Dumpster Dive Pays Off

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Last summer the Suffield Historical Society received a message from a gentleman in Pennsylvania. He had in his possession a Suffield ledger which he wondered if anyone would want. Although there is no name in the front of the book, it appears to be an account book kept by John Leavitt of Suffield. There are miscellaneous loose receipts signed by Leavitt and two pages of legal judgements by Leavitt as Justice of the Peace during the 1770’s and early 1780’s.

But the best part of this story is how the ledger was found. Said gentleman was out walking his dog one evening and walked by a house that was being cleared out. He peered into a dumpster in front of the house and saw the book, which he rescued. (He also snagged a very nice stepladder.) He went home, studied his find and sent us a message, hoping to find a home for this piece of the past.

The book was subsequently shipped to me, and I have been indexing and studying it. It contains mostly financial records and covers the years primarily 1760’s to 1780’s and includes some very familiar names, e.g. Alexander King, Joseph Pease, Oliver Phelps, Seth Austin, Ebenezer Gay and others. John Leavitt appears to have been a farmer and a carpenter. Entries bear this out as he was dealing in corn, rye, potatoes, apples, salt pork, wood and timber and making and mending furniture, lending his oxen, boarding horses and doing odd jobs. The book also contains a few pages of poetry and prayers, the receiving and paying out of town school money for the School Committee, and some legal judgements as Justice of the Peace. There is one page of ‘things left by Capt. John Leavitt (his son) when he removed to N(ew) Connecticut Apr 30th, 1800”. It appears that John Jr. also used the book for a time in 1799 after his father’s death in 1798. Pages 471-508 are missing, possibly taken by John Jr. to Ohio.

There is also mention of a second book, which was not in the dumpster, and may well be lost to history. This account book will be added to the extensive collection in the Samuel R. Spencer Historical Room at the Suffield’s Kent Memorial Library. It was kept during an important period of American history that included the French and Indian wars locally and the American Revolution and is a detailed look at everyday life in early Suffield.

So, the next time you walk by a dumpster, take a look. You never know what you may find!

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