Amenia’s history preserved

History In The Making

AMENIA — Last August, Dutchess County Clerk Brad Kendall and Dutchess County Historian Will Tatum returned Amenia’s three earliest record books to Amenia Town Clerk Dawn Marie Klingner, following four months of conservation and digitization. Now, researchers and residents alike can safely examine these historic records, which are stabilized for decades to come.

The three early town books collectively offer a window into daily life in Amenia from 1762 into the early 19th century.

The 1762 Precinct Book records the actions of the board, which met annually from that year through 1800. At that time, these meetings were a straightforward review of financial demands against the town and certification of local officers.

Most of the book contains other information relating to the town clerk’s job during these early decades. Different sections are dedicated to recording the identifying marks that owners placed on the ears of their cattle, lists of farm animals found wandering in the countryside, an annual account of the individuals licensed to run taverns, and entries of marriages and births.

A loose sheet of paper recorded the manumission of one enslaved individual and the marriage of an enslaved couple.

The two Books of the Poor record the actions of the Overseers of the Poor, local officials charged with caring for Amenia’s most economically-challenged residents. Entries detail the tax money spent to cover basic living expenses and the common practice of apprenticing children to local tradesmen, who would train them for a self-sustaining life. Collectively the three volumes cover Amenia’s history from 1762 through 1824.

“These invaluable records are just one part of Amenia’s extensive history, which we promote to the public at every opportunity,” said Klingner. The project began in August 2019, after Elizabeth C. Strauss of the Amenia Historical Society informed Tatum of the invaluable information contained in these records. Upon examination, Tatum discovered that the 1762 Precinct Book, the 1768 Book of the Poor and the 1817 Book of the Poor were in need of serious conservation to ensure their long-term survival.

Amenia is one of the oldest towns in Dutchess County, so it was amazing to find this unbroken record stretching back to the town’s creation as a colonial precinct in 1762. While Dutchess County is rich with documentation of our past, it is still unusual to find documents that are this old and complete.

Following a meeting with Amenia Town Supervisor Victoria Perotti and Klingner, the county and the town embarked on a project to properly conserve and re-bind the books, while also scanning the pages into digital format.

Strauss reported that there was high researcher demand for the information contained in these volumes, though not everyone could travel to Amenia. Having digital images available enables the town to make these early sources available via the world wide web.

I helped prepare an application for the New York State Archives’ Local Government Records Management Improvement Fund for $5,565 to engage Kofile to conserve the books, encapsulate the pages in new archival binding and produce high-resolution scans of every page in each book.

“We look forward to partnering with the Amenia Town Clerk’s Office and the Amenia Historical Society to establish online access to the digitized versions of these three volumes,” said County Clerk Brad Kendall.  “The Dutchess County Historian’s Office will work closely with the Amenia Historical Society to develop programming that will share the human stories contained within the records, enabling local residents to better understand how our past informs the present. This programming will be part of the 2023 County History offerings.”

Will Tatum is the Dutchess County Historian.

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