Passports, Papers, and Politics

Colonel Samuel Colt, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, is known as one of the greatest inventors and industrialists of the nineteenth century. He amassed a fortune manufacturing his well-known revolvers in Hartford and selling them in the United States and abroad. We have a sizeable collection of Colt’s papers at the CHS, and yesterday I stumbled upon a small batch that includes four of his passports and correspondence related to the 1860 presidential election.

Passports

Samuel Colt's passport (English)

Samuel Colt passport, 1855 (English), Ms 75018. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Two of the passports were issued in 1849 (one from the US Legation in England and the other from the Legation in France), the third in 1851, and the fourth in 1855. The 1849 and 1851 passports issued in England are written in French. By 1855, however, the Legation in England was issuing the documents in English. We can see on the English version of the 1855 passport that Colt was traveling with a servant. Apparently servants did not warrant their own passports.

Samuel Colt passport French

Samuel Colt passport, 1855 (French), Ms 75018. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Only the 1851 passport contains a description of Colt’s physical appearance (in French). All four are attached to leather, pocket-sized wallets with Colt’s name engraved in gold. Sometimes the stamps from each country were applied to the pages of the wallet. Other times, they were put directly on the passport.

Stamps on the back of the English 1855 passport

Samuel Colt passport, 1855 (English), Ms 75018. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

According to the passports, Colt traveled to France, Belgium, Germany, Prussia, and Austria. A 1856 passport, separated from its wallet and included with the political papers, indicates he also traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia. This should come as little surprise to those who have traveled Interstate 91 through Hartford and seen the Colt Armory, complete with its Russian-style onion dome.

Papers and Politics
During the summer of 1860, Colt was actively

Stamps on the 1855 passport (French)

Samuel Colt passport, 1855 (French), Ms 75018. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

involved in the presidential campaign of Stephen A. Douglas and running mate Herschel V. Johnson. The papers show that Colt financially supported Douglas and Johnson with a $250 donation in August. He corresponded with others in the area

about the campaign, including Augustus G. Hazard, founder of the Hazard Powder Company in Enfield, Connecticut. More notably, Colt worked directly with Douglas, as evidenced by the following telegram.

Telegraph to Sam Colt

Douglas-Colt telegraph, 1860, Ms 75018. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Colt’s papers also illustrate the split in the Democratic Party during the 1860 campaign.  Northern Democrats nominated Douglas, while Southern Democrats nominated James C. Breckinridge. In Connecticut, a convention held in New Haven nominated Breckinridge.  Colt and the electors in Hartford nominated Douglas, and soon received a letter from the New Haven group trying to convince them to switch their allegiance.  The New Haven group was not successful.

The collection ends with some papers sent to Colt’s wife, Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt a few years after her husband’s death. Mrs. Colt was a well known philanthropist and was active in a number of social causes. The secretaries of the Northern Ohio Sanitary Fair wrote to her, wondering if they might acquire some items for their fair from “the manufactory which the late Mr. Colt established, and which is the pride and boast of Hartford.” Though the sanitary fair is out of scope when compared with the passports and political discussion, the sentiment remains true today.

All of Samuel and Elizabeth Colt’s papers at the CHS are open for research. Visit in person, or make use of our new research services. Also new this summer, CHS is a Blue Star Museum. Please also check out our Facebook page and follow @ConnHistSoc on Twitter!

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