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Probate Inventories and the Material World of Wayne

Updated: Jun 3, 2022

On this day in 1807, Richard Van Riper died. While, in life, we have him to thank for granting his son Uriah the property on which the Van Riper-Hopper House would be built, we can also thank him for the legal documents left behind after his death, which can help illuminate life in Wayne during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. One of these documents is a probate inventory, a list of Richard’s property compiled only a few weeks after his death, likely for tax-related purposes. Though the inventory mainly focuses on property of value, reviewing it can still help us to visualize the material world of the Van Ripers, and other farming families living in Wayne ca. 1800.

The first, and most striking part of the inventory are the seven enslaved African Americans owned by Richard Van Riper: Harry, Prince, Mary, Annich, Hannah, and “one Negro girl dini”. Their labor supported the Van Riper’s farm and lifestyle and can be read throughout the will; they tended the livestock that would be listed in the rows after them, they washed clothes in the washtubs noted on the second page, and they planted and harvested the bushels of corn, oats, and wheat valued later on. Richard Van Riper’s death brought a particular brand of unease to the lives of the enslaved community, as they faced the prospect of separation through inheritance or sale. We do not know what happened to these seven individuals: only two, Annich and Harry, appear in Richard Van Riper’s will. Annich was later purchased by Uriah Van Riper. She lived and labored at the Van Riper-Hopper House for the rest of her life.

Figure 1- The list of enslaved individuals owned by Richard Van Riper. A copy of his estate inventory was accessed at the Wayne Museum.

The presence of enslaved people on Richard Van Riper’s probate inventory serves as an example of the broader enslavement of African Americans in what would become Wayne. According to tax ratables, which compile the heads of household for a town, the average enslaver in Passaic County had one or two enslaved people during the late 18th to early 19th centuries. However, the Van Riper’s home of Saddle River Township, portions of which would become Wayne, would later report “the highest percentage of enslaved people to property owners of any future Passaic County township,” suggesting that the high population of enslaved people at the Van Riper’s farm was not completely out of the norm.

Figure 2- A painting of a cow, ca. early 19th century, which may resemble the cows Richard Van Riper had on his farm. From the Wayne Museum.

Large portions of the inventory also deal with the goods and livestock produced at Richard Van Riper’s farm, which can provide an example of the area’s agricultural output in the early 19th century. The inventory lists five horses, over 20 cows, ten pigs, 22 sheep, and 18 chickens. These can be paired with material items on the

inventory to elaborate on the Van Ripers’ productivity. The horses and “yoke of steers” were likely used for farm labor, pulling one of the two ploughs or wagons to prepare fields for planting or transport goods to market. The “tub of smokd beef and meat”, “1 churn”, and “2 raw hides 1 calves skin” suggest multiple uses for cows: meat, milk, and leather. Richard Van Riper owned “2 wool wheels”, “4 spinning wheels” and “one loom”, likely for processing wool from his “14 sheep and eight lambs”. Crops listed on the inventory include bushels of corn, oats, and wheat, as well as hay, grain, potatoes, and likely honey, as per the “one bee hive” noted on the first page. A variety of farm tools were used in day-to-day labor, among them dung forks, pitchforks, crow bars, scythes, draw knives, shovels, a crosscut saw, hatchets, and barrels. Tools listed on inventories not only show the items that defined material life on the Van Ripers’ farm, but can suggest the types of agricultural work that occurred onsite; planting, harvesting, tree-cutting, woodworking, and more.