February 04. 2013 8:27PM

Keene State fixing historic surveyor's ledger, will put content online

Union Leader Correspondent

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. (COURTESY)

KEENE - An 18th century surveyor's ledger that tells the story of how southwestern New Hampshire was settled is being restored and electronically digitized for public viewing online by Keene State College archivists.

The college's Mason Library is home to a collection of 18th century documents, including the historically important Blanchard Ledger, said Rodney Obien, archivist at Keene State College's Wallace E. Mason Library.

The college came into possession of the Blanchard Ledger in 1984. But because of its condition, it has had limited availability to the public, Obien said.

"This is a fantastic piece of history and not that many people know about it. It not only documents the state, but it has names and the transactions," he said.

Through a modest Moose Plate Grant, the binding of the document will be restored and strengthened so that it may last another 200 to 300 years and will be available to the public under archive staff supervision.

The ledger will also be recorded digitally and made available online for easy access. Additionally, Keene State College history students, under the direction of Obien and Keene State history professors, are undertaking a transcription of the text to be made available online.

"It really is quite an exciting book," said Brian Nelson Burford, New Hampshire state archivist and a former surveyor.

The ledger was started by Joseph Blanchard Sr., then was taken over by his son, Joseph Blanchard Jr. From about 1750 to the 1770s, the ledger is a record of the granting of towns from the Merrimack River to the Connecticut River and as far north as Newfound Lake, Burford said.

Blanchard was hired by the Masonian Proprietors, a group of wealthy Portsmouth merchants who bought the land grants from a descendant of John Mason, who originally held the title to the land.

The merchants, through Blanchard acting as their agent, granted towns and land to people who agreed to settled it. They built roads, cleared forests and farmed the land. The settlers were also required to build a church and hire a minister.

The work of the settlers, who received the land in exchange for their toil, made the land that was still owned by the merchants more valuable and the merchants would then sell it.

Not only did Blanchard and his son keep land surveying records that are of interest to surveyors and landowners today, they were also required to return to towns about five years after the initial settlement to ensure the settlers had completed the towns. The ledger also contains records of the people who lived in the towns, how much land they held, and even the size of their houses. Because of that, the ledger is also of interest to genealogists, Burford said.

"It's a living document in many ways," Obien said, adding he hopes other ledgers of that time period known to exist are brought forward as a result of this effort. "I'm hoping this project will be one of many to unearth and discover the other ledgers and bring them online together."