Preserving the Papers of Captain Richard Caldwell, Blooming Grove, NY

Part of the Caldwell papers in the collection of the Moffat Library.

In October 2016, I visited the Moffat Library for part of my genealogy course program to examine historic manuscripts. The Moffat Library had in their vaults a collection of letters from the Caldwell family of Salisbury Mills. Shockingly, these handwritten parchment letters were not properly preserved and were loosely stored in a damaged box. Despite their storage, the letters were in remarkable condition with minimal damage or fading.

I approached my DAR chapter about the state of the papers.  At our March 7, 2017, meeting the Quassaick Chapter, NSDAR, voted in favor of providing the Moffat Library with a grant that would provide for preservation materials and the digitization of the 4 handwritten letters.

Who were the Caldwells?  
Richard Caldwell and his family participated in an uprising against the British Crown and was actually sentenced to death but was pardoned by Lord Cornwallis. He was forced with his family to leave Ireland and they settled in Orange County on a large parcel of land in Salisbury Mill and rebuilt a house similar to the one they left behind in Ireland. This house still stands today and is run as the Caldwell House Bed & Breakfast. Many of the Caldwell family members are buried on the small cemetery on the grounds of the inn.

Captain Richard Caldwell was commissioned by the War Department to recruit locally here in Orange County for the War of 1812. The British who pardoned him, would see him fight against them again. Sadly, Captain Richard died in November of 1812, from what originally was believed to have been pneumonia. It is said that Captain Caldwell gave away clothing from his personal belonging to his men, who were freezing in the winter weather up north, and he fell ill himself. In recent years, researchers believe he likely died of typhoid fever and not pneumonia, which they believe he passed to several townsfolk who also died in the weeks and months following Captain Caldwell.

What were in the papers?
One of the most relevant and important papers is the order from the War Department commissioning Captain Caldwell to recruit locally for the war effort. Another, and likely the most heart wrenching letter I’ve ever read, was from Andrew Caldwell, the captain’s brother, writing to an ensign in the captain’s regiment, asking if the captain died alone, if he asked for his family and if he suffered in his final moments.  Andrew also sent several letters to the government regarding a pension for the captain’s widow and his two children.

There were other papers and copies of newspapers regarding the descendants of Captain Caldwell, including one about the dedication of the War Memorial statue that was given to the town of Blooming Grove by the captain’s nephew and was dedicated to the memory of the men of Blooming Grove who died in the War of 1812 and the Civil War.

What did our chapter do to help?
These papers, because of their local interest, need to be properly preserved for future generations. They provide a unique look at a local family during a time of war and one that went on to help shape Orange County through political interests. We helped the library by purchasing proper acid free preservation sleeves and an archival box that helps keep moisture away from the parchment. (Moisture is the enemy of historic papers like these and will essentially “rot” them away.) These items were relatively inexpensive and readily available through preservation companies. The papers will be digitized by an archival company in Ulster County that will allow the papers to be placed online for future researchers. I will be donating my time to transcribe the papers to accompany the digitized versions.

UPDATE!
On March 23, 2017, I joined Matthew Thorenz, adult services librarian, to re-house the papers into their new sleeves and archival boxes.  The digitization process is being scheduled for April 11, 2017.

To see what the collection looked like prior to preservation, please enjoy the brief video.