Mysteries of the Archive

“1 Horse taken by the Indians”

“50 do. potatoes taken in my cellar by the American troops”

These are just a sampling from an itemized bill of goods that Benoit Chapoton sent to the United States government in 1824. Unfortunately, it is not accompanied by any textual information. Who was Chapoton and why did he think the federal government was responsible for reimbursing him $471 (that’s over $11,000 in 2012 dollars)? Was he ever compensated?

Another mystery is that the document is dated 1824, but according to the invoice everything was taken during the year of 1813. So why was this bill created 11 years later?

It appears that Chapoton was a very unlucky man. He lost multiple horses, bushels of apples, barrels of cider, hens, vinegar and a gun. Maybe this was related to the War of 1812 or perhaps he was just in the wrong place at all the wrong time.

As an archivist, a fun part of the job is trying to solve historical mysteries. At first glance this document looks like a simple invoice written in artful script. However, upon further inspection, it tells a strange story and prompts many questions. It is enigmas like these, that make working in archives an adventure.

– Jackie Zimmerman, guest blogger and graduate student at Wayne State University.

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