Salem, Washington County, New York: 9 July 1808. 3 page manuscript on a single folded sheet, with each page measuring 8 x 12". Manuscript bond in a single hand, signed by Hugh Moor of Bethuel Church as witness with the additional signature of Luke Prouty. Remnants of wax seals on two pages; trivial stains and toning. In all, a research-worthy legal document in which a recently widowed woman uses her ready access to cash to secure financial, medical, and residential stability for the remainder of her "Natural Life."
In 1808, one year after the death of her husband Richard Prouty, Susanna Prouty enters into a binding legal agreement with her son Luke. "For the use of the said fifteen hundred dollars, the said Luke Prouty shall yearly and every year on the first day of January during the Natural Life of the said Susanna Prouty his mother Deliver to her and Deposit in her custody and for her use the articles enumerated..." In exchange for the immediate supply of $1,500 (accounting for inflation, $30,522 today) Susanna savily secures food, clothing, guaranteed living quarters and shared access to common space in Luke's home, the use of one horse and two cows, "medical aid" in "case of sickness," and $5 annually for the remainder of her life. It is unclear what Richard's profession was, that gave his widow access to such a large sum; it is also a mystery why, with eight surviving children, Susanna chose to enter into the household of her third son. Further research would be needed and could reveal a multitude of answers. What seems likely is that Luke found himself in need of quick funds and Susanna was his best option. What is certain is that Susanna negotiated the best end of the deal for herself. A complete tally has not been done of the costs of the foodstuffs, medical care, rent, and livestock provided to her annually (a lengthy list); but the cost alone of the 7 bushels of wheat and 10 bushels of corn ($21 and $12 respectively in 1808) Luke was required to give yearly already reveals how the materials due his mother would eat through his capital. Further research could be done to see the total annual cost of Susanna's provisions, to gain a better sense of her return on investment and Luke's losses.
The articles of agreement between mother and son open numerous questions about family politics, finances, and personal motivations. What is clear, however, is that Susanna Prouty well understood that the liquidity of her $1,500 had limited possibilities for supplying her in her lifetime if no agreement was made; and she managed to ensure for a comfortable living for the remainder of her life. Indeed, in the event that Luke or she desired to terminate their agreement, the one would have to buy out the other for double the original funds: $3000 (or $61,045 today).
With research possibilities including but not limited to the rights of widows, women's ownership of property and monies, family politics generally and within the White-Prouty family, the source of income and fiscal situations of the involved family members, home economics and health care for single or widowed women, and women's strategies of legal and economic self-advocacy.
Birth, death, and marriage records of Salem, New York; Rockingham, Vermont; Lancaster, Massachusetts 1742-1842. Prouty and White families. (Item #3490)