Unwritten Rules and Gendered Frames Amongst Probate Appraisers? Evidence from Eighteenth-Century York County, Virginia

  • Wendy Lucas University of Central Arkansas
  • Noel Campbell Black, Brown, Brindle & Associates


This study analyzes inventory appraisals ordered by the county court for those estates undergoing probate in York County, Virginia, between 1700 and 1800 to determine whether local gender-modulated unwritten rules of appraisal or appraisers’ gender-related frames in thought influenced the appraisal process. Regardless of how it occurred, we present evidence that the gender of the decedent, or of others involved in the probate process, statistically influenced appraisals. Although attractive as data sources, researchers have long known that probate materials can be difficult to use. Researchers have rarely written about gender as a source of difficulty, but our results suggest that localized, gender-related behavior by appraisers could further complicate using probate materials to study phenomena ranging from the diffusion of consumer goods or of technology, to the integration of markets, and the growth and distribution of wealth. Most relevantly, our results do not specify a particular data correction precisely because we cannot be sure that we have discovered all, or even the most significant, local, gender-influenced behaviors, nor the variability in these behaviors across time or jurisdictions.