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Glimpse into 18th Century Valley Life: Historical Documents Enlighten Lecturer and Audience

In Lewisburg, a presentation by the Union County Historical Society this Sunday will delve into the frontier life experience in the central Susquehanna Valley. The focus will be on insights gathered from a set of 20 business ledgers originating from a late 1700s Valley store, stumbled upon in the attic of a historic residence on South Water Street in Lewisburg. These detailed ledgers offer a window into the daily activities, thoughts, financial challenges, and political dynamics of the residents during that era.

Bruce Teeple, the President of the Union County Historical Society, will lead the presentation titled “Two Towns, Two Families, and Twenty Ledgers: Unraveling an 18th Century Tale of Business, Politics, and Revolt” at The Gallery in Lewisburg at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

The ledgers shed light on two prominent families, the Bradys and the Irwins, who were significant figures in Northumberland and Lewisburg during that period. Jared Irwin, who owned a store in Northumberland, maintained these ledgers. They reveal how Irwin and his brother, Robert, acted as lenders to notable individuals like Joseph Priestley and other neighbors, essentially functioning as early financial institutions before banks were established.

Moreover, the ledgers offer insights into the shopping habits of that time, showcasing the vast differences compared to contemporary practices. They also provide a glimpse into the tumultuous political environment of the 1790s, particularly during the 1794 “Whiskey Rebellion.”

Bruce Teeple expressed his enthusiasm for this historical period, emphasizing the evolution of democracy and governance in the face of opposition. He will discuss how the Valley became a focal point for political unrest, reflecting the national divide between anti-federalists and federalists/constitutionalists as settlers aimed to secure their futures.

The presentation will explore the colorful political landscape, including the race between Robert Irwin and John Brady for the sheriff position in Northumberland County, influenced by the political climate of the time. The ledgers found their way to a house on South Water Street, owned by April Fairweather, who has preserved this historical treasure despite a fire in 2009 that damaged a portion of the collection.

The ledgers, which span from 1787 to 1812, offer a unique glimpse into the economic transitions of that era, transitioning from “pounds” to “dollars” as the economy evolved. Teeple’s meticulous effort in documenting and preparing the presentation, based on 7,000 photographed pages from the ledgers, underscores the rarity and significance of this collection.

Attendees of the presentation will have the opportunity to view the ledgers firsthand, providing a tangible connection to the past. Teeple encourages the community to engage with local history, emphasizing the human aspect behind historical figures and their decision-making processes. The presentation will also be held at the Northumberland County Historical Museum in Sunbury on May 19 at 2 p.m.