114 – James Stays, William Goes 1790s

The 1790s in Harford County started off just as badly as the 1780s had ended.

James and Elizabeth were insolvent, living on a rented farm in exchange for their labor.

William and Margaret were living in James’ household, with no means of support. They have a five-year-old and a newborn.

The county records are littered with mortgages and suits for debt between the end of one war and the beginning of the next. In Bel Air alone, at least nine houses and lots were sold by the sheriff for debt between 1796 and 1814.

Bel Air – An Architectural and Cultural History

Even the sheriffs had troubles. They were responsible for collecting taxes, for which they received a fee. But they had to pay the state treasury, whether they collected or not. Between 1796 and 1802, three successive sheriffs were bankrupted.

William and Margaret Jarvis (5G) go

In 1791, William and Margaret decided to leave Harford County and go west. William was age 31, and Margaret was 29.

Times had been difficult for several years. They didn’t have a homestead in Harford County. William’s father James was insolvent. William’s uncles were no longer alive. Some of his cousins were moving west too.

Others from Maryland had set out for western Virginia (now West Virginia) and Kentucky territory.

We don’t know why they made their decision, but they decided to go. Like each of the three previous generations, they were moving west.

William and Margaret’s daughter Elizabeth was born in Harford County in June 1790. Their next child Parker would be born in the newly formed state of Kentucky in 1792.

We’ll pick up William and Margaret’s Kentucky story in the next series.

James (6G) and Elizabeth Jervis stay

In 1790, James and Elizabeth rented one of John Hays’ farmhouses with ten acres. Their rent was forty bushels of wheat per year and handyman chores to fix up the house and stable.

James was age 50, Elizabeth was 47. James had come to Harford County over twenty years ago.

They had been through very difficult times, and in 1788 had been forced to give up all their goods and property because they couldn’t pay their debts.

Their younger children were reaching the age to leave home; Joseph 19, Thomas 17, and Mary 15.

So James and Elizabeth had a place to live. But they were insolvent. Whatever their reasons, they had decided to stay in Harford County.

Look at the Insolvent List for Bush River Lower Hundred. There are about fifty insolvent families out of a total of about three hundred families.

A List of Insolvents in Bush River Lower Hundred – Tax List – 1791

Things got worse

In 1793, John Hays charged that James hadn’t met the lease terms:

  • James hadn’t given his yearly wheat allotment
  • He hadn’t fixed the house floor or chimney
  • He hadn’t fixed the stable
  • He had cut green timber for firewood


Hays took matters into his own hands.

On July 29, 1793, John and Joseph Hays and John and William McCandless showed up at James’ house. John McCandless represented himself as a deputized constable. They entered forcibly and took away much of James and Elizabeth’s household goods.

The Hays and McCandlesses showed up again the next day. This time they took twenty cart loads of wheat in the straw, a horse, three cows and five hogs.

James complained to the court

On August 2, James went to the courthouse to make his charge against Hays and McCandless. On that day, the court issued an order for the sheriff to bring the Hays and McCandlesses to court on the second Monday in August (August 12) to answer charges.

That same day, Hays and McCandlesses went to James’ house for a third time. They again entered forcibly and took more things.

James went to the courthouse again, and on August 3, the court issued another order for the sheriff to bring Hays and McCandless to court on August 12.

A sale is advertised

On August 8, John McCandless published an advertisement of a sale of James Jervis’ goods, to be held at James’ house on Friday, August 16.

Ad for sales of James Jervis’ goods – August 8, 1793

The inventory of things to be sold included:

  • one sorrel horse
  • cow and calf
  • heifer
  • sheaves of wheat & corn standing in the field
  • rye or wheat not cut
  • patch of potatoes
  • garden of cabbage
  • shovel
  • plough
  • ax
  • singletree
  • hoe
  • short chain
  • clevises
  • stone hammer
  • old iron
  • two old barrels
  • plow
  • flax in the sheaf
  • old base of drawers
  • old chest
  • tea table
  • bag
  • spinning sheels
  • iron pole & hoes
  • pots rack
  • chain
  • bridle bit
  • pewter dishes
  • smoothing irons
  • spoons knives and forks
  • five young hogs
  • bedsted
  • four chairs
  • part of a husk collar
  • table
  • three bottles
  • empty barrel
  • one soap barrel with soap
  • barrel of meal
  • feather bed & bolsters and bedding

John Hays charges James in court

On August 9, John Hays Jr made a charge against James Jervis for non-payment of rent. The court ordered the sheriff to bring James Jervis to court on the second Monday of August (August 12).

