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Abduhl Rahhaman’s Story

One of our long term projects involves making sense of the many documents boxed together (years ago) and labeled “Miscellaneous Letters.” This morning I found another gem in the collection.  It does not have an accession number, nor do we have any idea as to its provenance. Regardless, it is quite an interesting read.

Abduhl Rahhaman, Miscellaneous Letters, R, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Click to enlarge the image. You may come and view this in person, too. Visit our webpage for hours and directions.

Dear Sir

Between 1865 and 1868, naturalist John Burroughs maintained correspondence with S.W. Adam of Canaan, Connecticut. The collection, now among our manuscripts (Ms 78678), is primarily letters from Burroughs to Adam, with a few written by Adam. While the bulk of their conversation pertains to birds, Burroughs managed to unwittingly stumble into a side conversation.

As the exchange began, all of Burroughs’ letters were’ addressed to S. W. Adam, Esq. He started each letter, “Dear Sir.” A couple of months into the correspondence, Adam wrote, “In conclusion you will allow me to say, that although somewhat of an advocate for ‘woman’s rights’ in my own family, I have not yet attained the position to demand the affix Esq. to my name!” The letter was signed Sarah W. Adam.

“Dear Madam,” Burroughs replied. “Is that right? Really I am very stupid, but how was I to know. I had said to myself my Canaan correspondent was a clergyman. I hardly know from what I drew my influence but such was my impression. But better than that it is a lady.” The remainder of the letter was once again about birds.

Burroughs was closer to getting it right. A couple letters later, he finally did.

Dear Miss Adam, I owe this to my good friend Mr. Benton. He assures me that you really are neither a Mr. nor a Madam but a veritable young lady, which seems quite improbable considering your tastes, as I have never known a lady old or young whom I thought had a deep and permanent love for nature or natural objects.

Burroughs just could not believe a young lady would be interested in topics such as taxidermy.

Adam and Burroughs did not correspond over the winter. Adam, in her next letter, began by mentioning that she did not see many winter birds. A couple pages later, in the midst of discussing Warblers, she wrote, “I saw your friend Mr. Benton, and took him to task for disabusing your mind of the idea that I was a ‘clergyman,’ able to shoot the Birds!” Two pages later, Adam again breaks from the bird discussion.

Here let me call you to account for your slander on my sex in yr. last letter – wherein you speak of knowing no ‘woman young or old who has a deep and permanent love for nature.’ Truly, you must have spent all your days in Washington or some more terrible place, if any such can be named. I will pardon you on the first sign of penitence.

From there Adam segued into an experience with frogs.

Penitence was offered in Burroughs’ reply.

I did not mean to say that a lady could not have a deep & permanent love of nature; I only meant to say that I had never known any such. Every lady professes the greatest love of nature but I find it does not go very deep. Do they go to the woods at all seasons and alone? That is my test.

“I am glad you apply such a mild test,” Adam wrote in her next letter, “to an ‘earnest love of nature’ – that of visiting the woods alone! Surely there must be a good many men among women, who can bear it. ” She admitted, though, she knew few.

Though the conversation would continue for at least another two years, Adam and Burroughs kept their discussion to birds, frogs, and nature in general. Burroughs probably never made assumptions again as to the gender of a writer!

John Burroughs letter to Sarah W. Adam, 1865 July 24, Ms 78678. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

This collection is open for research. Come visit!

From Connecticut to Hawaii

Aloha from Sarah Oliver, Summer Archives Intern at CHS! I started my internship at the Connecticut Historical Society in late May, just two weeks after completing my freshman year at Vassar College. Having never worked in a research center before, I had no idea what to expect. I was greeted by smiling, welcoming faces, then jumped right into researching the connection between Connecticut and Hawaii. I have headed down into the stacks, through the manuscript library, and leafed through artifacts, only to find a wealth of information. There are boxes of correspondences, lithographs from Captain Cook’s voyage, newspaper articles written by a Seminary teacher, annual reports, and lists of donors; pretty much a little bit of everything. I was even just notified of a painting of Honolulu from the 1850s . I cannot wait until I get to explore more!

