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Words in Early Documents: Definitions

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Words in Early Documents: Definitions
By Linus Joseph Dewald Jr., Editor
Winter 2003 and Revised 3 Dec 2003

Von Mings Stachon has been transcribing documents created in the 1700s and 1800s. The documents include Wills, Deeds, court documents, etcetera. In the process, she has collected a list of words that appear in these documents whose meanings may not be known by the average reader. Some words have many meanings; listed here are the definitions that pertain to wills, deeds, land pattents & inventories.


abettor, abetter         One who abets, or incites, aids, or encourages another to
                         commit a crime.  The legal form of the word is abettor.

adz, adze                An ax-like tool with an arching blade at right angles to the
                         handle ground from a base on its inside to an outer edge,
                         used for dressing wood, etc.

alien                    To make over (as property).  Alienee: one to whom
                         property is transferred.

ancient                  In law: having twenty, thirty or more years continuous
                         existence; used specifically in cases of defective proof;
                         as, an ancient boundary

Anne, Lady               Queen of Great Britain 1702-1714, daughter of James II

Anno Domini              A. D.

approbation              To approve; sanction

archangel                An angel of high rank

batting                  Cotton sheets prepared for use in making quilts

bbl                      An abbreviation used for barrel (1 barrel equals 31-1/2 gal)

behoof                   Advantage, profit

behoove                  To be necessary, proper, or advantageous; to be necessary,
                         fit or proper

bolster                  A long pillow or cushion extending the full width of a bed

capite                   Tenant in capite or tenant in chief; formerly in England,
                         one who held land immediately of the king.  According to the
                         feudal system, all lands in England were considered as held
                         immediately or mediately of the king, but the tenants, 
                         however, were considered as having the fee of the lands and 
                         permanent possession.

capitation               A direct uniform tax imposed on each head 

card                     To comb or open as wool, flax, cotton, etc. with a card
                         for purposes of cleansing it of extraneous matter; 
                         separating the coarse parts and making it fine and soft
                         for spinning.

caske                    Casks of large sizes called tierces, pipes, butts, tuns, 
                         etc. do not hold any fixed quantity - quantity usually
                         marked on them.

chain                    In general, a measuring instrument of 100 links used in 
                         surveying; a unit equal to 66 feet 

clerk, Cl.               A man who can read & write; a man of letters; a scholar
                         (archaic) This would apply to the court person whose name 
                         appears at the end of Wills and other court documents.

cock                     The style or gnomon of a sundial (one inventory list showed
                         1 brass cock and sun dial)

consort                  Wife of the deceased

cooper                   One whose occupation is to make and repair barrels and
                         casks of various kinds

coulter                  A knife in the form of an iron blade or sharp edged wheel, 
                         attached to the beam of a plow to make vertical cuts in the soil 
                         & facilitate the work of the plow share.
 

court of record          A court whose acts and jusicial proceedings are written down
                         for permanent keeping

coven                    Agreement
covenant                 To agree.  A written agreement or promise - usually under 
                         seal between two or more parties

cruet                    A vial or small glass bottle; particularly one used on the 
                         table for holding vinegar oil, etc.

crupper                  The loop in a harness passing under the tail; also a similar 
                         strap attached to a saddle

cryer, crier             A person who shouts out announcements of news, court orders,etc.

crying                   Calling for immediate notice or remedy

dedimus                  A writ to commission private persons to do 
                         some act in place of a judge, as to examine a witness

demise                   The conveyance of an estate; transfer of the sovereignty to 
                         a successor; a cessation of existence or activity; death

depute                   To appoint as a substitute or agent to act for another

devise                   A gift of real property by Will

devolve                  To pass (on) to another; said of duties

dimity                   A light weight cotton fabric with fine twills much used for 
                         dresses; also a stout cotton fabric used for upholstering

do                       Abbreviation for ditto

dog (dogg)               Simple mechanical device for holding, gripping or fastening
                         consisting of a spike, rod or bar; andiron.