The showdown in court

The parties showed up in court on August 12, all except the McCandless brothers. The sheriff couldn’t find them to serve their orders to appear.

John Hays, through his attorney Aquilla Scott, charged that James Jervis hadn’t met the requirements of the lease.

James Jervis, through his attorney John Montgomery, charged that Hays and McCandless had violated him by force and arms by taking his belongings.

The verdict

Judge Thomas Bond ordered James to pay the rent he owed, and he ordered James’ goods be returned to him.

But it was not a victory for either party. Their disputes continued.

Hays v. Jervis continues…

In January 1794, six months after their last tangle, John Hays and John McCandless showed up once more at James Jervis’ house. They again drove off with James’ sorrel horse and two cows.

Same story, same outcome. James is back in court seeking return of his property.

And it happened again in May 1794.

James and Elizabeth move

By 1798, the tax list shows James Jervis renting a house on ten acres from William McClintock. It is located near James’ Run above the head of the Bush River.

1800 US Census

The 1800 census shows James Jervis as a head of household – 1 male over 45, 1 male 26-45, 1 female over 45, 1 female 26-45, 2 females 10-16.

1800 US Census – James Jervis

James and Elizabeth are the 1 male and 1 female over age 45. James is age 60 in 1800, and Elizabeth is 57.

Probably one of their sons, either Joseph or Thomas, is the 1 male 26-45. Joseph was age 28, Thomas 26. Their spouse would be the female 26-45. And they had two daughters age 10-16.

From other household names on the same page of the census, it looks like the same place where James and Elizabeth lived in 1798.

Later years

I don’t know when James or Elizabeth died, but I’d estimate they both died in the early years of the 1800s. I haven’t found any citations for either of them after that.

Nibbles Extra Credit

Slavery in Harford County

Slavery was common in Harford County. Since Maryland was south of the Mason-Dixon Line, slavery was well accepted.

Slaves in the census

Slaves were counted in censuses because they were taxed. Sometimes their given names were recorded, other times just a count.

In the 1776 census, there were 9,423 whites and 3,342 blacks in Harford County, so 26% of the residents were black. Likely most blacks were slaves, but by 1790 there were 775 free blacks.

Tax List – Upper Spesutia Hundred – 1776

Slaves in Bel Air

By 1798 Bel Air was a thriving metropolis. There were 20 houses instead of the original 4. The population of Bel Air was 157, of whom 36 were black. The tax list shows that four of the Bel Air residents owned 25 slaves, so the other 11 of the black residents may have been free.

Taxation on Slaves

On that same 1798 tax list, the slave population for the county was 3,048, of whom 1,554 were between the ages of 12 and 50, and were therefore subject to taxation of their owners.

1798 tax list – Slave count

Slave Sales

Our Jervis families didn’t own slaves. We don’t know their thinking on slavery, but they didn’t have the financial means to buy slaves.

Here’s a slave sale citation where a John Jervis buys slave Sal, age 22, and her children Harriett, 4, and George, 1 1/2, along with two cows from Matthew Kennard in 1822 for £12.

I don’t know how this John Jervis is related, but he must be a descendent of our Harford Jervises, although our grandparents were long dead or long gone by 1822.

Slave Sales – Harford County


Manumission is the act of freeing a slave. Surprisingly, there were a lot of manumissions in Harford County between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.

Manumission and abolition are both used to mean “freeing slaves” or “a release from slavery.” More specifically though, manumission is the act of a slave owner setting slaves free, while emancipation (and abolition) involve government action.


A manumission was an individual act of conscience by a slave owner. There was no cultural or political pressure to do so.

It’s interesting to see some of the rationale and conditions of the owners when freeing their slaves.

By 1860, two-thirds of blacks in Harford County were free.



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