Maine State Archives obtains Mattawamkeag Civil War-era ledger

AUGUSTA - A Civil War-era ledger book has made its way back to Maine, thanks to the efforts of the Maine State Archives.

The ledger tracks the aid given to servicemen and their families in the Town of Mattawamkeag, at the end of the Civil War and five years thereafter (1864-68). Each entry cites a quantity and a dollar value for items that were considered staples at the time, such as flour, shoes, cloth, molasses, pork and tobacco.

"Public records like this constitute the evidence of who we are," said Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap. "Our staff does a tireless job of guarding the importance of those documents, and the cooperation and vigilance of the public is invaluable as well."

In early December, Maine State Archives Services staff member Anthony Douin spotted the ledger on eBay, where it was being sold by a Missouri woman. Mattawamkeag Board of Selectman Chairman John Whitehouse and Town Clerk Jody Furge were contacted and agreed it should be returned to the town, so State Archivist David Cheever contacted the seller. She agreed to send the ledger and it arrived at the Archives in Augusta on December 22. The ledger is 6 ¾" wide, 8 ¼" high, with a marble board cover and 80 paper sheets of neat script writing.

"In our initial research of the 19 family names listed, more than half are Civil War veterans, including three deaths and two disability discharges," said Cheever, noting that one was a lumberman by trade, while the rest were farmers. "The bulk of them are, indeed, individuals and families who needed and requested assistance after the war."

Some of the family names remain extant even today in Mattawamkeag, a small town of almost 700 people in Penobscot County. One of those was the Bishop family, to whom the Town of Mattawamkeag provided aid before and after David Bishop was killed at Petersburg, Virginia on June 18, 1864.

Bishop, a farmer, was 41 when he joined the war effort in 1863. He was a member of Company D of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery, the regiment that was ordered to make a frontal attack on an entrenched Confederate position. That attack lasted fewer than 10 minutes, yet the regiment sustained more than 600 casualties, of which Bishop was one.

From the ledger entries, it can be inferred that Bishop's widow did a lot of sewing. The provision of yards of cloth, needles and thread indicate a household that had all of that in short supply, and then needed the items with some regularity.

"Humanizing the ledger entries helps round out the story of what was really going on as the town and its people coped with the impact of the war," said Cheever.

In requesting the ledger, the Maine State Archives cited Maine's replevin law, which codifies the State's interest in repatriating government documents.

"Replevin is a vital tool for governments to ensure that archival documents - papers of permanent value - are returned to the people. We maintain that government documents are not for sale. People can obtain copies, but the originals are never for sale," said Cheever.

"In this instance, we found a seller with a strong appreciation of the value of the information contained in the document. The seller sent the ledger at no charge."

The Maine State Archives will scan the ledger and keep an electronic copy, which the public can view, while returning the original to the town.

 

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