deal Islands found their way up the Wicomico to do business.


Permission to use the text of Store Accounts of John Nelms of Salisbury, 1758 - 1787 by the Somerset County Maryland USGenWeb site was given to the submitter, Laurie Dykes Fowers, by the author, John E. Jacob, Jr.
John Nelms Store Accounts of Salisbury
Jacob, John E., Jr.
© 1990

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