The Trent House Association is currently engaged in a long-term project to deepen the understanding and interpretation of the lives of the African-Americans who lived and worked at the Trent House, many as slaves during the Colonial Period. In January 2017, the THA and the Stoutsburg Sourland African-American Museum (SSAAM) co-hosted an invitational symposium to discuss how to better interpret the history of people of African descent. Read more about the symposium here.
The William Trent House interior is being re-created to simulate the early eighteenth century household of merchant and entrepreneur William Trent using the inventory of the house taken after his death. The ongoing reinterpretation of the William Trent House interior will follow this historic “blueprint,” the 1726 probate inventory.
An inventory of a decedent’s property was typically taken within thirty days of a death in order to determine the estate. When a greater period of time has elapsed between an individual’s death and the inventory (18 months, in Trent’s case), it suggests that the estate was contested –which was certainly the case of William Trent. Since William Trent died without a will, his estate was contested between his eldest son, James, and his widow, Mary Coddington Trent. Mary Trent’s possessions were inventoried separately by others and are listed at the end of the inventory. The outcome of the case is not known.
Eighteenth century inventories included household goods and personal possessions such as clothing and jewelry, real estate, cash, or bonds, tools of trade, shop inventories in the case of a merchant, livestock, outbuildings, farm implements, as well as slaves. The specificity of the recording varied a great deal, with some items described fully: 2 Large peer Glasses with Sollpopt Shells gilt with gold, which tells us the type of looking glass (pier glass), its size (large), finish (gilt with gold), and decoration (scalloped shells); other entries , such as 12 Small Chears tells us little about a group of chairs in the lower front hall, except their size and number.
The reinterpretation project uses the inventory as a starting point. Other early eighteenth century inventories have been evaluated as well, in order to see what kinds of furnishings were used in the homes of Trent’s contemporaries. This information, along with extensive research on decorative arts of the early eighteenth century, contributed to the comprehensive furnishings plan for the house. There is an ongoing reevaluation of the existing furnishings acquired through donations and purchases between the years 1930-1960 to determine which pieces will be retained for the new presentation. Our goal is to represent the William Trent House as it would have looked at the time of Trent’s 1726 inventory.
Although the inventory does not provide exact information about how the Trent home was furnished, much can be learned about the family and their way of life by closely studying this document. The large number of kitchen implements indicates generous entertaining. Several pieces of furniture japanned in gold indicates that Trent had access to the high-style import furniture that was popular in large colonial cities like New York and Philadelphia in the first quarter of the 18th century.
The large supply of table silver (referred to as “New” and “old” Plate) demonstrates that William Trent was quite wealthy by any standard. The inclusion of sundries from the Grist, Saw, and “fouling” (fulling) Mills shows the diversification of Trent’s business interests. The “great Boat” confirms that Trent traveled to and from his estate by ship via the Delaware River. “Sloop Guns” and “Ship Muskets” indicate that river travel could be dangerous in this very early period of colonial history. The fact that people are listed among the possessions is a clear indication that William Trent owned African slaves who lived and worked on his country estate at the Falls of Delaware.
Interestingly, Trent’s inventory lists no portraits or paintings. The only mention of pictures is the notation of “Eight Indian pictures without frames.” It is possible that some family treasures could have been distributed to the three adult sons and one adult daughter from Trent’s first marriage prior to the making of this inventory, since more than a year had elapsed between the date of his death in December 1724 and the estate appraisal in April 1726.
The inventory itself is on file in the office of the Superior Court of New Jersey, State House Annex, contained in a bound volume filed as 1211-1216C, 1433-1448C.