Dataset: The Roosevelt Store Ledger

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 In the first years of the American Republic, James J. Roosevelt started a business that would eventually, under his son, became the largest importer of plate glass in the country. At first, it was just a store, and the merchandise was general in nature though certainly related to building construction and decoration. Two related items, a ledger or account book, and its associated alphabet or index, hint at the story of this enterprise in lower Manhattan. In use from 1792 until at least 1814, the Roosevelt store ledger recorded the transactions of the company, and now provides a glimpse in to business life in Manhattan and the expansive reach of commerce.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 The Store
The first Roosevelt store was located at 42 Maiden Lane; a 1793 newspaper announcement advertised, “a large and elegant assortment of looking glasses,” along with patent lamps, paper hangings, wine glasses, and, “other articles.”[1] By 1795, the store had moved to 102 Maiden Lane, between Pearl Street and Gold Street, where it would remain for decades.[2] Because the street addresses in parts of lower Manhattan were re-numbered, the current address of the building that housed the Roosevelt store is 90-94 Maiden Lane. Landmarked in 1989, the cast iron front building contains some elements of an earlier building, dating from 1810.[3] A 1809, a fire in the store, described by a news account as a, ‘looking-glass and paper hanging store,” likely inspired this construction effort.[4] When Maiden Lane was widened, in 1822, part of the building was removed, and a Greek Revival façade was added. The cast iron front was added after the Civil War, long after James’s 1840 death.[5]

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The Books
The Roosevelt store extended credit to its customers, and record the transactions in a large ledger book, based on the “Italian Style” of book-keeping.[6] A typical entry in the ledger includes the customer’s name and the dates of their transactions with the store, including a debit and a credit column. A typical entry in the ledger includes the customer’s name and the dates of their transactions with the store, including a debit and a credit column. For few entries is there any indication of the goods purchased, generally only the amount of money is given. In some entries the address and occupation of the customer is noted. The customers appear to have been local, for the most part, though there are some from farther away places, Albany, Troy, and locations in New Jersey and Massachusetts, and abroad.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 When the ledger was started in 1792, each entry was given its own page. This is evidenced by the different, and now less legible, ink used in these entries, on the top of the pages, as well as their early dates. As the use of the book continued, other accounts were entered below the existing ones, but in no particular order. So, at some point, an index or alphabet was needed to locate individuals in the ledger. As the the ledger today is incomplete, with only a front board, covered in leather, and its first 230 numbered pages, this index provides important added information.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The soft bound, or paper back, book that became the alphabet, or index, was apparently crafted after 1802, with a marbled paper cover, backed up by an extra sheet from New York printer George F. Hopkins’s edition of The Federalist.[7] Though it is not visible in normal use, carefully pulling apart the two layers of the wrapper, reveals the end of Number 76, “The Appointing Power of the Executive.” Pasted on the inside cover of the alphabet is a label from T.B. Jansen and Co., stationary and book store, at 248 Pearl Street.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Entries in the alphabet are arranged alphabetically, by surname, and include the customer’s last name, first name or initial, and the page number in the ledger where that account can be found. Occasionally a person’s occupation or address is listed. Not all of the people in the ledger are in the alphabet. It appears that earlier customers, perhaps ones no longer doing business with the store, were left out when the alphabet, or index, was created, which was at least a decade after the ledger went in to use.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 The Transcription
Information from the index was extracted first, for ease of use. The details from the ledger then added, with anything extra from the index indicated. So, while it started with the index, the ledger is the main focus. The original order of the names in the ledger has not been preserved. (This relates to the original intention of the transcription project vs use as a data set, outlined later.) The main data transcription includes only those customers on the existing first 230 pages of the ledger book. The names of those in the subsequent pages can be gleaned from the alphabet, but without additional information, and will not be used for this DH dataset project, probably.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 The extracts provide the basic details of the entry from the ledger, leaving out the monetary amounts. Not all entries contain all information, and occasionally odd pieces of information, like, “married Sally Smith”, are included, in the column usually used for residence or occupation. The order of the information, as available, is as follows:
Surname, first name; occupation; residence, dates active with the store, page number in the ledger.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 The Dataset
I have been transcribing the Roosevelt ledger book, off and on, for some time. Originally, my intention with the transcription/extract was that it would be published somewhere, a journal perhaps, in a traditional print manner, to offer the information to scholars and other interested people. I started by using Excel as a way to collect the information, but would have exported the data to a text file of some kind, for publication. In thinking about a dataset to use for this class project, the ledger was not my first thought. But after looking around at other available datasets, and exploring the different projects we have seen in class, it occurred to me that the ledger might offer some fun and interesting possibilities.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Because I started with the idea of traditional publication, I followed the guidelines of documentary editing, historical, and genealogy publishing, which dictate that the information is transcribed as it is presented. Some of this might present challenges in using digital tools to explore and share the data. For example, Pearl Street is frequently spelled as Perl, but also as we are used to it today. These kinds of things will need to be reconciled, or standardized, if I am to use mapping tools, though I may not know to what extent until I really get into the experimenting.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 I am including, as an example, a part of the dataset, but I am still working on it, still transcribing. It is unlikely that I will transcribe all of the ledger book before the end of the semester, but I should have a large enough sample to see what kinds of things might be possible. I have attempted to tidy up the data, so that it might be useful for digital tools. One change from the ‘print ready’ version is that I have altered the way I am expressing dates.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Previously I had dates (years only) in two columns; the first listing multiple years that the customer was charging items to their account, and the second for years they repaid the debt. In some cases, this meant that columns included five or six different years. In the data for this project, I have two columns representing the range of years a person was interacting with the store. So the first year they interacted with the store in one column, and the last year in another. This is less data than I would include in a true transcription/extract but seems cleaner.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 To take one example, the entry for Joel Atwater from my original transcription would look like this.
[name]           [residence]                      [years – acts charged] [years – accts paid]   [page]
Atwater Joel   Derby Connecticut     1796, 1799, 1809, 1812          1797, 1811-1812   141

