Thursday, February 14, 2008

Documents in an Illiterate Land

Historical archaeologists blend data from documents, buildings, sediments, and artifacts to achieve a unique perspective on the past. And, because we do not rely solely on written materials, we have the ability to examine the lives of the many peoples that comprise a community, and not just the community's literate leaders.

In Southern Maryland, the majority of people in the 17th through 19th centuries--not just enslaved peoples, but the European American farmers, watermen, and tradesmen--were not literate. In a society in which property was so important, and in which rights to property were consigned to ink and paper, this could have been a problem for many residents. The document reproduced here is an example of a transfer of property rights by William Boswell to Michael Boswell. William closed the deal with his mark: M, or, perhaps, an inverted W for William? Clearly, he could neither read nor write. Because we haven't uncovered any legal dispute over the land warrant, and given the likelihood that William Boswell willingly conveyed rights to a son or brother, William probably was fully cognizant of what the document said, possibly with the reassurances of the man who served as testator, or witness, John Speake.

William Boswell had a warrant from the Lord Proprietary to have surveyed and laid out for him 92 acres. He conveyed that right to Michael. The transcription appears below, although you might want to click on the image to enlarge it and try reading it yourself. The 92 acres became a part of Boswell's Adventure near the head of Port Tobacco Branch and the land of William Boswell in Zachiah Manor.


Charles County

I do assign and set over unto Michael Boswell of

Charles County ninety two acres of Land Warrant Granted to me out

of his Lordships Land office the ffifth day of August 1725 to

have and to hold the ninety two acres of Warrant from

me and my heirs unto him the said Michael Boswell his

heirs and assigns forever--Witness my hand & seal this 21

this day of August 1725


William M Boswell


Test: John Speake

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