LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

Photograph of iron stirrups.

People in colonial America left detailed records of what they owned — including individual tools and articles of clothing — that tell us a lot about how they lived. Image source. About the photograph

Except for the first, introductory page, this chapter is all primary sources, and primary sources of a special type: wills and probate inventories, records of what people owned when they died. We don’t have a lot of written evidence from the eighteenth century about how people lived, but we do have wills and probate inventories — and they tell us a surprising amount about how people lived and worked, how they organized their households, and how they thought about their families. By exploring these documents, you’ll be the historian and detective, drawing your own conclusions about life in the eighteenth century from scraps of evidence.