Dollie McLean: From the West Indies to the Capital City

Born (Dollie) Clarice Helene Simmons in Antigua, West Indies, Dollie McLean was raised in Manhattan, later lived in the Bronx, and graduated from both the University of Hartford and FIT. Mrs. McLean has been an avid participant in the arts throughout her life, having performed off-Broadway as an actress and dancer with various organizations like the Negro Ensemble Company. Continue reading

George Washington’s Slave

Every once in a while I get a reference question that reinforces just how important our manuscript collections are. A woman from Vernon asked if we had the letter to Oliver Wolcott, Jr.  in which George Washington mentioned a runaway slave.  After a bit of searching, and using the finding aid to help guide me, I found it. I had no idea that this letter existed, although it has been published numerous times.

In the letter, dated 1 September [1796], Washington asked Wolcott to make some inquiries about a young slave girl who ran away from Philadelphia and was last seen in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The slave girl was the personal servant to Mrs. Washington, and he stated that they had raised her like a daughter and hence could not understand why she would want to run away. A transcription of the entire letter (3 pages) can be found in the book George Washington and Slavery: A Documentary Portrayal, available online through Google Books.

Washington wrote to his Secretary of the Treasury, Connecticut resident Oliver Wolcott, saying he was sending a description of a runaway slave girl. Ms Wolcott, Oliver Jr.

Washington wrote to his Secretary of the Treasury, Connecticut resident Oliver Wolcott, saying he was sending a description of a runaway slave girl. Ms Wolcott, Oliver Jr.

Wolcott's letters were at one time pasted to slips of paper that were then bound into a book-like form. The strip is very visible here.

Wolcott’s letters were at one time pasted to slips of paper that were then bound into a book-like form. The strip is very visible here.

Wolcott’s papers arrived at CHS in 54 bound volumes plus several boxes of material, much of it gathered by a grandson of his, George Gibbs. On the first page of the letter illustrated above you can see a volume and item number written in the upper left corner. That mark was made when the volumes of correspondence were dis-bound, thus preserving the”original” organization.

Wolcott served as Secretary of The Treasury in 1795 and was later elected Governor of Connecticut. As I saw in once article I read about Wolcott, what the Adams family is to Massachusetts,the Wolcott family is to Connecticut. The Oliver Wolcott Jr. Papers is an extensive collection and shows just how important Connecticut was to the formation of the United States in the years just after the Revolution. Ask for the Oliver Wolcott Jr. Papers finding aid in the Research Center if you would like to begin exploring Connecticut’s early Federal period history.

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.

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.

Alexander Carrington

Alexander Carrington was the patriarch of an African American family in Norwich, Connecticut. By profession Carrington was a cook, and his services were often used for events at halls in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. A scrapbook he created between 1882 and 1886 recently came to the Connecticut Historical Society. The scrapbook contains advertisements, tickets, ball programs and dance cards, programs for musical performances and for events held at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, correspondence, a hand-drawn business card, invitations, and menus.

Alexander Carrington was born in 1851 in Virginia and his wife Manzella was born in Maryland in 1857. They moved to Norwich in the 1870s and they had two children, Nanette and Alexander Harrison. While the children were growing up, Alexander worked as a cook for steamships and special events. The following illustrations show a letter of recommendation from the captain of the Steamship City of Norwich as to Carrington’s abilities and character, and a printed menu signed by Carrington, implying he was the cook for this particular party.


Menu signed by Alexander Carrington. Ms 101450 Carrington Scrpabook

Letter of recommendation for Alexander Carrington, 1882. Ms 101450 Carrington Scrapbook.

There are still many questions that need to be answered about Carrington based on items in the scrapbook. Who were the individuals who wrote to him on a regular basis? What was his relationship with the University of Massachusetts? Who are the two women in a photograph placed in the volume? How many of the invitations and dance cards and menus were for events Carrington attended as a guest, and how many represent his work as a cook? A terrific research project for someone interested in African American families in Connecticut at the end of the 19th century.

Additional information on the Carrington family and photographs of the children, Alexander, and Manzella can be found at

A letter from Lewis

With much of the U.S.  focused on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, it seems letters and diaries from soldiers are being discovered in attics on an almost daily basis. Obviously, however, not all letters are alike. That is why we were particularly excited when we learned that a letter written by a soldier serving with the 29th Connecticut Regiment of Infantry (Colored) was available. There is little known documentation of this historically significant regiment, so we were anxious to add it to our collection.

Lewis Hazard was born in Winchester, Connecticut, about 1840. He enlisted in Company G of the 29th Regiment on January 5, 1864, describing himself as a farmer living in  Glastonbury, Connecticut. This particular letter was written from Beaufort, South Carolina, on May 20, 1864, to his mother Louisa who was living in New Hartford, Connecticut.

First page of a letter from Lewis Hazard, May 24, 1864, to his mother, Ms 101259.