In 1820, a group of missionaries, including New Haven’s Reverend Hiram Bingham and three other Connecticut residents, set sail for the Sandwich Islands, hoping to establish a long-standing mission in the foreign islands. Not only were they successful in converting the native people, but the Sandwich Islands Mission educated many native Hawaiians, teaching English and transcribing the Hawaiian language into a systematic written word. The mission grew exponentially, sending many succeeding companies to the islands for decades to follow.

This is a lithograph from “Incidents of a Whaling Voyage” by Francis Allyn Olmstead. Perhaps this is what the Connecticut missionaries saw upon their arrival in the Sandwich Islands!

Many of the missionaries were from our home state of Connecticut! Our manuscripts collection holds letters and diaries from some of these missionaries, including Titus Coan, a preacher in the 7th Company, and Amos Cooke, a teacher who founded the Royal School in Hawaii, an institution that educated Hawaiian royals and still exists today. The letters and diaries contain information about daily life: the bouts of sickness that the Cooke family faced, Reverend Coan’s children and his hopes to send his eldest son to Yale College. Some send birthday wishes, some discuss the details of wills, and almost all of them mention their passion for the work they are doing in Hawaii, but their homesickness for Connecticut.

This excerpt from a letter that Amos Cooke wrote to his sister Mary back in Danbury is typical of the letters missionaries would send to their families.

We also have books that tell us about the missionaries. The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) kept yearly reports, some of which are on file, including the 1820 report that sent Reverend Bingham and the Pioneer Company to the Sandwich Islands. Incidents of a Whaling Voyage describes a whaler’s journey through the Sandwich Islands and is even mentioned in one of Amos Cooke’s letters home!

The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) was responsible for organizing the mission to the Sandwich Islands, along with missions across Asia, the Western United States, and various other Pacific Islands. This is the 1820 Annual Report which recounts the details of the Pioneer Company’s journey to the Sandwich Islands.

“Incidents of a Whaling Voyage” recounts whaler Francis Allyn Olmstead’s voyage through the Pacific Islands, including chapters about the Sandwich Islands mission families. The book also includes pages of information about Hawaiian geography and culture.

In old copies of the Hartford Courant, there is a series of articles written by Carrie P. Winters, a teacher at the Kawaiahao Seminary for Girls in Honolulu. Carrie writes about major historical events, commenting expressively on the overthrow of the Hawaiian government and the controversy over annexation. She also writes articles about Hawaiian culture, lifestyle, and scenery. Her articles always include sketches of the islands, which give us a better picture of what life might have been like.

While many missionaries from Connecticut traveled to Hawaii, there were also native Hawaiians who came to Connecticut, including Henry Obookiah, the man whose mind sparked the idea for a mission to the Sandwich Islands. Obookiah came to New Haven as a refugee and showed the people of Connecticut how pious and educated a man who was not white could be. While Obookiah died before he could return to Hawaii and preach, his legacy established the Foreign Mission School, a school in Cornwall, Connecticut that aimed to educate minorities so that they could return to their homelands and spread Protestantism.

This lithograph of Obookiah was taken from his biography, written in 1819. The biography tells Obookiah’s story, from his turbulent childhood in Hawaii to his peaceful death in Connecticut. There are excerpts of letters written by Obookiah himself as well as commentary from his peers.

Bicycling in Hartford

Ladies Cycle Club of Hartford, Fall 1890

Hartford has a long history of bicycling, both that of its citizens riding and of manufacturing. To celebrate National Bike Month I thought we would take a look at some of the bicycling related manuscripts in the CHS collections.

