OLD LEDGER – A STEP BACK IN TIME (August 26/08)

What’s interesting about an old, tattered, ink stained country store ledger that’s little more than a list of almost 400 customers and their mundane, long ago purchases?

Well, if you were Mack Frail and working on a history of Centreville, it would be a whole lot interesting. “It’s a wonderful document,” says Frail, “and for me a step back into the past.” The ledger came from Ron and Bernice Ward’s General Store in Centreville and is over 150 years old. The account book was kept by Reuben Thorpe, one of the store’s early proprietors.

Mack Frail has been poring over the ledger and for starters, he’s made a list of every person who shopped at Thorpe’s store in 1878. Frail tells me the customer list he’s compiled has made his research on Centreville history easier. From the genealogical side, it’s also helpful for anyone who wants to check on long ago Centreville and area residents.

The old ledger is interesting in other ways as well. Actually it provides glimpses of everyday living in Centreville, and by extension, in Kings County in the late part of the 19th century. For one thing, the various necessities people purchased in those days is revealing. Mack Frail has compiled a list of what some of Reuben Thorpe’s customers bought at his store and they reflect living conditions at the time. Bottles of ink, snuff, milk pails, chimney lamps, and flour by the barrel, for example, are only a few of the things Thorpe’s customers required in 1878.

The prices Thorpe’s customers paid for the necessities of life in 1878 are also interesting. At the time you had to lay out 55 cents for a gallon of molasses, six cents for a pound of codfish, 18 cents for a pound of butter, and 10 cents for a can of mustard. Frail tells me the barter system was used at the time as well and Thorpe’s ledger indicates his customers exchanged cords of wood and eggs for groceries, clothing and so on.

Undoubtedly, many of the 397 patrons of Thorpe’s store in 1878 were Centreville residents. Thus the customer list complained by Mack Frail reinforces a belief that Centreville once was a dominantly Irish settlement; or to put it another way, that Centreville had a pocket of Irish immigrants in the early days. We can find Kellys, Brenans, Colemans, Kavanaghs, Haggertys, Lynch, Sullivans, Magees, Foleys and other Irish surnames in Thorpe’s ledger.

Of course, the Bishops, Rockwells, Bills, Bests, Bordens, Chipmans, Rands, Woodworths and other family names from the early days in Kings County, of which many are descended from the Planters, are represented in the old ledger as well.

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