A Will of 1839

When high school students study the works of Shakespeare they tend to be
hilarious when they learn that a feather bed was a prized possession to be willed to a
wife. They do not know how many goose feathers are needed to make a bed or the
softness or the warmth it has in cold houses, or that people in northern Europe still sleep
between pads of these feathers. These feather beds were made into pillows, which have
also mainly disappeared. The young folks cannot understand the pleasure a housewife
had when her feather beds were high and perfectly smooth after being fluffed up and

This will shows that a feather bed’s worth lasted a long time, even into the 20th

I, William Orr, of the Town of Whitehall, County of Washington , being of sound
mind and body do make and publish this my last will and testament, in manner following:

Item. I will that my just debts be paid.

I will and bequeath to my son, William Henry, all my real estate subject to the
payment of the sum of one hundred dollars to Eliza Ann, daughter of my brother
Solomon, when by son shall be at the age of twenty one years, but without interest.

Item. I give and bequeath to my daughter, Eliza Jane, the sum of two hundred
dollars and one good feather bed to be paid to her when she arrives at the age of twenty
one years by my said son, William Henry, but if my said daughter should not live to be
twenty one then in that event, my said son is to be freed from paying the said sum of two
hundred dollars. The said feather bed and the devise of two hundred do Hard is hereby
made a charge upon my real estate devised to my said son.

Item. My will and desire is that my wife should continue to reside upon and occupy
such part of my real estate as may be necessary for her and my children schooled and
brought up in a good and decent way.

Lastly, I do hereby nominate and appoint – John Kirtland of Whitehall and my wife
Catherine executrix of this my last will and testament.

This will was subscribed and witnessed by Jesse R. Billings and Israel Howe
May 11, 1839.

This William and Solomon Orr were the sons of Robert Orr. Solomon was known
as the “hundred canal boat man” and worked between Whitehall and Troy. What does
this expression mean?

Doris B. Morton, Town Historian – Whitehall Independent – March 23, 1988

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