Contents and Arrangement Expanded View

Collection Overview

Creator:
Geddes, James, 1763-1838 and Geddes, James, 1763-1838
Title:
James Geddes Family Correspondence
Repository:
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
http://arks.princeton.edu/ark:/88435/s4655k65s
Dates:
1797-1879
Size:
1 box and 0.2 linear feet
Storage Note:
Firestone Library (mss): Box B-000995
Language:
English

Abstract

Consists of family correspondence of James Geddes (1763-1838), a Scottish American surveyor, civil engineer, salt manufacturer, judge, and politician who settled along Onondaga Lake in New York in the 1790s. Included is a detailed list of his expenses related to a 1804 land survey of locations in Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida, and Oswego counties in New York. Geddes's correspondence, mostly dating from the 1820s and 1830s, pertains to his engineering and surveying work, politics, family matters, and other topics, and includes detailed observations he recorded on local weather patterns, plant life, and topography.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Description:

This collection consists of a group of family correspondence of New York surveyor, civil engineer, and politician James Geddes (1763-1838), along with a document accounting Geddes's expenses for an 1804 survey he conducted in Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida, and Oswego counties in New York.

Most prominently represented in the collection are letters James Geddes wrote to his family members in the late 1820s and 1830s, in which he discusses engineering and surveying; his views on contemporary politics; family matters and gossip; observations on local weather, topography, and plant life; and other topics. Most letters are addressed either individually or collectively to his nephews and nieces living in Michigan and Pennsylvania, including John Geddes (1801-1889), Robert Geddes (1795-1866), Jane Geddes (1804-1882), and William Geddes (1802-1877). Another is addressed to his brother John Geddes (1770-1840). James Geddes's letters to his family are filled with detailed observations about meteorological patterns, topographical features, local plants, and the suitability of various regions for habitation; often including charts of daily high and low temperatures he recorded and long narrative descriptions of natural and geographical characteristics of the land he was surveying. Geddes discusses the health of various family members, their travels, as well as his disgust with family members settling in Missouri due to his opposition to slavery. There are also several letters to James Geddes from his brother Robert Geddes (1771-1832), regarding selling land bequeathed by a relative, a comparison of sowing native versus European crops, and a variety of political issues, including the banking system, a caucus at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the construction of the Union Canal in Pennsylvania, and a political controversy between supporters of William Findlay (1768–1846) and Joseph Hiester (1752-1832), both of whom served as governors of Pennsylvania between 1817 and 1823. Letters of others that also shed light on James Geddes's life include a 1797 letter to his brother Robert Geddes from William Sawyer, in which Sawyer remarks on James Geddes's assignment to survey the Onondaga Salt Springs Reservation; as well as a 1879 letter from James Geddes's biographer Norman Geddes to another relative, which includes a nine-page genealogy of the Geddes family that traces back to Scottish and Irish ancestors.

The document titled "Expenses of Surveying unappropriated Lands in August, September, October & November 1804" provides a thorough accounting of James Geddes's expenses on labor, lodging, provisions, and equipment for surveying Pompey, Manlius, Camillus, Marcellus, Lysander and Hannibal, the Oneida Lake Islands and Cicero, and Brutus and the Seneca Islands in New York. The survey was conducted as part of a plan to lay out and improve a road to pass through the Onondaga Salt Springs Reservation. A summary section enumerates, for each location, the number of days employed in surveying as compared to days employed in transcribing. The entries for each expense are often detailed and provide information on how many assistants were present, where they slept and for how many nights, and the food and drink they consumed, which frequently included items like whiskey, rum, beer, and chocolate.

Arrangement

Arranged chronologically.

