This month, longtime Ridgefield Historical Society Board Member, Monica McMorran, who is part of the Archiving and Collections team, tells us about her favorite item in the RHS Collection. As you can imagine, with well over 10,000 items to choose from, it’s hard to pick just one.
It is ironic that of all the treasures in the Ridgefield Historical Society’s Archives my favorite is a little stained notebook/ledger with the title Ye Sheep Book.
The fact that the first date in the notebook is 1773 helps explain my interest. To hold in one’s hand a 289-year-old artifact is thrilling.
The fact that this little book contains both history and mystery adds to its charm. The history we know from town historians George L Rockwell, Silvio Bedini, Daniel Teller, and others who relate that in the 1700s the town had owned a considerable number of sheep and it was then the practice to “let” the sheep to landowners “to lay in his plow land” for the purpose of “enriching the soil,” somewhat delicately stated. The ledger lists names, times, and costs: for example five shillings and four pence for four nights. There was also a fee for damages “that be done by the sheep though his neglect.” As an aside, in 1742 the town voted at a “sheep meeting” to use the money earned through ‘letting’ to “maintain in Town School forever.” Well, perhaps not forever.
The mystery lies in the notebook itself. The Society received it as part of the Stebbins’ estate, yet we do not know who the record keeper was. Was he a town employee or did he work for the Stebbins family? One intriguing entry reads, “Lieut. Stebbins let ye sheep to Stephen Smith for 2 nights” and “to James Smith… for 5 last nights.” Why is Lieut. Stebbins’ activity singled out?
I don’t know yet (further research into town meeting records may reveal who was appointed sheep warden during this period however), but this little book brings 18th Century Ridgefield to life for me.