113 – Hard Times in Harford 1786-1790

Like much of the new nation, economic hardship worsened in Harford County in the years after the war.

The Jervis families didn’t fare well.

By the end of the war for independence, the Congress had issued approximately $200,000,000 in currency and the States had issued a similar amount.

The massive issues of new currency resulted in steep depreciation: currency had fallen in value to 1/100 of par. At the same time, prices were escalating because of large-scale government purchases (resulting in the issuance of more currency).

Original Intent and the Bankruptcy Power: What Were They Thinking?

Joshua Jervis lost everything

Recall that the sheriff had foreclosed on all of Joshua Jervis’ possessions in 1785 because of his debts to John Hays. Joshua was insolvent.

Court – Sheriff sells Joshua Jervis’ goods for debt to John Hays

By 1786, the situation was desperate in the whole nation. In Harford, debtors terrorized creditors; angry farmers marched on Bel Air to prevent debt sales of their property by Sheriff Robert Amos.

Bel Air – An Architectural and Cultural History

John Jervis’ estate assigned

John Jervis had been living in one of the houses on his brother James’ lots in Bel Air. He died in 1785, and his son Solomon was the administrator of his estate.

There wasn’t enough value in John’s estate to pay his debts, so in 1788 Solomon had to turn the remainder over to Samuel Forwood.

Court – Solomon assigns John Jervis’ estate to Samuel Forwood – 1788

After John died in 1785, his son James continued to live on the Bel Air lots with his family. So our grandparent James was often referred to as James Jervis Sr. and his nephew as James Jervis Jr.

An Act Respecting Insolvent Debtors

Maryland, like other states, confined insolvent debtors to jail. Unlike criminal inmates, the debtors were required to pay their own room and board in jail. If they couldn’t pay, the cost of their room and board was added to their debt. It was a no-win situation.

Petitioners besieged state government for discharges. In 1787, the General Assembly passed “An Act respecting insolvent debtors.” It provided from the discharge from all debts upon the surrender of all real and personal property. Pretty harsh.

James Jervis hardships

James Jervis was also having financial problems. James couldn’t pay his debts. I don’t know if he was in jail.

On April 1, 1788, James petitioned the court for a discharge under “An Act respecting insolvent debtors”. In exchange, Rowland Rodgers, trustee of James’ creditors, would sell “all the property that the said James Jarvis hath at this time in the world.”

Rowland Rodgers was James’ brother-in-law. He was married to James’ sister Catherine. Rodgers had to put up a surety bond that he would perform his duties.

Court – James Jervis discharged from debts, Rowland Rodgers trustee for creditors – 1788

The court ordered Rodgers to sell all James’ “Goods and Chattles Lands and Tenements.”

Court order – Rowland Rodgers to sell goods of James Jervis – 1788

An inventory was prepared of all James’ goods, debts, and creditors. His debtors and creditors are a who’s-who list of Bel Air and Harford County.

Court – Inventory of James Jervis’ goods, debts, and creditors – 1788

The court had ordered Rodgers to sell all James’ goods “(the Land in Chester County excluded).” His inventory specifies “1/3 part of a tract of land in Chester County, Pennsylvania”.

That’s interesting. I wonder how and why James owned some land in Chester County. Was it some of his father Joseph’s land? Or Elizabeth’s? That’s for a future researcher.

Sale of house and lots

In November 1788, as part of his court discharge, Rowland Rodgers sold the Jervis houses and lots in Bel Air to John Hays, Jr. The price was seventy-five pounds.

Deed – Rowland Rodgers trustee of James Jervis to John Hays, Jr. – 1788

James Jervis is insolvent

“Insolvency” and “Bankruptcy” were treated as interchangeable terms.

James Jervis was insolvent. Obviously, so was his wife Elizabeth. They were without any personal property or money.

They must have arranged with John Hays to continue to live in the house in Bel Air that he had just sold to Hays.

Ed. Note: There are dozens of court actions between James Jervis and John Hays Jr. The Hays were a well-to-do and prominent family. I don’t know why Hays kept loaning and leasing to James. They must have had some kind of relationship other than court actions.

1787 The US Constitution

Around the country, the wealthy feared the increasing violence of the poor, so in 1787 they met in Philadelphia to write a new national constitution. In the 1788 election for the ratification convention, only Harford county voted against the document. The new constitution was ratified overwhelmingly.

Bel Air – An Architectural and Cultural History

1789 George Washington is president

George Washington – Gilbert Stuart

The first presidential election was held on January 7, 1789, and Washington won handily.  John Adams, who received the second-largest number of votes, became the nation’s first vice president.

On April 30, 1789, George Washington became the first President of the United States.

1790 was a busy year

The last decade of the 1700s began with a flurry of important events:

  • George Washington authorized the first US Census
  • Congress moved from New York to Philadelphia
  • The federal government assumed the states’ war debts
  • Washington DC soon to be chosen as the new capital

1790 US Census

The 1790 US Census counted the population of the new United States for the first time. Here are some interesting population statistics:

  • United States – 4 million
  • Slaves – 700,000
  • New York City – 33,000
  • Philadelphia – 28,000

James and Elizabeth were living on a farm rented from John Hays Jr., southeast of Bel Air. William and Margaret may have been living with them.

1790 US Census – James Jervis

James Jr. and Solomon (sons of John) and their families were living in houses on the lots in Bel Air.

1790 US Census – James Jr. and Solomon Jervis

James (6G) and Elizabeth

By 1790, James and Elizabeth were insolvent. In 1788, they had sold their house and lots in Bel Air to John Hays as part of the settlement of debts.

James was age 50. Elizabeth was 47.

Their son Joseph was 18, son Thomas 16, and daughter Mary was 14.

In February 1790, John Hays offered James and Elizabeth a house to live in on one of his farms named “My Lord’s Gift”. They wouldn’t have to pay any rent money, but they would owe Hays forty bushels of wheat per year. The term was for three years.

Lease agreement – James Jervis and John Hays Jr. – 1790

They could use dead wood for firewood, but couldn’t cut green timber.

In addition, James had to fix the place up. He agreed to mend the chimney, lay a floor, and build a corner chimney with hearth. Finally, James was to build a stable and cover it with a roof. Hays would provide the materials, and James would do the work.

For an insolvent family, this seems like a “helping hand” from John Hays.

William and Margaret (5G)

William and Margaret were having difficult times too. They had been living with James and Elizabeth.

William was age 30. Margaret was 28.

Their daughter Sarah was age 5, and they just had another daughter Elizabeth in June of 1790. They may have had other children that died in infancy, because having two children in ten years of marriage was unusual.

A new decade

The years leading up to 1790 had been hard on the Jervis families. Most had lost their goods, homes, and property.

Did the new decade hold some hope for recovery?



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