Collection Creator Biography:

Geddes, James, 1763-1838

James Geddes (1763-1838) was a Scottish American settler, born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, who worked as a surveyor, civil engineer, salt manufacturer, judge, and politician. He lived briefly in Kentucky and worked as a school teacher before settling in Onondaga County, New York, near Syracuse, where he erected a salt manufactory on the west shore of Onondaga Lake in 1796. This land had been designated by the State of New York as the Onondaga Salt Springs Reservation after the Onondaga Nation was forced to cede its lands to the United States under the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1784). Geddes was hired by the State of New York in 1797 to survey the Onondaga Salt Springs Reservation and lay out the first road through Salt Point (later known as Salina), New York, as well as to lay out and improve another road through the reservation in 1804.

Geddes's friend Simeon De Witt, the New York State Surveyor General, appointed him to make the first surveys of the route of the Erie Canal in 1808; he was named chief engineer of the Erie Canal project in 1816 and remained involved until construction of the canal was completed in 1825. In the 1820s and 1830s, Geddes contributed as a surveyor, engineer, or consultant to numerous other infrastructure and transportation projects including the Champlain Canal in New York; the Cumberland and Oxford Canal in Maine; the Ohio and Erie Canal and the Miami and Erie Canal in Ohio; the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in Maryland; the canal system for the State of Pennsylvania; and the First Welland Canal in Ontario, Canada.

In addition to his surveying and civil engineering work, Geddes also held various public offices. After studying law, he was appointed justice of the peace in 1800, associate justice in 1809, and judge for Onondaga County's court of common pleas in 1812. He represented Onondaga County for two terms in the New York State Assembly, from 1803 to 1804, and later, from 1821 to 1822. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives as a Federalist in 1812 and served one term from 1813 to 1815.

The area of Onondaga County where James Geddes settled and died was renamed Geddes in his honor in 1848.


Geddes, James, 1763-1838

James Geddes (1763-1838) was a Scottish American settler, born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, who worked as a surveyor, civil engineer, salt manufacturer, judge, and politician. He lived briefly in Kentucky and worked as a school teacher before settling in Onondaga County, New York, near Syracuse, where he erected a salt manufactory on the west shore of Onondaga Lake in 1796. This land had been designated by the State of New York as the Onondaga Salt Springs Reservation after the Onondaga Nation was forced to cede its lands to the United States under the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1784). Geddes was hired by the State of New York in 1797 to survey the Onondaga Salt Springs Reservation and lay out the first road through Salt Point (later known as Salina), New York, as well as to lay out and improve another road through the reservation in 1804.

Geddes's friend Simeon De Witt, the New York State Surveyor General, appointed him to make the first surveys of the route of the Erie Canal in 1808; he was named chief engineer of the Erie Canal project in 1816 and remained involved until construction of the canal was completed in 1825. In the 1820s and 1830s, Geddes contributed as a surveyor, engineer, or consultant to numerous other infrastructure and transportation projects including the Champlain Canal in New York; the Cumberland and Oxford Canal in Maine; the Ohio and Erie Canal and the Miami and Erie Canal in Ohio; the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in Maryland; the canal system for the State of Pennsylvania; and the First Welland Canal in Ontario, Canada.

In addition to his surveying and civil engineering work, Geddes also held various public offices. After studying law, he was appointed justice of the peace in 1800, associate justice in 1809, and judge for Onondaga County's court of common pleas in 1812. He represented Onondaga County for two terms in the New York State Assembly, from 1803 to 1804, and later, from 1821 to 1822. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives as a Federalist in 1812 and served one term from 1813 to 1815.

The area of Onondaga County where James Geddes settled and died was renamed Geddes in his honor in 1848.

Collection History

Acquisition:

Purchase, 2017 (AM 2018-5).

Appraisal

No materials were separated during 2017 processing.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Kelly Bolding in August 2017. Finding aid written by Kelly Bolding in August 2017.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to RBSC Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.

Credit this material:

James Geddes Family Correspondence; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
http://arks.princeton.edu/ark:/88435/s4655k65s
Location:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184
Storage Note:
Firestone Library (mss): Box B-000995