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 The same entry from my DH dataset project version looks like this.
[name]             [residence]                    [1st year active] [last year active]   [page]
Atwater Joel   Derby Connecticut     1796                    1812                      141

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 As I continue to transcribe the data I will include all of the dates, as in my original transcription. In this way, I will have a larger set of information, should I change my mind and decide that I want to use all of the dates in my DH project.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 There are other pieces of evidence from this era, like city directories, that might offer complementary data, and could be included in analyzing and using this data. But just the Roosevelt book alone is something unusual. A city directory will tell you about the joiners, or guilders, in the city, but the ledger book actually demonstrates the way that the artisans and consumers of Manhattan, and beyond, were interconnected. It also shows that the range of people involved in commerce was different than what the city directory, or a census enumeration, might indicate, as it includes people that might be otherwise invisible. This highlights, for me, the difference between presenting the data, alone as an effort to convey information, and the actions involved in using it, or interpreting it, to say something about another era.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 [1] The Daily Advertiser (New York, New York) 24 May 1793, p. 1;

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 [2] Longworth’s City Directory of New-York, 1795, p. 183;

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 [3] NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission. “90-94 Maiden Lane.” [Designation report] New York, 1989.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 [4] “Yesterday Fire Maiden Lane” New-York Gazette (New York, New York) 11 February 1809, p. 3;

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 [5] New-York American (New York, New York) 18 August 1840, p. 3;

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 [6] Dilworth’s Book-Keeper’s Assistant (1803) . Dilworth’s taught the basics of the “Italian Way” of stating credit and debtor, the method, used by Roosevelt in his ledger book.  Copies of this book were sold by T.B. Jansen, the stationer and bookseller, where Roosevelt purchased the book used for his alphabet, or index, to his ledger.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 [7] Publius. The Federalist, on the New Constitution (New York, George F. Hopkins, 1802).

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0  

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 roosevelt-ledger-dh

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0  

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0

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  1. Posted November 16, 2016 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Mary, it’s been exciting to see your project grow in the past couple of weeks. There’s a lot of open-ended questions that your dataset presents, and you’ve done quite a bit to try to get a sense of where the challenges are. I would strongly encourage you to look at other projects related to transcription and digitization of historical ledgers as you move ahead. In particular, Katherine Tomasek’s work ( may be helpful to you. Here’s her project site as well: Looking forward to next steps!

  2. Posted November 19, 2016 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Mary, Lisa’s suggestion is a good one. It’s always a good idea to see how others have handled similar datasets of historical materials. I was pleased with the final paragraph at the end of the post where you attempted to say what kinds of insights or knowledge you might derive from systematically analyzing the data in the ledger rather than the casual ways most historians would approach this kind of data. That said, I wasn’t entirely clear what you were trying to say about comparing the information in the ledger with that contained in city directories. In what ways is the ledger “better” data than city directories? One potentially fruitful approach, something that I spent a lot of time doing myself, was tracing individuals into city directories. One thing that would tell you was how geographically mobile individuals were in this post-Revolution era as the national government is coming into being and moving from NYC to Washington DC. The city directories can sometimes provide additional personal info on individuals that your ledger may not contain. And as I mentioned in my office you might want to use Burrows and Wallace’s Gotham to help set the broader context of the city’s history in those years.

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