Thursday, July 28, 2016

Checking in with the Interns: Amelia

Theodosia's signature appears on many legal documents.
Morristown Historical National Park is well known for the history of the Ford Mansion as one of Washington’s winter Headquarters during the American Revolutionary War. The Ford family was a very powerful and important family in 18th Century Morris County. Despite the great significance of the Fords in local history, little is known about the woman of the household at this time, Theodosia Ford. She played an integral role in this story, as the major hostess of George Washington and in his army in her husband’s absence. To learn more about the background, personality, and experiences of Mrs. Ford, we have begun a project this summer to better understand her experiences and character. 

Excerpt from an account ledger.
Over the past month, we have read through Morristown’s collection of the Ford Family Papers to identify all references to and records of her. The documents include court records, inventories, personal letters, business letters, receipts, bonds, wills, and financial accounts, which can be used to understand the financial, legal, and social activities and experiences of the Ford family members, including Mrs. Ford. The collection is very interesting, as it gives a glimpse into the daily activities, personal relationships, financial circumstances, legal concerns, and business transactions of the Ford family. Records of this nature usually involve solely the men of the family who would have typically dealt with most of the business, legal, and financial matters. However, Theodosia
Ford’s name appears quite often in the documents, which is telling in itself of her importance. We are working to identify specifically what her role was in the matters of the family and community that made her so relevant in these documents. The mentions of Theodosia Ford in the collection are currently being analyzed and connected to create a more wholesome picture of this important woman.

Manuscript discussing Mrs. Ford's application
for widow's compensation.
Theodosia would have been a very wealthy and influential woman in her local community, as part of the powerful Ford family. She came from another prominent Morristown family headed by her father, Reverend Timothy Johnes. Theodosia Ford held many responsibilities for a woman of her time. With her husband Colonel Jacob Ford Jr. away with the continental army, she assumed the roles of primary host of the house, head of the family, and, upon her husband’s death, owner of the estate. Descriptions of the years of the Ford Mansion as the colonial headquarters demonstrate the major changes that occurred in her daily routine and living arrangements at this time. She experienced many disruptive alarms, was left only two rooms in the house, and largely gave up the control of her home to Mr. and Mrs. Washington. Apart from these great changes, becoming a widow after the war was a whole new life for her as well. Theodosia Ford’s name increasingly appears on more documents after this period, demonstrating her greater involvement in the affairs of the estate, family, and community in the later decades of her life. Theodosia’s estate consisted of twelve acres of land, various family members, and three slaves. As a widow, she received a great deal of money by leasing the lands of her husband’s iron forges. Additionally, she had attempted to apply for half-pay compensation of her husband and father’s deaths in the war, as New Jersey law allowed. However, she had trouble in securing this, because both deaths occurred in other colonies and were thus not considered “state deaths.”
Receipt for shares of Morris Turnpike.

She contributed to the advancement of her community by investing in the building of the Morris Turnpike Road. Respect and love shown by those that knew her are demonstrated throughout many affectionate letters from family and friends in her old age and after her death. The admiration of this woman was further shown when Timothy Ford named a daughter Theodosia, presumably after his mother. The documents clearly show Mrs. Ford as greatly involved in community, business, and legal affairs as well as greatly loved in her personal relationships. It is fascinating getting to work with these materials to uncover information and begin painting a portrait of Theodosia Ford, a woman who played such a major role in Morristown history.

This post by Amelia Zurcher, The College of New Jersey.

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