Designing for A Colleague: John Alden

Andrew Carle over at TieandJeans remembered this exercise I’d done a while back, where I asked a group of students in my 7th grade history classes to assemble a group of artifacts that approximated the death-inventory taken as part of the settlement of the estate of John Alden of Plymouth, MA — one of the last surviving Mayflower passengers.

John Alden died in 1687 at the age of 89, one of the last surviving Mayflower passengers. The inventory of his estate was taken on 31 October 1687 by Jonathan Alden, and totalled £49 17s. 6d., all movables. On 13 June 1688 the heirs of John Alden Sr. of Duxbury signed a release in favor of Jonathan Alden, stating that they had received their portion of the estate; those signing were Alexander Standish (in the right of his wife Sarah deceased), John Bass (in  the right of his wife Ruth deceased), Mary Alden, Thomas Delano, John Alden, Joseph Alden, David  Alden, Priscilla Alden and William Pabodie [PPR 1:10, 16; MD 3:10].

Plymouth County Probate Records, Volume 1, pages 10 and 16.
INVENTORY £ s d   (Taken October 31, 1687

  •  Neate Cattell sheep Swine & one horse  13
  • one Table one forme one Carpit one Cubert & coubert Cloth
  • 2 Chaires  5 . .
  • bedsteds Chests & boxes  15
  • Andirons pot hookes and hangers . . . 8 6
  • pots Tongs one quort kettle . .  10
  • by brass ware .  . I: 11.
  • by 1 ads 1s 6d & saws  7s . . . 8 . 6
  • by Augurs and Chisells . . .  5 . .
  • by wedges 5s to Coupers tooles  l£ 2s . 17 . .
  • one Carpenters Joynters . . .  1 .6
  • Cart boults Cleavie Exseta . .  13 . .
  • driping pan & gridirons . . .  5 . .
  • by puter ware 1 pound 12s by old Iron  3s . 1 15 . .
  • by 2 old guns . .  11
  • by Table linen & other linen .  . 1 . 12 .
  • To beding .. . 5 : 12
  • One Spitt Is 6d & baggs  2s .. . 3 . 6
  • one mortising axe . . .  1 . .
  • marking Iron a Case of trenchers with other things . . . .  7 .
  • hamen and winch exse . . .  2 . 6
  • by one goume and a bitt of linnin Cloth . . . 7 . .
  • by one horse bridle and Saddle liberary and Cash and weareing Clothes  18 .9
  • by other old lumber .  5
Included in the final statements of settlement, was this charming statement by  John Alden’s son Jonathan:
Before Nathaniel Thomas Esqr Judge of the Inferior Court of Common
Pleas the 8th day of November 1687 Leiut Jonathan Alden made oath that
this is a true Inventory of the Estate of his father Mr John “Alden deceased
soe farr as he knoweth & when he knoweth more he will discover the same”.
A video resulted from that work, which can be seen here.  And in Math class, having worked out that John Alden had passed three acres to his son legally before he died, we also measured out three acres on our school’s grounds.
We certainly didn’t go as far with this exercise as we could have, but additional steps could be the writing of placards and placement of them around the museum exhibit, that could talk about the role of linen (“linnin” in the inventory above) in Colonial America, or the value and manufacture of pewter (“puter”), or what a mortising axe was used for.  The role of the exercise, of course, would be to decide on placement of objects for maximum visibility, and to practice telling a story with real objects in place.  It also has the power of presenting students with a clear understanding of the relative poverty of early American material culture compared with today.   It’s also a way to explore the role of the curator and the museum staff, along with archaeologists and historians, in interpreting and explaining the past to a modern audience.
Nor does the exercise have to be done with John Alden’s inventory. Any inventory, from locally prominent people or from any important time, can be used in the design of this exercise.
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  1. […] children of john alden — Kids in my seventh grade were studying the early American colonies, and second grade was studying the Pilgrims (1620, John Alden, Miles Standish, Priscilla Mullins: “Speak for yourself, John”).  So with the help of parents and older students, we assembled a set of objects representative of the objects listed in John Alden’s Will into a kind of mini-museum exhibit.  It was pretty cool, and there’s a short video… but it took so long to assemble that we only got to leave it up for about twenty minutes before it had to come down.  I’d like to do this again, and I wrote some notes on how we did it. […]

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