A Farmer’s Accounts

Over forty years ago, the Perry family gave the Woodrow Wilson Library two dozen books from the collection of William J. Perry, a Presbyterian minister who died in Staunton in 1870. They included theology books, Plutarch’s biographies of Greeks and Romans, and instruction on shorthand.

Then in 1985, the family followed this up with more items that they had inherited from Perry. For the most part, these consisted of historic clothing for the museum, but included in the donation was this small, leather-bound account book. The curators at the time called it a ledger, but the book is quite small, more like a pocket datebook.

The binding and the fine marbling of the endsheets suggest that this was a bit of a luxury for someone, but we have not yet been able to figure out who. The main thing we can say is that this does not appear to be the book of minister, even though it contains an 1860 calendar from the Presbyterian Board of Publication at the front.

Right there on the calendar, there is a conversion of inches to the bushel. And the first page contains a list of garden vegetables. Frequent references to people across Virginia and North Carolina who are given credit or owed debts often list the crops or livestock involved, such as this mention of ale.

Another note just says, “Feb. 20 John’s sow to the boar.” One more mysterious one from 1860 reveals that EW Snead went to live with P. F. & Co.

There is a long passage describing a fight with a local farmer that might result in a lawsuit. And then there is “Mr. Peabody’s Method for Raising Strawberries.” We can’t really say if this means that it is Mr. Peabody’s book, but it clearly did lead to a successful strawberry crop.

Perhaps this little book is not what you would expect in the Woodrow Wilson collections, but it does offer us a picture of the world into which he was born here in Staunton.