Colt Bicycle Club

Colt bicycle club records, 1890-1896, Ms 56356. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

At the meeting of the Colt Bicycle Club on February 29, 1892, uniforms were on the agenda. Mr. Burch,  reporting for the Uniform Committee, announced the recommendation of a sample from Hartford’s Brown and Thompson department store. The committee consulted with tailors and the club suit, coat and pants only, would cost approximately $10.00 to $13.50. Not everyone was thrilled with this idea, since some members already had decent suits. Another committee was formed to find out how many would in fact purchase new suits. Whether to have a cap and sweater as part of the uniform was also discussed. Including those would raise the price to at least $21.50. Still, some wanted to have a sweater, and it was decided that question would be asked along with whether members would be purchasing a suit at all.  At a special meeting held on March 21, it was reported that 38 members were interested in new suits, without a sweater, and at a cost of no more than $20.

The club was organized in 1890, though the minutes we have only cover 1892 to 1896. All of the minutes are handwritten, and some are on official club stationary. The Colt club was not the only one in Hartford.  Scanning through the records, the Columbia Club is mentioned several times, including this instance on August 29, 1892:

Colt bicycle club records, 1890-1896, Ms 56356. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Colt bicycle club records, 1890-1896, Ms 56356. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

We still have bicycling clubs in the area. Hopefully a black list isn’t necessary!

Repairs and Service
Another commonality between cycling a century ago and cycling today is the need to repair bicycles.  The account book of a repair shop in the Mystic, Connecticut area listed charges for tires, handlebars, saddles, bells, and other accessories. A sheet found within the account book demonstrates that the shop purchased tires and other items from from Hartford’s Pope Manufacturing Company.

Bicycle repair shop account book, 1899-1900, Ms 95329. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

As found in Bicycle repair shop account book, 1899-1900, Ms 95329. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Lastly, Columbia Sales Department of the American Bicycle Company (owned by Col. Pope) was anxious to please their customers. Clarence Stirling, according to the 1900 United States Census, was an electrician. When it was necessary for American Bicycle to adjust a repair bill, they sent a typed letter to his workplace in the Courant Building.

American Bicycle Company letter, 1901 August 5, Ms 64029. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

In addition to our manuscripts, we also have a number of bicycling related photographs in our collections. Many of these may be viewed on Connecticut History Online. The manuscripts shown above are all open for research. Ride your bike over and visit.

This season several of our CHS employees are participating in the National Bike Challenge. If you are one of our volunteers or interns, feel free to join the History Nuts team!

What is his name?

In 1752, William Hooker purchased a Negro Man from Willis & Stocker. An image of the bill, which is part of our collections, is shown below. Can you make out the name of the Negro Man?

Bill to William Hooker, 1752, Ms 69557. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

The last four letters are “ford.” We have some thoughts, but are uncertain about the first five.

What do you think the first five letters are?

Leave a comment if you have an idea. As usual, this piece is open for research. Come visit us! Don’t forget, you may search our research center holdings anytime via our online catalog, HistoryCat.

New Fort for New London Harbor

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the War of 1812. That summer, as the war got underway, Secretary of War William Eustis wrote to Capt. C. D. Wood in New London, Connecticut. “Sir, You will immediately commence the repairs of the magazine at Fort Trumbull and the block house at Fort Griswold and will forward estimates with your opinion of the enclosed plan & works for the harbour of new London.”

Below is the plan Eustis enclosed. Rarely do we find anything so colorful among our manuscripts!

Plan for New London harbor, 1812, Ms 84137. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

The scale in the upper right corner of the document shows that the scale is 20 feet to one inch. Various letters, listed in the lower left corner, denote distances between points, a well, and magazines for powder and fixed ammunition. Structures visible are the officers quarters and barracks. The plan is on a single sheet of paper, approximately 11×17 inches. An image of the profile is on the reverse side.

Plan for New London harbor, 1812, Ms 84137. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Fort Trumbull, in New London, was in fact rebuilt in 1812. We do not know what Wood thought of the plan, nor if it was ultimately used. The fort that was built was torn down in 1839, replaced by the structure that still stands.

