Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Working on the James Frost Papers

Map of Lot #2 in Currysbush Patent, surveyed by James Frost, file number P (Princetown) 168.
Many of the materials in the Frost Papers document Frost's work in Duanesburg, Princetown, and Montgomery County.
This entry is written by Robert J. Jones, a volunteer in our library.

I am a relatively new volunteer in the Grems-Doolittle Library, and a couple weeks ago, I finished my first big project.  For several months I worked on creating the electronic finding aid for the James Frost Papers.  James Frost was a surveyor and attorney living in western Schenectady County at the end of the eighteenth century and first half of the nineteenth century.  Frost’s work was largely in Albany and Schenectady counties, but he also did much work in Montgomery County, and to a lesser extent in Schoharie.  The collection is in remarkably good condition considering its age.  Most of the documents date to the early decades of the nineteenth century, so we are dealing with two-centuries-old documents.  The quality of his work is very good; Frost has a careful hand, and many of his surveys include maps with very minute details.

Not all the surveys are of farms, as one might expect, but at times whole villages and also large tracts of territory in the northern areas of the state which had yet to be widely settled at the time of his life.  As I worked with the material, it was fun to imagine Frost setting off on horseback or on foot with a mule to carry his surveying equipment.  Travel to some of these locales must have been quite challenging as there were few roads and even fewer railroads, even toward the end of his life, and not all his jobs were in the four county region mentioned above; some of his jobs took him down river to North Jersey and to territory further west along the Susquehanna.  Beyond imagining Frost setting out across the relative wilderness of upstate New York, the names of some of the characters he worked for were also amusing; by far, my favorite is one Mr. Cornbury Clapp!

The last time anyone had seriously looked at the collection appears to be 1980.  Considering more than 30 years had passed since the collection was organized and first catalogued, relatively little was misplaced or missing (although sadly, a very few documents have gone missing).  At the time of the original catalog, several hundred documents were unidentified.  Over the years many of those documents found homes.  Thanks to other electronic finding aids, the library’s card catalog and the internet, I was able to identify several dozen other documents and move them to their proper places.  Considering how many times I did rely on electronic sources, I doubt that these particular documents could have been reasonably traced in the past; even searching the original print catalog would have been a daunting task as it comes to nearly 50 pages.

This collection includes copies of survey sketches, maps, leases, receipts, legal documents, and other materials related to Frost’s work.  The papers are not only useful in their documentation of Frost’s work as a surveyor; the papers are also very useful for genealogical and historical research in identifying where people lived in the area. Click here for a complete finding aid for the collection.

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