Curtis Gilbert Account Book
Dates: 1821-1823
Accession Number: 991012B
Donor: Vigo County Historical Museum
Description: One account book in a flat storage box


Curtis Gilbert was born in Middletown, Connecticut on June 8, 1795. He played an integral role in the establishment and growth of Vigo County and Terre Haute.

Like many people in the early nineteenth century, Curtis Gilbert left Connecticut to "seek his fortune" out west, traveling through New York and Pennsylvania before eventually finding a job in Cincinnati, Ohio in December 1814. The Bailey, Green and Bailey general store hired Gilbert on as a clerk. Gilbert must have very quickly demonstrated his entrepreneurial and managerial skills because shortly after he started working for Bailey, the two men opened a store in Vincennes, Indiana which Gilbert managed. In the fall of 1815, Bailey asked Gilbert to establish another store at Fort Harrison (near present-day Terre Haute). Gilbert landed at Fort Harrison on December 20, 1815, thus beginning his long association with Terre Haute. Bailey and Gilbert formed a partnership, with Bailey as distributor and Gilbert as store manager. The men shared the profits equally. In 1816, the partnership with Bailey expired and Gilbert formed a new partnership with a man named Andrew Brooks which lasted until 1818.

Undoubtedly because of his natural talents, the business acumen he acquired working for Bailey, Green and Bailey in Cincinnati and in Vincennes, and as the primary (perhaps the only) merchant at Fort Harrison, Curtis Gilbert had accumulated more wealth than most people in Vigo County. His wealth enabled him to finance the purchase of land on which he erected the first two-story frame building in the county at the northeast corner of Ohio and Water Streets. (When constructed in 1818, the first story of the house was used as the post office, the second story was used as the courthouse until construction was completed on another courthouse in 1822.) Through the years Gilbert purchased several lots of land in three townships within Vigo County, eventually owning 280 acres east of Terre Haute and 300 acres in Sugar Creek Township. In 1843, Gilbert left Terre Haute to take up residence on his farm just east of the city.

During his early years in Terre Haute as a prospering merchant, Gilbert also became renowned for a high degree of honesty and fairness and was frequently called upon by his fellow citizens to serve in increasingly important positions during his time in Vigo County. His first appointment was as Fort Harrison's postmaster. Gilbert held the office until October 1818 when Vigo County was legally established as a county. The post office was then moved from Fort Harrison to the two-story frame building at Ohio and Water Streets. Gilbert was then elected, in 1818, to the first of three consecutive 7-year terms as Vigo County Clerk, serving from 1818 to 1839. The clerkship included the duties of county recorder and auditor. In that same year of 1818 he was appointed judge advocate of the First Brigade of the Indiana Militia. In September, 1824, Gilbert was elected to the board of trustees of the first Vigo County Public Library which operated with private donations. The library, which was open on Tuesdays and Saturdays, soon failed due to lack of financial support from its private donors.

In 1832, a majority of the 4000 inhabitants of Terre Haute voted to incorporate as a town with a president and a board of trustees. In February, 1838, Terre Haute revised its town charter, electing a mayor and 10 councilmen. Curtis Gilbert was one of the first members of the city council, was reelected in 1838 and left office voluntarily in 1839. As a member of the first city council, he served on the committee that selected the site for the city's first firehouse.

Gilbert also participated in the establishment of the Vigo County branch of the Indiana State Bank in 1834, serving on the first board of directors. He was president of the bank from 1845 to 1849 (resigning because of ill health) and again from 1850 to 1853. When the bank's charter expired, the bank's directors prevailed upon him to return for a third time as bank president for the purpose of concluding the bank's affairs. According to Bradsby, "so successfully was this task performed that it added, if that were possible, to his reputation for financial skill, integrity, and energy." (Bradsby, History of Vigo County, p. 140)

Closing up the State Bank's Terre Haute branch was Curtis Gilbert's last public service to Terre Haute and Vigo County. Gilbert spent the last two decades of his life managing his private affairs. From 1871 to 1877, Gilbert spent the winter months in Palma Sola, Florida at the residence of his daughter. He died there on October 28, 1877, survived by seven of his ten children.

Curtis Gilbert married Catherine Allen, daughter of General Peter B. Allen, on September 15, 1819. Catherine Allen Gilbert and her infant child died on February 6, 1821. He married schoolteacher Mary C. King on November 26, 1834 and the couple had ten children. Mary Gilbert died October 20, 1858.

In his history of the county, Bradsby quotes an unidentified friend of Curtis Gilbert: "Curtis Gilbert was a pioneer here. He was the first clerk in this county. His fine, correct, neat, well-kept records will never cease to attract attention. He was essentially accurate in all he did. He was of medium size, thoughtful and serious looking, and exceedingly regardful of the sensibilities of his fellow-citizens. No man perhaps ever lived and died in Vigo County more universally respected than this firm, earnest and honest man." (Bradsby, p. 141)

Content and Scope of Collection

This ledger was transferred to the Archives from the Vigo County Historical Museum in a folder labeled "Curtis Gilbert Account Book 1821-1823". A letter and a newsclipping were found inside the ledger.

Based on the dates covered in this ledger, it does not seem to be for any business owned or operated by Gilbert. According to the historical records used to compile the information in the Biography section above, Gilbert's career as owner/manager of a general store seems to have ended when he dissolved his partnership with Andrew Brooks in 1818 and took on the responsibilities of Vigo County Clerk.

The ledger seems to have been used for two purposes, with entries being posted at both ends of the ledger. One use was as an account ledger running several pages in length. The ledger lists the credits and debits of many early Terre Hauteans including (but not limited to) Curtis Gilbert, Abraham Markle, Charles Dickson, John Jenckes, Lambeth Dickson, Daniel Jenckes, Ichabod Wood, Ezekiel Buxton, and Charles Modesitt.

The other use was labeled at the opposite end of the book as "List notes & accts Left With C Gilbert" and the year 1822.

It is difficult to decipher much of the contents of this ledger.

A letter and a newspaper clipping were found inside the ledger. The letter is dated September 20, 1864 and was written by R.J. Gilman to Demas Deming, another of the early settlers of Terre Haute. The news clipping is a recipe for bottling grape juice. Neither item seems to pertain to the ledger.