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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Meahl

Simon Huntington, Sr.(1629-1706): The Value of a 1706 Probate Record

Updated: Sep 27, 2021

There is nothing more satisfying to this researcher than finding an early probate record. It can really help form a picture in my mind (and on paper) as to what a family's life was like back in the "olden days." It's like hitting the numbers in the History Geek Lottery. Not only do you discover the valuable tools of their day-to-day 17th century living but out-dated words like porringer (bowl for eating boiled cereal), fire dogs (andirons), "divers"(many), or diaper cloth (towel). In addition, when reading the phonetically spelled words, one can actually resurrect accents of the time period.

The probate of Simon Huntington, Sr., son of Simon Huntington I (15??-1633) and Margaret Baret (or Barrett) Huntington Stoughton (1595-1665) is a very important piece of late 17th century evidence.

First, let's remember who he was. Born in Norwich, England in 1629, he and his family emigrated to New England in 1633. By his early 20s, Simon was living in Saybrook as a land owner where he met and married neighbor Sarah Clark(e) in 1653. As their family grew, they realized that Saybrook was not a fruitful spot. So they moved to more hospitable Mohegan land in eastern Connecticut. The new exclusive plantation was soon after named "Norwich" in honor of the English hometown of Simon, Christopher Huntington, and William Backus. It was always pronounced "Norridge."

Useful map of early Norwich. This area would eventually be called Norwichtown. The map is confusing because it doesn't point north. Most house lots were near the Yantic River. Simon Huntington's home lot would stay in possession of his descendants until the 1930s.

Simon wore many hats: farmer, rancher, cooper, deacon, constable, and townsman. It appears Sarah was a model Puritan wife and mother: fertile, healthy, likely very pious, obedient, teacher to her many children (10), and probably charitable (a way to signal to her fellow townspeople her rank). Simon's probate inventory was valued at £373--the bulk of it in land, house, barn, and other buildings on their home lot. But, of course, the fun of it is examining the day-to-day items that they used.

As usual, "wearing apparel" was mentioned first.

"Neck clothes" were mentioned in Simon's inventory. This could be either a man or woman's lace-trimmed neck cloth.

Simon also owned a broad-cloth and fur-lined coat with buttons and silk worth £2. Other various coats were tallied, reminding of us of the bitterly cold New England winters. Lots of linsey-wolsey and homespun clothes, indicating the Huntington were capable of making their own cloth, clothes, and blankets. Norwich, England was known as a cloth-making center of England and importer of Dutch cloth, etc. Norwich, CT also became a cloth-making center culminating in 19th century textile mills near the Yantic River.

Speaking of cloth, by 1706, the Huntington family had quite a lot of linens, reminding us of their quite large family and the possibility that their house was used as a tavern/lodging space. Many feather pillows, bolster pillows, diaper cloths (towels), napkins, beds, sheets, coverlets, blankets, and "ruggs" (last layer of warmth on a bed--not a floor covering). No mention of bed curtains or valences. The many sets of linen sheets and dining linens could also indicate they were selling these items for profit.

A Norwich-area bed rug. Connecticut was known for its bed "rugs" well into the 19th century as a topper for beds. This photo and caption was used in the magazine Connecticut Explored--in an article by the author Susan P. Schoelwer.

We can get a glimpse of Sarah and her girls' world by the inventory. Sarah had use of items like trammels, chafing dishes, skillets, brass mortar and pestle, dripping pans, fire tongs, kettles, cheese tubs, and many other items listed.

Reproduction 17th century Virginia kitchen or "hall."
17th or 18th century ceramic chafing dish used to hold hot coals to do table cooking.
A brass skillet was mentioned in the 1706 probate.
A cheese tub or press. An English housewife certainly knew how to make cheese!
Antique brass mortar and pestle. Used to crush herbs, spices and woodland flora for cooking and medicines.

Simon's and his boys' daily life included the use of important and valuable tools to make money. His sons would have helped him until they went off for their apprenticeships to other families sometime between the age of 8-12. Here are some types of cooper's tools listed in the inventory.

An auger. Used by coopers to make holes in barrels.
Images of the many tools coopers used to make barrels.

Barrel rings.

Thomas Hooker's The Poor Doubting Christian
Simon was also a deacon at the First Church of Norwich. He owned many books for practicing his religion and leading a godly life.

Thus, it is worth trying to track down a probate inventory because it is a very important type of primary source. The documentation of Simon and Sarah's daily living items: basic tools, kitchenwares, types of cloth, clothes, books, is just so useful and REAL. A researcher can also can learn much about what is ABSENT from his probate: "looking glasses," wall pictures, silver spoons, and bed curtains. This tells us that the Simon Huntington family was not wealthy. In 1736, Simon's son, Simon, Jr.'s (1659-1736) probate was valued at £550+. Lastly, Simon, Jr.'s, cousin, Christopher Huntington, Jr.'s (1660-1735) probate was estimated at over £1000 in 1735. This is another reminder that although the Puritan colonists did not practice primogeniture, it was certainly advantageous to be the first son of a first son. Unfortunately, I could not locate Christopher, Sr.'s probate.


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