Today it’s possible to make a purchase by waving your smart phone at the charge machine. It was not always so easy. Long before the invention of conveniences like credit cards, time payments or installment loans, people still needed to borrow money, stretch payments over time or obtain money to sow next year’s farm crops. The log book of the Adams County Justice of the Peace (JP) in Payson illustrates how this was done through its many records of Chattel Mortgages. “Chattel” is something that someone owns that is neither land nor a building. Sometimes chattel is defined as an article of movable personal property. In 1903-1920, the years covered by this log book, Chattel usually meant livestock, farm equipment, and household goods as well as a variety of other, sometimes odd, things.
Property listed as security for these loans gives a detailed picture of the times. But a mortgage was a cumbersome way to structure payments. In 1913 Henry Madison, publisher of the Plainville Messenger, bought from a Chicago company, A. F. Warner, a new cylinder-drum printing press for his business. Mr. Madison signed twelve notes for $10 each, payable monthly and due one to twelve months from the date of the mortgage; then twelve more notes at $15 due monthly after that.
The log book lists only one automobile, a Chalmers 40 horsepower auto #6511. It was pledged against a note of five hundred dollars at six percent for one year. This mortgage was executed on June 14, 1913. There are a few ‘traction engines’ listed among the farm property and among the many pieces of horse-drawn equipment are a few made by manufacturers with names like McCormick or John Deere.
Reasons for loans are not given, but the collateral varies widely. In December 1910, the local barber needed a loan of $50 for ninety days and pledged “Two Barber chairs; One Wash stand and Three Barber Bottles” as chattel.
If payment was missed, the lender could repossess your team or wagon or even your household goods down to the carpets.
One mortgage from 1905 to lender Leo Waters seems to list every movable item that Edith and Robert Wagy owned. It begins with the words that they are pledging “All of our live stock vehicles farming tools harness and household goods of every kind and description whether mentioned in this mortgage or not…” then it lists in detail everything from a horse named Barney to a Knapheide Wagon, a moon top buggy, a bob sled, a McCormick binder, a Satley corn planter, plows, cultivators, a harrow, a Richmond piano #19440; a home sewing machine, two bed steads of oak, one iron frame bed, mattresses, a rocker, a wash stand, a cupboard, an extension (dining?) table, 50 yards of ‘morane’ carpet, dishes, hanging draperies and shades, bric a brac tables and cooking utensils. It goes on to encumber the crops sown in the field, not yet harvested. The total of this mortgage was $1,047.50, due in a year.
If a lender took something wrongly, perhaps in response to a missed payment, the answer was an “Action of Replevin” in which the JP ordered an item returned. On Sept. 29, 1909, Robert Wagy filed such an action against his mortgage holder, Leo F. Waters saying that Mr. Waters, “did take and unlawfully detain one German heater stove, two joints stove pipe and one pipe elbow.”
Mr. Waters’name appeared in the book over forty times as a source of funds, often renewing a loan with a slightly lower or higher amount, depending on how much the borrower had managed to pay, or if missed payments were rolled into a new loan.
Livestock was included in the chattel since most people farmed with valuable horse and mule teams. The horses were described by age, color, weight and often by name. The list of horses’ names is simple sounding to today’s ears: Ned and Fred; Bill and Jim; Judge and Dan; Mollie and Bert, with an occasional Prince or Queen or Daisy. Some cows were named: Betty, Boss, Baby and Pet; but most were not. Nor were the hogs, sheep or other livestock listed except by age and weight.
This well-worn book details other incidents in the Payson area at the turn of the century that sound oddly familiar: assault and battery; carrying a concealed weapon; violating a city ordinance. Some appear to be what we would call ‘nuisance’ suits. A ten dollar complaint over a bed quilt was settled out of court, as were many others. Some serious charges, such as the one against Willie (William) Martin for assault with a deadly weapon (a revolver) were later withdrawn by the complainant, who was charged court costs. The costs in that case totaled $4.50: $2.80 for the constables who served warrants and $1.70 for JP fees.
In a few cases, the matter was referred to a higher court or a jail sentence imposed. This occurred with a bastardy case where the court found in favor of the wronged woman and sent the matter on to the States Attorney. In 1906 Ernest Crim was found guilty of carrying a concealed weapon and fined $25 or time in the county jail.
Local politics also rears its warty head. Papers found in the book include an “Action of Replevin” in which the Village Clerk of Payson seeks the return of his town seal and town minutes book,”…the same has been taken and unlawfully detained by one Daniel Robbins and one E P Maher….” The men are called to court and there the record ends.
Tantalizing also are the examples of Mirror Writing in the book. The first JP, John E. Coleman could and did write a beautiful script upside-down and backward. In two cases an entire chattel mortgage is written in this way.This book provides another reminder that history is made of folks just like us; and a further reminder not to throw away history illustrated by those quirky old letters, diaries and journals from the past.
Payson Township Justice of the Peace Record Book, 1903-1920, Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County.