dr                       An abbreviation for debtor; also for doctor

dsp                      Died without issue

ejecon (ejection)        To throw out; cast out

ell                      A former measure of different lengths; used chiefly for 
                         measuring cloth; an English ell was 45 inches

emoluments               Gain, profit, advantage

entayle (entail)         To restrict (property) by limiting the inheritance to the 
                         owner's line descendants or to a particular class thereof;
                         to impose, involve or imply as a necessary accompaniment 
                         or result

enure (inure)            Use, custom.  To accustom; to accept something undesirable.

escuage                  In feudal law, a kind of tenure by Knight service, by which 
                         a tenant was bound to follow his lord to war.

evite                    To show; to avoid (archaic)
evitation                The act of avoiding

everse                   To overthrow or subvert (obs)

extents                  Valuation (as of land) in Great Britain, esp. for taxation;
                         a writ giving a creditor temporary possession of his 
                         debtor's property.

eye                      The hole in the upper millstone through which grain passes;
                         also a loop of metal or thread

flax                     A plant; flax seeds are used to make linseed oil; fibers of 
                         the stem are spun to make linen thread.

fizgig                   Also called fishgig; an instrument for catching fish at sea
                         consisting of a staff with barbed prongs

gaol (jail)              British variant of jail

garret                   A room or unfinished part of the house; just under the roof
                         (in one Will, that's where some slaves were housed)

gimlet, gimblet           A small boring tool with a handle at right angles to a shaft
                          having at the other end a spiral pointed cutting edge

hackle, hatchel          To separate coarse part of flax or hemp from the fine
                         by drawing through the teeth of a hackle or hatchel.

hereditament             Hereditable property
hereditable              Capable of being inhereited or of passing by inheritance.

hogshead  (hhd)          A large barrel or cask, especially one containing from
                         100 to 140 gallons; also a liquid measure, especially one 
                         equal to 63 gallons (52-1/2 imperial gallons)

hone                     A stone of very fine grit usually of a slaty composition; used
                         to sharpen cutting tools; esp razors; also called a whetstone

howel                    A plane with a convex sole used by coopers for smoothing 
                         the insides of barrels and casks

quit-rent                A fixed rent payable to a feudal superior in communication
                         of services - a fixed rent due from a socage tenant

imprimis                 In the first place; among the first things

indefeazable             Not capable of being annuled or voided or undone
(indefeasible)

indemnified.             Unharmed.  To secure against loss or damage

indemnified letter       One that rents or leases; such as a farm-letter

livery                   The act of delivering legal possession of property; the 
                         feeding stabling and care of horses for pay; ones retainers
                         or retinue; the apportioning of previsions, esp. to servants

inter-alia               Among other things

joynture                 An estate settled on a wife to be taken by her in lieu of
(jointure)               dower; a settlement on the wife of a freehold estate for her 
                         lifetime 

kersey                   A kind of coarse light-weight woolen cloth, usually ribbed 
                         with a cotton warp

last                     A mold or form of the human foot made of wood on which
                         shoes are built or repaired (later lasts were made of iron)  

let                      A hindrance; obstacle; impediment; delay: used commonly
                         only in the legal phrase, "without let or hindrance"

letter                   One that rents or leases

let out                  To lease or rent out

lett suit                One document refers to "lett suit trouble" meaning trouble 
                         with the ownership of the property (not wishing to have any)

levy                     To arrange (a fine) in settlement of a suit to establish
                         title to land

livery of seizin         The putting of a person in corporal possession of a freehold
                         by performing some ceremony before witnesses which clearly
                         places the party in possession

manumit                  To set at liberty, free; to release from slavery

manumission              Set free; being freed from slavery

moiety                   A half; one of 2 equal parts; as moiety of an estate

noggin                   A small mug or cup

nuncupative              To declare orally; oral-not written: especially of Wills

outcry                   A public auction

pence                    Monetary unit of Great Britain; 12 pence equals 1 shilling,
                         240 pence equals 1 pound.

peremption               A defeat; a quashing; non suit

peremptorilly            Absolutely, positively; in a decisive manner

pestle                   A club-shaped implement for pounding or grinding, stamping
                         or pressing.

piggin                   A small wooden dipper; also a small wooden pail with a long
                         handle

pole                     A varying unit of length, esp. one measuring 16-1/2 feet

pone                     In old English law, a writ whereby an action pending in an 
                         inferior court might be removed for trial to a superior
                         one; a writ whereby a sheriff was ordered to take security
                         of a man for his appearance at a specified time.

