Submit’s Silver: the Curious Case of the Missing Coins

Submit Wright was born in November of 1746, just a month after her father David Wright died. She became his sole heir, inheriting his real estate and personal property.  When she was 3 years old, her mother remarried, this time to Samuel Barnard. On January 22, 1767, when she was nearly 21, she married her first cousin, Amzi Childs. Submit and Amzi went on to have 13 children, 11 of whom reached adulthood. She died in 1824 at the age of 78 and was buried beside her husband in Laurel Hill Cemetery. From these bare facts, her life seems typical of a late 18th-century woman in Deerfield. The one curious thing about Submit’s life is that had she married after her 21st birthday (November 23, 1767), she would have received a small inheritance in the form of silver coins.

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An “obligation document” newly acquired by the Historic Deerfield Library brings Submit’s story to light. The document is a handwritten obligation prepared by Noah and Asahel Wright, her paternal uncles, for the benefit of Submit. It appears to be a document for the family only, as it is not an official Court document or related to the probate of David Wright’s estate. In the document, they pledge to pay Submit 226 ounces of silver coin upon her 21st birthday. However, they also provide a clause that will void the agreement if she married before then. The document signed by the two men and witnessed by Elizer Hawks and Samuel Childs, Jr., was dated March 26, 1747. At that time, Submit was only four months old. Noah and Asahel were two of David’s brothers possibly trying to provide for their niece.

The 226 ounces of silver would have been worth about £17 Massachusetts currency in 1747. Today that amount of silver would be worth about $3,000. The £17 would have been about the equivalent of two months of day labor. It was a tidy sum for a young couple, enough to give a boost to starting out their lives together, but not a huge sum that would bankrupt the Wright brothers.

So what happened? Why did Submit marry 10 months before that key birthday? The answer proves elusive. Her first child was born 11 months after her wedding, so pregnancy was not a factor. It seems unlikely she didn’t know about the agreement. One witness to it, Samuel Childs Jr., was the father of her husband Amzi. It seems likely he would have mentioned it to her, had she not known, as it would have greatly benefited his son to receive so much silver.

One other intriguing aspect of this situation is the death of Submit’s mother. The date of her mother’s death is unknown. It is not recorded in the vital records of Deerfield, nor can any grave be found for her. What we do know is that Samuel Barnard remarried in 1771, meaning Submit’s mother died before then. Could it be that in January of 1767, Submit’s mother was dead and Submit found herself an orphan? Was marrying Amzi as soon as possible her best option? Did she need a place to go now that her mother was dead? Perhaps she found the idea of living with her step-father or her father’s relatives unappealing, or perhaps she felt unwanted, and decided to marry Amzi then, instead of waiting until the end of the year.

The most logical answer is perhaps that the agreement was later modified or voided. At the time of the agreement, both Noah and Asahel had no children or family of their own. As they married and started having children, perhaps the thought of providing that much silver to their niece became a burden they couldn’t take on, and the agreement was voided. Perhaps they decided to modify it so that she would receive the silver no matter when she married. Perhaps they decided to give it to her sooner, making the agreement irrelevant. With just this one document by itself, Submit’s silver remains a mystery.

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HD 97.72.3b-d      Three coins (two silver and one copper) from 1730, 1754, 1775. These would be similar to what Submit would have received.

Heather Harrington