This collection is open for research. Come visit!

Civil War Substitutes

During the Civil War, men in certain states, who did not want to fight, were able to pay for a substitute. This is what F. Bill, a Connecticut resident, had in mind when he wrote home to H.C. Holmes.

(Click the above images to enlarge)

Bill was writing from Cleveland, Ohio. He intended to buy a substitute there, and bring the person with him back to Connecticut. The laws of Ohio, however, aimed to prevent this. To avoid trouble, Bill was also contemplating finding his substitute in Buffalo, New York. He had heard it was easier to find an alien (non-citizen) there.

How did Bill fare? We do not know. The collection contains only the one letter. H. C. Holmes seems to be Hiram C. Holmes, of Stonington, Connecticut. A collection of his papers is held by the G.W. Blunt White Library at Mystic Seaport. In the finding aid, F. Bill is listed as one of Holmes’ correspondents.

Below is a transcript of the letter.

                   Cleveland Aug 2, ’64
H.C. Holmes
Dr Bro,
Yours of the 30th ult
Is received, I am glad you
wrote me of the vote at town
meeting as it will make some
diff- with the price I pay for
sub- I shall get one to take
home with me if I can at a
reasonable price. The difficulty
is to get them East. Can get
plenty here at from $500 to
$700_ I can procure colored
subs lowest I think. I shall
if can make arrangements to
bring East several subs if can
avoid breaking state laws +
getting caught
. They are
taking them from this state

to York state, thus violating law
of O. I must see what can
be done here- + may stop
in Buffalo, as I understand
aliens are obtained
there at more reasonable
rates than in this place +
it is nearer Ct_ Do I
understand that they are
paying $700 in addition
to town + state bounties_
Wish you would write
me if so.
Yours truly
F. Bill

Making Connections: Ann Frances (Darling) Ibbotson

Though I have not specifically mentioned our NHPRC funded project lately, it certainly continues. Yesterday we completed our 2400th record. That leaves us with 600 to complete in the next seven months, definitely an achievable goal. Since we began this project in September 2008, over 5400 collections have been cataloged (3000 during the first two-year grant, the current 2400 in the second grant period). These days, when I head into the stacks to find manuscripts to work with, there are so many fresh, acid-free envelopes and Hollinger boxes lining the shelves that it is more of a hunt to find uncatalogued material. But I do find it!

As I combed the shelves yesterday I found a slim manilla (very acidic and therefore harmful to collections) envelope bearing the name of Ann Frances Darling Ibbotson, and stating that it contained letters to her parents. It did indeed contain those letters, and a few other items as well. My initial reaction, though, was to be perplexed about the relation of the items to Connecticut.  Why do we have a collection of letters being sent from England to New York? However, it is this sort of mystery that makes this job exciting.

Following an afternoon of research, I figured out the Connecticut connections. Ann Frances Darling Ibbotson is a descendent of  the Ely family, who first settled in Lyme, Connecticut in the 1600s. Her father, Thomas Darling, is said to have been of New Haven and New York. Ann Frances and Henry Ibbotson were married out of her father’s New Haven house. Later, the Ibbotsons’ son, Henry William, married Lucy Matilda Cary and settled in her hometown, Portland, Connecticut.

Of the early letters (1832, 1833 and 1840), three describe life for Ann Frances, a bride in her husband’s native England. She obviously misses her family, and in October 1833 wrote to her mother,

Wherever we are, under every variety of circumstances in which we may be placed, ones thoughts naturally turn to home,_ the abode of our earliest friends with feelings of the liveliest affection: is it not so? I know my mother can, from her own experience, appreciate  my feelings, for doubtless after she was left in a strange country, altho among very dear friends, yet often, like me, did she long for the presence of her Parents, and in a thousand trivial matters to as a mother’s advice, and many a time the knowledge of what she approved determined her conduct.

