Probate inventories are among the most valuable sources that historians have, offering detailed and even intimate information about the material lives of people in the past. The inventory of one of Salem’s earliest settlers, the merchant and shopkeeper Captain George Corwin, who was born in 1610, came to Salem in 1638, and died on this day in 1685, is available in a transcribed and accessible form through the Library of Congress‘s digital archive. Corwin was the father of the more famous (or infamous) George Corwin II, who was the High Sheriff of Essex Country during the Witch Trials, issuing arrest and execution warrants for its victims. As evidenced by the inventory addendum to his will, Corwin senior was a wealthy man, with considerable property and possessions and a shop and several warehouses full of stuff (which we would probably classify as “housewares” and “hardware”) assessed at 5964 pounds, 19 shillings and one penny by his executors. Through the inventory, one can not only access and assess Corwin’s business life but also gaze into every room in his “dwelling house” and see what clothing, furnishings, and personal possessions were there. Of particular interest to me is the “red chamber”, furnished with eight “red branched chairs with covers”, a red carpet, and an old “cuperd” covered with red cloth. The exhibit of a chamber from a 1680 house in nearby Ipswich (where there are more “First Period” houses than anywhere) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art employs the color and evokes the mood.
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