Primary Source Evidence

Probate inventories are valuable documents that provide a snapshot of a household at a particular moment in time. Probate inventories were taken when a property owner died in order to determine the value of the possessions they left behind—land, buildings, furnishings—to fairly distribute the property to heirs and to settle debts. For historians and curators, this information can be useful when researching people who are difficult to find in other sources of recorded history.

However, because not all household items were listed on inventories, the snapshot is almost always incomplete, and there is no reliable formula for determining what may be missing. Inventories nevertheless can give us a compelling view of daily life in a household.

Thomas Dugan’s inventory is a particularly rare survival because it is a primary source detailing the material possessions of a free black man in early 19th-century Concord. It provides an opportunity to learn more about his life, his family, and his town in 1827.

David Wood, Concord Museum Curator, on the development of the special exhibition, Thomas Dugan, Yeoman of Concord.


In the Dugan household, milk from the cow was made in to butter using a churn. The lighter, denser, fattier cream was separated from the milk and beating it in the churn turned it to butter. The butter, when salted, could keep far longer than milk.

To Learn More

Preview the book, Black Walden: Slavery and Its Aftermath in Concord, Massachusetts, by Elise Lemire.

Uncover the stories of the occupants of The Robbins House in Concord, some of whom were contemporaries of Thomas Dugan.

Connect with Concord’s farms today.
Top image: A selection of objects from the Concord Museum collection similar to those listed in Thomas Dugan’s probate inventory
Background image: Thomas Dugan’s Probate Inventory, 1827
Film credits: Six One Seven Studios. The video was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.