It always fascinates me what can turn up regarding East Amwell historical memorabilia. Recently I was at dinner with members of the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum Board (SSAM) when one of its members said that at a recent book signing an unknown woman gave them a 700 page store ledger of the Wertsville General Store from 1863 owned at that time by J.S. Manners. I immediately asked to borrow it. It is a treasure trove of information of what life was like in East Amwell in 1863.
First I was amazed at the names in the ledger. Up until 1854 the village was known as Wert’s Corner. But strangely enough by 1863 there was only one Wert –Danial S. Wert still in the area. But there were nine different families of Wyckoffs, ten different families of Quicks, and six different families of Manners. The store was owned by J. S. Manners and would be later owned and run by his son, Peter Van Dyke Manners who tore down the original building and in 1883 built the structure that survived as Peacock’s Store.
The store was closed on Sundays but open on Christmas Day. Each day they would typically have 20 transactions. What really amazed me was the number of people he had as creditors. He apparently keep a separate ledger with each person listed and assigned a number and a running total of the money they owed him. The ledger I was viewing was a daily accounting only what each person charged on a particular day or on the rare occasion when they paid their bill off. A typical entry would be – #445 – Joseph G. Quick – 1 hat, 1 pair of gloves, 2 handkerchiefs, 1 spool of cotton – $3.33; or #461 – Nathan Stout – 3 pairs of stocking, 1 bar of soap, pepper, starch, sugar, coffee, tea, ginger, nutmeg, 1 box of cinnamon, 25 lbs. of butter – $5.33. I kept a record of each separate name in the ledger and he had over 200 creditors! Some people came into the store every few days to purchase one or two items- a plug of tobacco or a vest; others came in every 3 or 4 weeks and purchased a wagon load of goods. Also, surprisingly people from the Sourland Mountains didn’t come down into Wertsville to shop but did their shopping at the Wyckoff General Store on Zion Rd.
I was amused at some of the unusual items they sold in the store – besides the “necessities” they sold fiddle strings, whale bone (for corsets), peach basket lids, whips, tooth brushes, hair oil, shammy skins, bees wax, horse blankets, ox bows, and window paper. I did a little research as to what window paper was and apparently poorer people put an oiled paper over their windows when they couldn’t afford glass panes! Manners also purchased and bartered with his neighbors purchasing eggs in amounts from 100 -300 (which he sold for 1 cent each), chickens, turkeys, beef, veal, and fish. I was puzzled as to why they sold every kind of food and spice except flour when I realized that at this stage in history, everyone would travel to a nearby mill and purchase their flour, cornmeal, buckwheat etc.
The prices then were pretty incredible compared to today – cigars-1 cent each, shoes – $1, one dozen coffee cups and saucers- $2.25, one dozen buttons-12 cents, 3 candles- six cents. Every little hamlet had its general store and I’m sure most of Manner’s creditors had accounts at other general stores as well. Sort of like today with us and multiple credit cards.
East Amwell Historian