She continues to share information about their travels and activities in England. In the same letter Ann Frances describes the reaction her black servant, Eliza, has been receiving.

She attracts great notice, and crowds gathered round her when she first went to chapel to look at the novel sight of a black woman, and many shook hands with her…Perhaps Eliza is more looked at on account of her appearing better dressed than the servants here, whose apparel is subject to the direction of their mistress.

I have not had time yet to completely read Ann Frances’ letters, but am certainly curious what other observations she has.

After 1833, the letters skip to 1840 when Ann Frances and her children have arrived in Brooklyn. Her next letter is written in 1882, from her home in Binghamton, New York, to her granddaughter Anne.

Aside from the genealogical connections, I was also able to connect these letters with items in our museum collections.

The CHS has two pairs of shoes and a pelerine owned by Ann Frances, including the pair she wore at her wedding on 23 July 1833. It is so great to be able to read Ann Frances’ thoughts on paper and also catch a glimpse of how she presented herself in public. Overall, we come away with a more complete image of this former Connecticut resident.

The shoes, pelerine, and Ann Frances (Darling) Ibbotson papers (Ms 71966) are open for research. A catalog record for the papers will be uploaded to our online catalog, HistoryCat, in early February. The shoes and pelerine may also be viewed on eMuseum. Come visit!

Gold Street and the Ancient Burying Ground

Gold Street after being widened (click to enlarge).

“But for you Gold Street would still be a blot on our beautiful city, and we all owe you a debt of gratitude. Now if those stables could go, there would be nothing to offend the eye when the street is finished.”

These words were written to Emily Seymour Goodwin Holcombe by Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt in June 1899 (Ms 66889). Mrs. Colt was responding to an invitation to be present at a ceremony that would be held on June 17th to mark the transfer of Gold Street land to the City of Hartford.

On February 5, 1895 Rev. George Leon Walker, pastor of Center Church, read a paper before the Connecticut Historical

Eastern end of Gold Street before widening (click to enlarge).

Society in which he recommended something be done to clean up the area around Gold Street and the Ancient Burying Ground.  As The Hartford Courant noted the following morning, “Few of the living of the present Hartford have ever set foot there or set eye there even. It is shut out from sight and it and its are forgotten.” An area such as that, the resting place of approximately 6000 citizens, deserved better.

The woman to take up the charge was Emily Seymour Goodwin Holcombe. A descendant of the founders of Hartford, Mrs. Holcombe was also Regent of the Ruth Wyllys Chapter of the

Western end of Gold Street (click to enlarge).

Daughters of the American Revolution. The work was done under the auspices of the DAR. In January 1897 Mrs. Holcombe and her committee appealed to the Court of Common Council, who passed the matter to the Streets Board. Soon after meeting with the Streets Board, the project was approved. Fundraising was swift and most of the money, almost $24,000, had been raised by October.

Even though the owners of the buildings on the north side of Gold Street were willing to sell, the destruction of those tenements did not begin till April 1899. Two months later, though, they were gone. The street had been widened, the cemetery cleaned up, and it was time to celebrate.

The Courant reported that the

dominant feeling of the great gathering ws one of gratitude that the shame of the old Gold Street, with all its uncanny and wicked associations, had vanished forever before the unremitting efforts of the women of the chapter and their friends, and that in its place there was a wide avenue, full of June sunshine, and that just where the line of the old rookeries backed up against Hartford’s precious but neglected God’s acre, there was the open of sweetness and light just tempered by the shade of a few trees that have withstood bad treatment and lived until their tall branches could once more drink in the warmth of the sun.

Bands played, speeches were given, and Mrs. Holcombe was presented with a cup for her efforts. The deeds for the property, purchased by the DAR, were formally presented to the City of Hartford.

Presentation of Gold Street deeds to the City.

In 1913 the Court of Common Council reserved space for Mrs. Holcombe’s own burial in the cemetery she worked so hard to preserve. She died at her home in Hartford on March 28, 1923.