Monday, February 1, 2010

Amanuensis Monday - The Probate Packet of Simon Gates (1667-1752) of Stow MA

Genea-blogger John Newmark (who writes the excellent TransylvanianDutch blog) started his own Monday theme several months ago called Amanuensis Monday. I loved the idea, and recently decided to follow it in order to share ancestral information and keep the theme going, and perhaps it will expand to other genealogy bloggers.

What does "amanuensis" mean? John offers this definition:

"A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another."

In colonial Massachusetts, many of the residents owned land and therefore had significant property, both real and personal, when they died. In the courthouses in the Massachusetts counties, there are drawers filled with "probate packets" - the original papers for each probate case were put in an envelope with a tie string or ribbon around the envelope. In Middlesex County, the original papers inside the probate packet were filmed by the LDS Family History Library staff all together, which is a tremendous time and cost-saver to genealogy researchers, since in many of the other counties the probate papers are filmed from the court clerk transcriptions and not the original papers, and the separate papers are on several (or more) microfilms.

As an example of the papers that are found in a typical colonial probate packet, I offer this collection from the probate proceedings of Simon Gates (1667-1752, who died testate in Stow, Middlesex County, Massachusetts. This Simon Gates is one of my seventh great-grandfathers, through his son Amos Gates (1706-1783).

The will of Simon Gates of Stow, dated 22 July 1743, with codicil added 25 May 1747, was lodged for probate by his son, Amos Gates on 9 March 1752 and was proved 22 June 1752.
The will reads (transcribed from Middlesex County Probate Records, Packet #8,994, accessed on FHL Microfilm 0,397,071 - the contents of the entire probate packet was included) - note that I have added paragraphs for readability, but have retained most of the written abbreviations; note also that there are portions of the will that I could not decipher (indicated by "..."):

"In the Name of God Amen this twenty second day of July Anno domini one thousand seven hundred and fourty three. I Simon Gates of Stow in the County of Middx in the Province of Massachusetts Bay in New England yeoman being far advanced in years but injoying my reason and understanding and in a good measure my memory thro' the goodness of God to me and the state of my worldly affairs requiring it do make and ordain this to be my Last Will and Testament, that is to say Principally and first of all I surrender my soul to God that gave it, hoping in his mercy thro' ye merits of the Redeemer and my body I recommend to ye Earth to be buried in decent Christian burial at ye expence and care of my execr hereafter named, believing ye Resurrection and the Power of God. And as touching such worldly estate as it hath pleased God to bless me give, devise and dispose of the same in ye following manner.

"Imprimus, I give to Hannah my beloved wife (before ye provision I have made for her by covenant with two of my sons) my whole estate for life by her to be used and injoyed ... of Life and after her death my will is that it be disposed of in ye following manner.

"2. I give to my two eldest sons viz. Joseph Gates and Benjamin Gates all my wearing cloaths besides their deeds of gift.

"3. I give to my son Elisha Gates one set of cast irons besides his deed of gift.

"4. I give to my son Amos Gates (....) one set of cast irons allso I give to my said son Amos that parcel of land yt is called ye pasture joyning to the farm on wch I now live containing by estimation twelve acres be the same more or less both within ye fence and without it obliging him on confirmation thereof to give to me & my wife a decent Christian burial when we shall dye and as to my own burial I so far direct as to say yt my sd son shall give to my three surviving daughters viz. Hannah Heald, Mary Hains & Susanna Fitch mourning aparel that is robe gowns of Norwich ... of black and white ... crape as it is commonly called suitable in price and goodness for people of their fashion together with decent black gloves and vales and to each of my three sons decent black gloves & ... My will further is that my sd son amos Gates shall pay to ye children of my daughter Elizabeth Wheler deceased in money as much as it shall cost him to ... either of daughters abovesd in mourning as above; that is to say to all of my grand children as much as one of my said daughters.

"5. I give to my three daughters above named and the children of said deceased daughter all my household goods to be divided in equal shares allso one cow each my sd grandchildren to make one share as their mother...

"6. I give to my daughter Susanna Fitch eight pounds fifteen shillings lawfull money to be payd her out of my personal estate allso that parcel of division land in Stow abovesd that lyeth on Thettly Plain so called on both sides of Lancaster ... adjoyning southwardly on Thomas Wetherbee ye bounds of which are to be seen in the ... plans containing ... the number of ten or twelve acres.

"Lastly, my Will is yt all my bonds and bills and cash with all that money a bill that is otherways lawfully due to me be divided equally among the persons hereafter named, viz. my sons Joseph Gates & Benjamin Gates & my daughters Hannah Heald Mary Haynes & Susanna Fitch and the children of my daughter Elizabeth Wheler deceased, they to make one share, and I give further to my son Amos Gates all my rights in the common land in said Stow and my whole property in sd Stow commons and I do hereby appoint my said son Amos Gates the sole executor of this my Last Will & Testament and revoking all other wills by me at any time made & constitute ordain & appoint this and no other to be my Last Will and Testament."

