Cabarrus Sealmasters Check Weights and Measures

4 Oct 2014

A collection of weights and measures held at the Orange County Museum In Hillsborough, NC. Photo by Jerry Cotten.

Among the responsibilities of the Church of England parishes in colonial North Carolina was the purchase and maintenance of a set of sealed weights and measures as the standard for each county.

In 1741, an Act of the North Carolina Assembly changed the law so that the weights and measures would be provided by the justices of each county. The justices were to established standards for weights and measures, levy a tax to pay for them and appoint a Standard Keeper, or Sealmaster, to take charge of them. Each county had to buy a set of weights and measures made to specifications. The weights included hundreds, half, quarter, and eighth-hundreds, and seven, four, two, one and one-half pounds. Measures were gallon, quart, pint, one-half bushel, peck, yard and ell (a cloth measure equaling 45 inches). All weights and measures used in business had to be checked for accuracy against the county set. It was considered an important protection for consumers from unscrupulous merchants. Merchants who cheated buyers could be punished. 

Compliance with these standards was one of the tasks facing the new Cabarrus County government in 1793. However, not until 1799 do court minutes record the appointment of Cunningham Harris as
Sealmaster. It was the Sealmaster’s duty to officially stamp or seal the weights and measures. In 1805, newly appointed Sealmaster John K. Carson was given 50 dollars (approximately $765 in 2014) to purchase a set of weights and measures. Carson received an additional 25 dollars in 1806, and presented further expenses to the court in 1807. Obtaining such weights and measures obviously was an expensive process. Unfortunately, the Cabarrus County weights and measures no longer exist because they were destroyed in a courthouse fire in 1876. The similar set shown above can be seen in the Orange County Museum in Hillsborough, NC.

Additional information on weights and measures may be found in Cabarrus County Court Minutes, the North Carolina Colonial RecordsCarolina Cradle by Ramsey and North Carolina Research by Leary and Stirewalt.

Courtesy of the Cabarrus County Public Library, Lore Local History Room