Alexander Henderson's Colchester Scheme of Goods Project

FAQs

What do the Schemes of Goods represent?
These documents are our paper trail leading us back in time to a better understanding of the retail trade in colonial America.  Beginning in the 1730s and the 1740s in the upper Potomac River region, where Mount Vernon is located, customers of all types would sell their tobacco, barter, or pay cash in return for the goods that we see today in museums and in the archaeological record.  In order to fill the shelves of stores every year with consumer goods, merchants had to request an itemized list called a Scheme of Goods or projected inventory.
Where do these data come from?
The Schemes of Goods were recorded in Alexander Henderson's letterbook housed at the Alexandria Library in the Archive and Manuscript Collections. The letterbook has been transcribed and published (by Charles and Virginia Hamrick, 1999, Virginia Merchants: Alexander Henderson Factor for John Glassford at his Colchester Store (Fairfax County, VA), His Letter Book of 1758-1765). We used the Hamrick and Hamrick transcriptions for this database.
Who was Alexander Henderson?
Alexander Henderson was a merchant born in Glasgow, Scotland who immigrated to Virginia in the 1750s where he initially worked for his brother at a store in Dumfries, but soon opened his own store in Colchester in 1758. Within a few years, Henderson ran numerous stores along the Potomac River, including one in Alexandria. He worked for John Glassford (1715-1783), owner of Glassford & Company, a large Scottish trading firm that consisted of several stores on the banks of the Potomac River in Virginia and Maryland.
What type of information can I find in the Schemes of Goods?
The information contained in the database falls generally into two overlapping realms: economic and cultural. Some entries contain detailed information on prices of goods, quantities, and volumes of purchase, enabling researchers to understand the desires or perceived desires of the Colchester consumers. Economic questions might include: how much did different types of fabrics cost or what category of material culture did Henderson anticipate would sell most briskly? We might wonder how changing colonial fashions are represented in the items listed in this database. Just as we buy articles of clothing influenced by modern fashions (think the change in jeans styles over time from bell bottoms to boot cut to skinny jeans), so too did customers of the Colchester store. The items listed range from those considered luxuries to everyday items that allowed a plantation to function and prosper.
What does this database tell me about George Washington?
This project was born out of an interest for a comparative dataset to the George Washington Invoices and Orders Project. Detailed information exists on the material culture that George Washington procured for his plantation from the late 1750s through the eve of the American Revolution. But just how typical were Washington's consumer choices? Were the goods that Washington ordered available to colonial consumers who shopped at local retail chains? How different was the material world of individuals with differential access to goods? With these questions in mind, we attempted to construct this database following the conventions of the Invoices and Orders Project. Therefore, a researcher who wants to know about the buttons Washington ordered and those available in local stores, the search results for each database should be similar.
How does this database relate to archaeology?
The scheme of goods offers a detailed picture of the types of materials sold at local stores, many of which we find in the archaeological record. The purpose of the Archaeological Collections Online initiative is to digitize and put into an e-museum artifacts excavated from the South Grove Midden. In order to provide historical context for the artifact, we often search the schemes of goods to see if Henderson sold that item, how much it cost, and other relevant details.
What should I do if I have a question about the search results?
First, consult the transcription (Charles and Virginia Hamrick, 1999, Virginia Merchants: Alexander Henderson Factor for John Glassford at his Colchester Store (Fairfax County, VA), His Letter Book of 1758-1765) and the original reference housed at the Alexandria Library in the Archive and Manuscript Collections. If you still have a question, contact us.