FIITA: Robert G. McEwen Saddler’s Account Book, 1829-1833

Many of you have no doubt heard of the Society of American Archivists initiative “I Found It In the Archives!”. Well, I thought I might start my own version to promote interesting things I “find” in the archives where I work. (And when I say “find,” I don’t necessarily mean that “we” – i.e., the library – didn’t know they were there. But believe it or not, I don’t personally know off the top of my head every single thing in the place — shocking, I know! — so now and then I come across super-cool things that I had no idea were there.)

Many of the items I’ll be sharing in my “Found it in the Archives” (aka FIITA – yes, I’m dropping the “I” for no particular reason!) run across my path as I process manuscript collections or stabilize items in the Conservation Room.

Today’s item is an account book that was owned by a saddler named Robert G. McEwen who lived in Washington Township, Montgomery County, Ohio.

According to information from the Centerville-Washington Township Historical Society, Robert was born in Pennsylvania in 1806 and came to Centerville with his family in 1817.  In 1829, Robert’s father died, and he took over the family’s saddle business. And that’s where this book comes in; the transactions are dated 1829-1833.

Robert McEwen saddler's book, cover

Robert McEwen saddler's book, cover

Above is a photo of the front cover (if you could call it that!) of the account book. It is just a paper cover. That’s why I had it in Conservation, actually – it needed a new protective enclosure. (It did already have one, but it was an old style and not very good quality board, so I replaced it with a new one made of archival board.)

Robert McEwen saddler's book, interior page

Robert McEwen saddler's book, interior page

This is a photo showing one of the interior pages, including a line item for work done for Henry W. Reeder. (Reeder was a blacksmith in the area (more on this Reeder family); his name caught my eye because the Wright brothers were related to the Reeder family – however, they are not descended from this particular one.)

Robert G. McEwen was a young man in his 20s when the records in this book were created. Around the same time, he was Washington Township clerk (1829) and the first clerk of Centerville (1830). He was elected Montgomery County tax assessor in 1838, and in 1859 he served as a representative to the Ohio legislature. Another piece of living history: you can still see Robert G. McEwen’s house (built 1834) on Franklin St. in Centerville! Amazing! An article from Beers’ 1882 History of Montgomery County has more info on the family.

Another interesting item that I found that belonged to Robert G. McEwen is his “ciphering book,” dated 1819 – when he would have been 13 years old. Ciphering books were like homemade textbooks that students would create to help them practice their subjects. In this case, McEwen’s book was for practicing math problems. (I don’t seem to have taken a photo of that one – which also needed a new box.)

And finally, if you are interested in the history of Washington Township, you might also be interested in a book of Washington Township, District 8 school records, dated 1847-1854 – which I also “found” at the same time as the McEwen books. This book does include student records. You can see photos of several pages (but not nearly all) of this book at my “Found it in the Archives” Flickr set.

This entry is just a taste of these great primary sources that I recently “found” in the archives. If you’d like to use them in person to find out all they may have to offer, you’ll just have to visit the Dayton Metro Library’s Local History Room during regular Main library hours. (However, you might want to wait a couple of weeks; these items are so “fresh” out of Conservation that they are still in cataloging, getting new identification/barcode stickers on the new enclosures.)


2 responses to “FIITA: Robert G. McEwen Saddler’s Account Book, 1829-1833

  1. I am glad to hear about the student records. I wonder if I will recognize any of the family names. There are few records of infants or children from this time period.


    • Hi, Shawna: Yes, the book has names of the students each year at the school, so I’m sure genealogists will find it useful, if it happens to be the right time/location for any of their relations. After I wrote this, I remembered that I also recently repaired a Washington Township militia book from the 1830s. I think it was actually a list of militia “delinquents”. That one should be out of cataloging soon too; it was in the same batch.

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