"Signed sealed published pronounced & declared by him ye said Simon Gates to be his last will & testament in presence of us the subscribers, John Gardner, Mary Gardner, Mary Gardner, Junr.

"Memorandum before signing & sealing my will & it is hereby declared that ye riding horse & plows that I shall be possessed of at my death be given to my two eldest sons viz. Joseph Gates & Benjamin Gates. And that my son Elisha Gates shall be forth coming of ye cows above bequeathed in ...(3 words)... being given to persons to whom it is above given and my son Amos Gates shall pasture ye ...(4 words) ... each of them ... (4 words)... to my children ...(2 words)... I hereby give and declare that no inventory may be taken of it."

......................................................... his
................................................ Simon X Gates

The codicil reads:

"Be it known unto all men by these presents that whereas I simon Gates of Stow in the county of Middx in the Province of Massachusets Bay yeoman have made and declared my last will and testament bearing date of second day of July Anno Domini one thousand seven hundred and fourty and three on ye other side of this paper I the sd Simon Gates by this present codicil do ratifye and confirm ye same as to sd substance of it but as to two charges in same I make some small alteration, first as to the fourth claus wheras I have given to my son Amos Gates a pasture so called as may be seen his charge I do ratifye sd gifts but as to my own and wifes funeral I direct as follows that my said son Amos Gates shall pay twenty pounds at my death all to be laid out ... my funeral at ye discretion of my sd son I allso give to my sd son the bond yt was given me by James Curlye and all that is due by virtue of sd bond and to my son Elisha Gates I give all that is due to me from Fothergill of Boston & my will and meaning is that this codicil be adjudged a part of my Last Will and Testament and that every thing in it be attended accordingly, witness my hand and seal this twenty fifth day of May Anno domini 1747.

"In presence of John Gardner, Mary Gardner, Mary Gardner Junr."

........................................................ his
............................................... Simon X Gates

On 22 June 1752, the will was proved, and Amos Gates was directed to exhibit an inventory of the estate of the deceased according to law. On the same day, Deliverance Brown, Samuel Gates and Joseph Brown, all of Stow, were appointed and empowered to take the inventory of the estate of Mr. Simon Gates, late of Stow.

The inventory of the estate of Simon Gates was presented by Amos Gates to the three apprisers on 10 January 1753. The land that was given to Susannah Fitch was apprised at 72 pounds, the pasture and land adjoining to the farm that was given to Amos Gates was apprised at 100 pounds, money and bonds and notes were apprised at 215 pounds, 6 shillings, 1 pence, a cow was apprised at 20 pounds, and various and sundry items of furniture, kitchen ware, household goods, wearing apparel, etc. was listed. A total was not written down. Amos Gates exhibited the inventory on oath to the court on 5 May 1755, and it was accepted by the court.

There was no distribution document included in the probate record.

Note the presence of the letter "y" in the text of the will - in words like "ye" and "yt." The "y" represents the "thorn" letter - it looks like a "y" but it really represents the "th" sound. Everything you want to know about the letter "thorn" is in

Another common abbreviation in these colonial Massachusetts records is "sd" which stands for the word "said." It is almost always shown with the letter "d" as a superscript to the letter "s" because it is a contraction. Many of the contractions used (e.g., Middsx, Execr, wch, etc.) use superscripts for the letters after the missing letters. In the text above, I haven't used the superscripts, but they are very noticeable in the written documents.

Note that the probate packet records above are not available in online databases yet. Land and probate records on FHL microfilms eventually may be imaged and indexed in the FamilySearch Indexing project, but they may be a long time coming. The message here is that all researchers need to use brick-and-mortar repositories - libraries, archives, courthouses and FHCs in order to obtain original source documents that prove events and relationships.


Gwynn Socolich said...

Hi Randy,

Was your Simon Gates the son of Stephen Gates born in Norwich County, England, Norfolk about 1600 who immigrated to Lancaster, MA and who lived in Cambridge, Middlesex County, MA? There was a will for Stephen who died before Sept 1662. The will is located in Middlesex Probate file, proved Ocy 1662. I am descended from Stephen (2) Gates brother of Simon Gates.
Happy Searching,

Geolover said...


I love your real-English approach (sentences! punctuation!) but there are a couple of "items" in this post:

-- Apprise is to inform; Appraise, to evaluate (such as place values on elements of an estate).

--Amanuensis is used most often for a person who writes for/about/with? one person, such as a philosopher's acolyte. A person who writes down documents from verbal accounts or from a combination of verbal and written items (usually for a fee) was a Scrivener.

This occupation can be found in deeds and wills, but hardly at all in US Federal Census enumerations, as more persons became literate in 19th century USA.

One of the witnesses to a deed or will often was the scrivener.