Coming Home

Page from the merchant ledger of John Gaston, ca. 1773-1774. Via the State Library of Ohio Historical Documents Collection on Ohio Memory.
Page from the merchant ledger of John Gaston, ca. 1773-1774. Via the State Library of Ohio Historical Documents Collection on Ohio Memory.

Occasionally, institutions like the ones who bring you Ohio Memory will find items in their collections that just don’t quite fit. They’re often lovely treasures and fantastic resources, but for one reason or another, they are better suited to a different collection.

Final page in the Gaston ledger, displaying significant fire damage. Via Ohio Memory.
Final page in the Gaston ledger, displaying significant fire damage. Via Ohio Memory.

Recently, the State Library of Ohio made the decision to transfer a rare item to the Somerset County Historical Society in New Jersey. The item, a merchant’s ledger, belonged to a John Gaston of Germantown, New Jersey, and records sales to customers as well as money paid to vendors from 1773 to 1774. At some point, it was exposed to fire; its cover is charred and warped, as are a handful of its pages. It’s an extraordinary piece, filled with information on the daily life of individuals who lived in Gaston’s community well over two hundred years ago. It is something that any institution would be thrilled to hold in its collection.

Typically, when items like this are discovered, they are sent to a more proper collecting institution, one whose collection development policy focuses on similar items or, as is the case here, one that shares a history with the item. The ledger is, after all, directly related to the mission of the Somerset County Historical Society, which is, in part, “discovering, procuring and preserving the history of Somerset County.” Really, the ledger is an ideal addition to their collection. The best possible thing for us to do was let it go.

Visitors to the State Library of Ohio, ca. 1850, at its first location in the old state office building, which burned in 1852. Via Ohio Memory.
Visitors to the State Library of Ohio, ca. 1850, at its first location in the old state office building, which burned in 1852. Via Ohio Memory.

While in the process of deciding whether to send the ledger, however, we became curious: how did it come to live here at the State Library? So we did a little bit of research. We can’t be sure, but most likely it was donated by a descendant of John Gaston. In fact, census records show that his grandson, Elias Gaston, moved to Ohio some time before 1850 and settled in Reily Township in Butler County. Elias, by the way, is now buried in the Reily Township Cemetery, and by clicking on his name in this alphabetical list you can see a picture of his headstone. Perhaps he carried the ledger himself, and it was handed down until it arrived here at the State Library.

Because of its ties to Ohio we are certainly interested in making it available via Ohio Memory, and so we have scanned it and added it to our online collection. It is not yet transcribed, so searching the ledger for specific names isn’t possible, but we hope to change that soon. We have also shared a copy of the scanned images with the Somerset County Historical Society, enabling them to provide access to the information contained in the ledger while keeping the original safe. This way, each of us can have a piece of this remarkable document. Meanwhile, the original document is going home. We think John Gaston would be pleased.

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Thank you to Shannon Kupfer, Digital/Tangible Media Cataloger at the State Library of Ohio, for this week’s post!

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