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College Expands Public Access to 18th Century NH Colony Documents

Mason Library to Conserve and Digitize Original Land Documents with Sponsorship from New Hampshire State Library

Keene State College’s Wallace E. Mason Library will conserve, digitize and offer electronically an 84-page ledger bound in parchment attributed to the New Hampshire surveyor Joseph Blanchard that dates roughly from 1734 to 1756. The ledger contains property records relating to the colony of New Hampshire and serves as an insightful piece of 18th-century colonial American history. Of significance, the ledger documents the efforts to secure a land grant from the colonial legislature of Massachusetts in the disputed territory of southern New Hampshire.

“The Blanchard ledger not only documents a fascinating part of New Hampshire history, it is also quite useful today for land surveyors who need original records primarily from the Manchester area,” said Rodney Obien, archivist at Keene State College’s Wallace E. Mason Library. “Offering these historical records to the public online, as well as in the library, is an important service to people in New Hampshire and beyond. We hope to inspire other institutions that possess documents like this to make them more widely available.”

In addition to illustrating the settlement of New England, the ledger also reveals a great deal about the border dispute between New Hampshire and Massachusetts that had been prevalent since the early years of the eighteenth century. It was in this time frame that New Hampshire settlers turned their attention from “external threats” to “internal social and economic” issues, which, in turn, caused them to re-evaluate the importance of their southern border. The Massachusetts colony had been taking advantage of New Hampshire’s diverted attentions for many years, granting land rights and townships in the present day area of Penacook, Concord, and the Merrimack River Valley. The ledger chronicles one of these grants.

“This ledger forms the basis for surveying and grant records for the vast majority of people in southern New Hampshire. When we heard that Keene State College wanted to conserve the ledger and make it more widely available in an electronic format, we knew this was an important project to support,” said Brian Nelson Burford, New Hampshire state archivist.

The 278-year old Blanchard ledger is currently accessible, under careful supervision, to the public at the Wallace E. Mason Library as part of its special collection. Keene State aims to have the electronic version available online in summer of 2013.

Visit coverage of this story in the Union Leader here.

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