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The receipt

It’s just a single piece of paper, one of 15 or so tucked into a folder of court records, then put into a box with more court records, at the North Carolina State Archives.

But oh… what questions it makes us answer!

ReceiptTry these on for size:

• What’s a quire?

• What would you do with brimstone?

• How about alum?

• How much of anything would fit in a hogshead?

• And what spice would have set you back a pretty penny in the year 1777?

In May of 1777, John Bowman, a storekeeper from Burke County, North Carolina, paid more than £415 for supplies he purchased in Charleston, South Carolina. He got a receipt for what he’d paid, and it ended up in loose court papers from Burke County, now in the North Carolina State Archives.1 You can see the receipt here — click on the image to see it enlarged.

Some of the items are just plain fun. He bought a dozen sets of playing cards for £2, for example, and 26 gallons of rum for more than £63. Some are interesting: he bought a lot of gunpowder and a variety of spices including what looks like two different kinds — or two different qualities — of sugar.

And then there are those questions… questions that sent The Legal Genealogist scurrying for reference books.

He bought “1 Hhd Clarrette.” A hogshead of some red wine, that was, might have been French wine but could just have been any red wine.2

Okay, so… um… what’s a hogshead? And though, I confess, I was seeing that scene from The Godfather with the horse’s head in my mind’s eye, it has nothing to do with heads, or hogs either, for that matter. It was, instead, “a measure of a capacity containing the fourth part of a tun, or sixty three gallons.”3

And he bought a half quire of brown paper for five shillings. Quire: “A set of 24 or sometimes 25 sheets of paper of the same size and stock; one twentieth of a ream.”4 Clearly, brown paper wasn’t a hot seller in the backcountry of 1777 North Carolina.

And he bought brimstone. Brimstone! As in “fire and brimstone!” What in the world? Turns out brimstone was sulfur, and it had a number of uses. It was one of the components of black gunpowder, it was used in medicines including creams for scabies, ringworm, psoriasis, eczema, and acne, and furniture makers used it for inlays.5

And he bought alum — which might have been used for fixing dyes in wool or in purifying water, but considering the backcountry, was most likely used in the process of “tanning of animal hides to remove moisture, prevent rotting, and produce a type of leather.”6

And look at the price he paid for nutmeg! Four ounces of nutmeg set Bowman back more than £5. Why? Because the Dutch had an effective monopoly on the spice and kept the price high. “In 1760, the price of nutmeg in London was 85 to 90 shillings per pound, a price kept artificially high by the Dutch voluntarily burning full warehouses of nutmegs in Amsterdam.”7 And clearly even more on this side of the Atlantic.

History, economics, medicine… all in one document… all in a genealogist’s day’s work.


  1. Receipt, Thomas Bourke to John Bowman, 20 May 1777, Burke County, North Carolina, Civil action papers 1755-1783, folder 1777, North Carolina State Archives C.R.014.325.1; digital images, “North Carolina, Civil Action Court Papers, 1712-1970,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 7 Oct 2013).
  2. The Free Dictionary ( : accessed 7 Oct 2013), “claret.”
  3. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 575, “hogshead.”
  4. The Free Dictionary ( : accessed 7 Oct 2013), “quire.”
  5. Wikipedia (, “Sulfur,” rev. 4 Oct 2013.
  6. Wikipedia (, “Alum,” rev. 2 Oct 2013.
  7. Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, “Nutmeg and Mace History,” Home Cooking ( : accessed 7 Oct 2013).
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