A Common Soldier’s Inventory, and His Career

We recently posted about the extensive probate inventory of Henry Neale’s personal property, and how, running seven pages long, it can tell us a lot about its subject. Today, we have an inventory from another veteran of the First Maryland Regiment that is much smaller, but even more helpful.

Peter Burk enlisted in the Fourth Company in January 1776 as a private. His company took the highest casualties at the Battle of Brooklyn, losing 80 percent killed or captured. Burk wasn’t killed, but it is not known if he was taken prisoner. He eventually became a corporal and served until 1780. After the war, he disappeared from records until 1810, when the census shows him living in Havre de Grace, Harford County, Maryland. He died nine years later, apparently with no next of kin.


Peter Burk’s inventory, 1820.
Click to view full document.

At the end of his life, Peter Burk had $10.00 in cash, and about $8.00 worth of personal property, including several sets of clothing, a hat and a pair of “speeks,” or spectacles. More tellingly, he also owned “5 pair of old loom gears” and “1 shuttle,” revealing that he had been a weaver.

Burk was also owed nearly $100 by various individuals. While it was common for the rich to serve as creditors, it is unusual to see someone like Burk, a much less wealthy man, doing so. Some of the debts were in the form of promissory notes, but others were due to Burk “on account.” These debts were, almost certainly, owed by people who had bought cloth that Burk had woven.

For all of its rich details, Henry Neale’s inventory can only confirm what we largely already knew: that he was a very wealthy man, and owned the goods that accompanied and defined that life. Without Peter Burk’s inventory, on the other hand, we would know almost nothing of his life after he left the army in 1780, nearly 40 years before his death. We are fortunate indeed that it was recorded, and that it survives today.

You can read Burk’s full bio here.


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3 Responses to A Common Soldier’s Inventory, and His Career

  1. Christine Lourie says:

    So many “ordinary” citizens have stories that remain untold, because documentary evidence is scarce or non-existent. Peter Burk’s story illuminates his service and later life, and serves as a reminder of those untold stories. Most interesting is Burk’s participation in the credit economy of the early national period; it would be interesting to know how much of the economy of the early national period was, at all, levels, based on local credit networks.


  2. Very interesting article. How was it possible to determine that Peter Burk who died in 1819 in Harford County is the same man as the one who served in the 4th Regiment in 1776 and not just a man of the same name? With such a long gap between records and little else found, I am interested in understanding the research logic of tying these records together as the same man?


  3. Noted genealogist Henry Peden provided further details which tend to support this is the same man. Note the 1791 and 1793 records which is midpoint to the records you noted.

    Peter Burk enlisted in Baltimore County in Capt. Ewing’s Company No. 4 on 20 Jan 1776 (ARMD 18, p 12)
    Peter Burk was a private and corporal in 3rd MD Line, enlisted 1 Oct 1778, discharged or off rolls 1 Jan 1780 (ARMD 18, p. 86)
    Peter Burk was an insolvent single man in Harford Lower Hundred in 1791 and 1793 (HC road tax lists)
    Peter Burk in 1810 Harford County Census; not found in any other census, 1790-1820


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