COLUMBIA (AP) — South Carolina’s oldest state government document — an almost 350-year-old deed for a lot at the original location of Charleston — is back in the state archives after a painstaking conservation.
The document dates to May 28, 1671, the year after English settlers landed at what is now the Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site, and is included in Records of the Secretary of the Province 1671-1673.
Those records and a companion volume Records of the Registrar of the Province 1673-1675 are comprised of 26 handwritten sheets recently conserved at the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Massachusetts.
Among the documents is an accounting of property owned by two men from Barbados forming a partnership to create a plantation. It lists items ranging from the value of their tools to the names of indentured servants.
While Charleston was founded at Abermarle Point in 1670, the present location of the city on the Charleston peninsula was settled 10 years later.
The documents were conserved over several months last year at a cost of $15,000 and returned to the state last December.
“I think it’s a tribute to all those people who came before who recognized the significance of all these public records and recognized the need to take care of them,” South Carolina Department of Archives and History Director Eric Emerson said this week.
“This is the first record. It’s really kind of the genesis of record-keeping in South Carolina and the genesis of the archives,” he said.
The department keeps state government records in temperature- and humidity-controlled vaults at its headquarters just outside Columbia.
It has an estimated 80 million documents, including such items as the state’s copy of the Bill of Rights ratified by state lawmakers in 1790 and the Ordinance of Secession passed when South Carolina seceded from the Union in 1861.
But the Records of the Secretary are the first documents of what would later become the South Carolina state government.
In those days, such things as recording deeds and wills were the responsibility of the state, said Charles Lesser, a retired department archivist and an expert on early colonial documents. Later those functions passed to South Carolina’s counties.
Seventy years ago the documents, which for many years had been kept in the heat and humidity of the Statehouse basement, were sent to Virginia to be preserved using what was then cutting edge technology — lamination with a sheet of acetate, Lesser said.
In recent decades conservators have determined such treatment did more harm than good as the acetate deteriorated over time.
In Massachusetts, among other steps, the laminate was removed with acetone, ethanol and water, the acid was removed from the paper and then the paper was lined on both sides with a special transparent tissue paper.
“A staff member accompanied it up there and a staff member brought it back,” Lesser said, noting the state wasn’t taking any chances with its records.
“This is the oldest government record that has survived here. This has been in state custody from 1671 until the present,” he said.