From selling socks to insurance: Lucius J. Hendee

One of the aspects of my job that I truly enjoy is the unpredictable nature of the materials I work with. The other day I was skimming through the Hendee Family correspondence (Ms 69688).  Though in a relatively new box,  the folders were old, and I knew it had been some time since the collection was processed. Whoever started processing had also not finished.

As I skimmed through the unprocessed portion, I learned bits and pieces about Lucius J. Hendee’s life and career. A resident of Hebron, Connecticut, he worked with Abner Hendee until Abner’s death; was interested in politics; and for some time worked as a merchant, selling items such as wool socks.

From the 1850 Federal Census (click to enlarge)

The 1850 census confirmed that Hendee was a merchant in Hebron. According to the 1870 Federal Census, though, he lived in Hartford and was the President of Aetna Fire Insurance Company. Hendee was not a name I recognized, and from what I had seen, there was little indication that this man would have gone from selling socks to leading an insurance company.

1870 Census

From the 1870 Federal Census (Click to enlarge)

However, he did! A Google search led me to an August 1888 New York Times article about Hendee’s failing health. I then searched the Hartford Courant and found his obituary, printed on September 5, 1888. The scattered information I had about Hendee’s life became more coherent. Lucius J. Hendee was born in Andover, Connecticut in 1818. He worked with his uncle, Abner Hendee, an insurance agent for Aetna. According to the Courant, Lucius Hendee’s “faithfulness and success in the discharge of his duties in this agency attracted the attention of the officers of the company, and in 1861, when the secretaryship of the Aetna became vacant, he was elected to fill that responsible position.” Five years later he became Aetna’s president (both papers also mention that Hendee served in the Connecticut Senate and as Treasurer under Governor William A. Buckingham).

I never cease to be amazed how a few minutes of research can alter the value I place on a single sheet of paper.

Letter from Aetna

Letter from E. Ripley, Aetna Insurance Co., 1861, Hendee Family papers, Ms 69688. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Was this an interview for the Secretary position? There’s no way to know for sure, but certainly quite possible.

This collection is open for research and we hope you will come visit.

Those of you who have researched with us, what fun items have you found? Leave a comment; we’d love to hear!

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