The letter reads, without any spelling or grammatical changes, in part,

“my Dear mother, i now take my pen in hand to Let you kno that I am as well as usal and bill is to and i must say to you that i am rdused [reduced] to the ranks [from corporal] and i Like my persisian [position] much better i am as i must say to you that the privates get the same pay as the oncomissioned officers do and i think that i had rather be a private for the oncomissioned officers have it heard [hard] to be running hear and there on gard and so on first corpral of the gard one day and corpral of the perleise [police] the other and so it keeps you A going and they say that Richmond is taken [untrue] we got the news yesterday the 19 teenth and the battries fired their cannons and the artilary fired to and they say General Butler took it with 12 thousands Blacks and yesterday we sined the pay rolle for 700 dollers from the Government and they say the state of connecticut is to pay us 600 and that will make us 13 dollers . . .”

Lewis was killed in action near Richmond on October 27, 1864.

We have a large collection of letters and diaries from Connecticut men who served in the Civil War. You can check our web site at to read a description of some of our collections, or check our library catalog and eMuseum databases on our web site to see what other materials, including more diaries and letters, as well as photographs, uniforms and military accouterments that we have available for research.

African-American Land Owners in 18th c. Simsbury

The Connecticut Historical Society’s website is Please visit the site to learn more about us! (Due to issues beyond our control the site is not currently listed with Google. )

And now back to our regularly scheduled blogging…

One of the collections I cataloged this week is the Joshua Holcomb papers. Holcomb was a landowner in Simsbury, Connecticut. His papers include farming accounts, some records about the local militia, estate inventories, and a number of property deeds. It was among the deeds that I found one for land sold to Holcomb by “London Negro.” Yes, a free, African-American man owned land in Simsbury, Connecticut in 1759.

Property deed (front), Joshua Holcomb papers, 1759-1816, Ms 41605. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

London Negro sold five acres of land in the Turkey Hills Society to Joshua Holcomb for £ 66.  The deed is a standard printed form, with language still in use today. The location of the land is handwritten, detailing the adjacent parcels and landowners.

An interesting addition to this deed is a handwritten mortgage. I will admit I have not had enough time yet to study this and completely understand what is happening. It appears, though, that London Negro is paying Joshua Holcomb for something over the course of the next three years.

Property deed (back), Joshua Holcomb papers, 1759-1816, Ms 41605. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

According to Mary L. Nason, who published African-Americans in Simsbury, 1725-1925, there were two Londons in the region who owned property. They were “London [Wallis], ‘negro lately slave to Isaac Owen of Windsor, deceased, now a free negro’ and a London Freebody, ‘negro of Capt. Nathaniel Holcomb and wife.'” Nason states that London Wallis served Mrs. Mary Griffin, but was able to build a home for his family in Tariffville and eventually buy the land. By the late 1750s he was free, and able to purchase more land. London Freebody lived near Simsbury’s Barn Door Hills but was not very successful in his business dealings. Freebody ended up in debtors prison. There were too many obstacles for Wallis and Freeman in the business world and, according to Nason, neither succeeded. Eventually both men lost their property (Nason, 5).

The deed, and the rest of the collection, are open for research. Please visit!


Two letters were brought to our attention yesterday by our volunteer, Raquel, who is processing the Rowland Family letters, 1764-1860 (Ms 66917). The collection measures 1.5 linear feet (3 boxes) and contains correspondence to and from several members of the family.

In November 1827, Mary Elizabeth Rowland (1805-1845), living in Exeter, New Hampshire, wrote a letter to her cousin Frances “Fanny” Bliss Rowland in Windsor, Connecticut. Mary Elizabeth started off apologizing for the length of time between letters. It had been a long summer. She was having trouble attracting and keeping household help, and lamented being stuck in the house as much as she had been. The situation, though, was starting to improve.

We had a day or two ago a little boy + little girl added to our family in the capacity of servants. The damsel is a genuine blackey. She is nine years old and we take such a fancy to her we think of changing her name (Maria) to Rosetta. She is sprightly + we are most in love with her and if our patience is not spent soon we intend to educate her to suit us.

Apparently Mary Elizabeth’s patience did not run out. Thirteen years later Fanny received a letter from Rosetta, then attending Rev. Hiram H. Kellogg’s Young Ladies’ Domestic Seminary in Clinton, New York. These two letters do not provide any indication as to how Fanny and Rosetta met, though, Rosetta had just spent some time at Fanny’s and felt comfortable addressing the letter, “Affectionate friend.”

Rosetta wrote of learning to play the piano.
Miss A[ddington] is the young lady that gave me lessons on the piano forte. If you should have happen to have been there, you might have thought  it strange to see white, and [colored] in the parlor [together]without the least controversy. My Dear Miss A. I shall always love, ‘while memory lives in the heart.’ She has done much for me and I trust I shall ever be [grateful] for it. The further we go, we meet with different people. But, O!! when will this monster sin: prejudice be done away with.
Rosetta has encountered prejudice in both Connecticut and New York and, understandably, did not enjoy it in either state.

The letter ends with Rosetta writing that while she had been considering moving to the west, she had finally decided against it. “I cannot go where I have to get free papers. If I cannot live in free air, I do not wish to live at all.”