Historical miscellany -- what does this snippet of old handwriting say?

+10 votes

This was snipped from the will of an ancestor of mine, written in Connecticut in 1754. I can read the genealogically relevant content (names of heirs, their relationships to the deceased, what they were given), but I'm curious about a couple of little bits I can't decipher -- specifically the descriptions of the money that some of the heirs were supposed to get. In this snippet, I read:

... I give to my grandson Isaac Parker and five pounds [unknown words] bills. I give to Grand Daughter Jane Parker my table and five pounds [unknown words] bills. My waring apparel I order to be equally divided amongst my daughters... I give unto my Grand Daughter Anne Herrington the sum of twenty pounds in at(?) [unknown word] bills....

I've seen wills that used terminology like "lawful currency of New England" or "lawful money" in this context, and I assume this is something similar, but I can't make out what it is. I'm curious. Can any of you handwriting detectives figure this out? Do any of you experienced New England genealogists recognize the words?

Larger image at https://www.wikitree.com/photo.php/a/ab/Smith-62120_-_Useful_Strings_of_Code.jpg

asked in The Tree House by Ellen Smith G2G6 Pilot (892k points)
edited by Ellen Smith
Ellen, I'm not sure if it's just my laptop or not, but the image is truncated on the right side, and I can't see most of the unknown words.

@Dennis: This was my first time posting this kind of image in G2G. I trimmed it after posting (several times) so that it would display properly on my laptop, but your message tells me it doesn't work for everybody. Can you see the whole image at the link?

I'm not sure what you did, but yes, I can see the whole thing now on both the link and on the message posted here.  So seems to work, but sorry, I can't answer the question.  Good luck!

5 Answers

+6 votes
Best answer
I believe it's "tenour" - the second letter is one of those old, loopy "E"s, such as you see in the abbreviation "ye". The scribe is making his "T"s without a distinct crossbar - sort of a check-mark line after the upright, as many people make them today.  The previous word is "old."  So, he's given them "old tenor" or "old tenour" money.
answered by Susan Anderson G2G6 Mach 1 (16.5k points)
selected by Ellen Smith

This might be the answer! The Wikipedia article Connecticut_pound that David Wilson identified describes paper money in Connecticut in the 1700s. According to the article, the currency notes issued beginning in 1709 were called "Old Tenor," and a new series that began to be issued in 1740 was called "New Tenor."

I have no doubt that this is the answer. I'm finding many references to "old tenor" money in Connecticut in this time period. And here's an interesting article on the subject of money in colonial America that discusses this and other forms of money and its relative value:

Citation: Michener, Ron. “Money in the American Colonies”. EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. June 8, 2003, revised January 13, 2011. URL http://eh.net/encyclopedia/money-in-the-american-colonies/

Thank you for the citation, Ellen. I'm glad I could help.  

(Too bad that scribe didn't have my English teachers, with their insistence that "T"s must always be crossed!  Looking back over the sample, I see he was really inconsistent.)
+7 votes
This is what I can make out:

and my iron pot and my Quart pitcher ___ ___ ___ I give to my grandson Isaac Parker and five pounds ___ ___ known bills.  I give to my granddaughter Jane Parker my table and five pounds ___ ___ known bills.  My wearing apparel I order to be equally distributed amongst my daughters ___  I give unto my granddaughter Anne Harrington the sum of twenty pounds ___ ___ known bills.
answered by Michael Frye G2G6 Mach 1 (11.3k points)
Thanks for your input, Michael. The words I am curious about are the ones that precede "bills." You interpret the last of these unknown words as "known". I suppose that might make sense if there was a problem with counterfeits. I wondered about why this refers to "bills," since I think most currency in that era was in the form of coins.
I don't know much about old wills. Just guessing, but I would think it is a legal formula that requires the testator's known bills to be paid before the sums are available for distribution.

and i read the blanks as IN OLD ... in old known bills... meaning real money and not proclamation money.  

looking again... its not known  -rour -our or -oun 


Reading these old documents is like playing hangman or wheel of fortune... you find what you know, what you can decipher, what you  look at other letters and compare to other words  THEN fill in the blanks. 


It looks like you found the key clue with "old" and "---our," Lynette. And Susan saw "old tenour," which matches up with a known term for money in Connecticut in that time period.  I love this crowdsourcing.   :-)
+6 votes
My best guess relates to the sparseness of actual pounds sterling causing the usage of "known bills" by colonists.  Examples of some of these bills may be seen at https://www.fi.edu/history-resources/colonial-us-currency.  Connecticut had at least two versions known as Tenor Issue https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connecticut_pound.
answered by David Wilson G2G6 Mach 8 (83.4k points)
Which of course also makes the point that "lawful money" specifically meant paper money.

In England banks issued their own notes.  And most banks went bust.

Here's an article from 1918 about the meaning of "current lawful money of New England":

Current Lawful Money of New England

Charles M. Andrews

The American Historical Review

Vol. 24, No. 1 (Oct., 1918), pp. 73-77


It seems that the courts had different interpretations, at different times and in different contexts, as to which kinds of paper money were lawful.

+7 votes
Looks like honour bills. I wonder if it is £5 in some sort of bond?
answered by anonymous G2G6 Pilot (252k points)
+6 votes
"in old honour bills"?
answered by Ros Haywood G2G6 Pilot (521k points)
I agree with Ros on this one.  Looks like old honour bills to me as well
I agree with Ros too.

honour bill as in IOUs due?
Close, but "old tenour" takes the prize because it's a documented term for money that existed in Connecticut in that time period.

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