150-year-old book of voters found

150-year-old book of voters discovered in courthouse

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It’s a small, weathered booklet, no more than a centimeter thick. The 150-year-old book, a bright yellow and stained around the edges, sits in the Washington County elections office. Little do most people know, it’s a small piece of Washington County’s history.


The well-worn booklet is the List of Voters in Cecil Township, dated Oct. 3, 1863. Larry Spahr, the director of elections, said the book was found in an old ballot box room when the courthouse was cleaned out a few years ago.


“(We) kept it here as a matter of record and didn’t want to destroy it or lose it,” he said.


Spahr said this was not the first time he had seen a book like the List of Voters. “I’d seen copies that were similar in record ... (that) we have stored for voter registration,” he said. The other copies he had seen had similar calligraphy and very precise handwriting.


The 150-year-old book lists the names of those people who voted in Cecil Township, and written on one of the pages of the book it says: “The following is a list of persons who have been assessed, since the last assessment to the commission with the (amount) of tax assessed on each…”


In 1863, only “white freemen” were allowed to vote. Though President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation the same year the book was published, former slaves were not allowed to vote until 1870, after the ratification of the 15th Amendment.


One of the last few pages in the List of Voters reads: “I do hereby certify that the foregivin list of the white freemen and qualified voters of Cecil Township who have been legally assessed within the year, is correct to the best of my knowledge and belief …”


This small bit of history will continue to sit in the elections office to serve as a matter of record, but Spahr said people can come in for a look and may even be able to use it to trace their family tree.


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