The "Account of Coffins"

"Transporting the Dead"

Friends and/or Family members "Transporting the Dead" to be buried 

Litten, Julian. "Chapter 4: Lapped in Lead, Encased in Oak: The Coffin." In The English Way of Death: The Common Funeral Since 1450. Ramsbury, UK: Robert Hale Limited, 2002.

Early and simple coffins typically did not have handles. The coffin was carried by family members and/or friends to its final resting place on wooden planks. Coffin hardware really began to take off during the latter portion of the eighteenth-century and throughout the nineteenth-century. These pieces of coffin hardware typically reflected the popular design styles of the period, all the while adding to the expense of the coffin, the appearance of dignity, and distinction of rank for the deceased and their family members. Along with this distinction of rank, came changing perceptions of death and its romanticization and commercialization in the nineteenth century.

However, the coffins made by John Williams, presumably around 1747, are too early to fit into this trend that dominated the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. John Williams' Account of Coffins lists an order for a coffin "with handles and letters" (last entry on the left-hand side of  Image 2), customizations (and a higher price tag) that signify the individual to be buried was probably of a higher rank.

John Williams Account Book "Account of Coffins"

John Williams Account Book, "Account of Coffins Image 1"

Photo by author courtesy of the Delaware Historical Society.

John Williams Account Book "Account of Coffins"

John Williams Account Book, "Account of Coffins Image 2"

Photo by author courtesy of the Delaware Historical Society.

Examining the way in which  coffin orders were paid off can reveal information regarding the socio-economic world  in which John Williams and his customers lived and participated. There are several instances where the cost of the coffin was noted as being paid “By Cash in full” and other instances where money was not used at all. In this case  some sort of bartering or trade system was in place that reflects the type of people who comprised Williams’ customers. There were those who had money on hand, and those who paid “By 2 Bushels of...meal” for a coffin. In short, this entry depicts Williams and his customers as participating in an economic world that dealt with both material goods and hard currency.