porringer                A small metal vessel for porridge, etc., esp. one for child

pottle                   Formerly a liquid measure equal to a half gallon; a pot
                         or tankard having this capacity

pound (£)                Monetary unit of Great Britain; equal to 1 sovereign,
                         20 shillings

£.s.d.                   Librae solide denarii - stands for pounds/shillings/pence.
                         (you will find these symbols at the top of all columns in
                         estate inventories)

provender                Dry food for livestock; to provide with food; to feed; to fodder 

reap                     A small bundle of grain

refractory               Stubborn, obstinate, hard to manage (used in reference to 
                         slaves)  

relict                   Widow

riddle                   To separate or sift as grain from the chaff

remise                   To give, grant or release a claim to: deed

rod                      Equal to 16.5 feet

rundlet                  A small barrel or cask of varying capacities (archaic);
                         the amount of liquor contained in this an old British 
                         liquid measure usually taken as equal to about 18 wine
                         gallons (archaic)

scimitar                 A saber made of a curved blade with the edge on the convex
                         side and used chiefly by Arabs and Turks (in one Will it
                         was left to his son).

seize                    To vest ownership of a free hold estate; seizer: one that
                         seizes; seizure: to take possession of person or property by
                         legal process

seizin                   To seize.  In law: possession, specifically possession of a 
                         freehold estate

shilling                 Monetary unit of Great Britain; one shilling equals 12
                         pence; 1/20th of a pound; written, i.e.: 15/ = 15 shillings.

shoat                    A young hog

shuck                    The covering shell or husk of corn; to shuck (corn) is to
                         remove the outer covering.

sickle                   Cutting tool consisting of a crescent-shaped blade with a short
                         handle used for cutting down tall grasses & weeds

skein                    A quanatity of thread, silk or yarn wound in a coil (in one
                         inventory it was spelled scains)

socage                   A tenure of land by agricultural service fixed in amount and
                         kind or by payment of money rent only and not burdened
                         with any military service.

specie                   A form of payment in gold, silver or other coin as distinguished
                         from paper money

spider                   A frying pan, originally one with attached legs for use
                         over an open fire

steelyard                A balance or scale consisting of a metal arm suspended off 
                         center from above: object to be weighed is hung from the
                         shorter end, & a sliding weight is moved along the 
                         graduated longer end until whole arm balances.

subjoin                  To add at the end; to add after something has been said or 
                         written; to append (as an item subjoined to a Will)

suite (suit)             Suite is archaic form of suit. Action to secure justice in a
                         court of law; attempt to recover a right or claim through
                         legal action

suithold                 In feudal law, a tenure granted for attendance and services
                         rendered a superior lord

tallow                   The harder and less fusible fat in cows, sheep, etc; it is
                         used to make candles, soap, etc.

tobo                     An abbreviation used for tobacco

traces                   Either of two straps, chains, etc. connecting a draft
                         animal's harness to the vehicle drawn

truss                    A bundle of hay, especially one of a certain weight 
                         (usually 50-60 pounds)

truss hoop               In nautical usage, a hoop round a yard or mast to which an 
                         iron truss is fixed (this is the only definition I 
                         could find for "trus hoops" which was listed in an 
                         inventory).

unfeignedly              Sincere

viz or vizt              An abbreviation for videlicet meaning: That is to say; 
                         namely

voc vin                  Voc stands for vocative (haven't figured out what vin is)

wafer                    An adhesive disk of dried paste with added coloring
                         matter used as a seal.

William, III, King       King William III, b. 1650; d. 1694 of small pox; addressed
                         Parliament on 31 Dec 1701. King of Eng. 1689-1702

&c.                      Latin for et cetera; meaning: and others; and so forth;
                         (can be found at the end of all early Wills)

/                        Symbol used to indicate shillings, i.e. (15/)

If you have any other words from early documents whose meaning today is not generally known, please send your information to us at the Prentice Newsletter. Be sure to give the full title and date of this article in the Subject line of the email.

Caution: If you don't use the above email link, your email to us may be deleted as spam by our email filter.


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