An eye for capturing history (through a lens)

In this age of smart phones and Instagram, photography and sharing photos is all within the palm of our hands. Most of us are equipped with cameras on our phones that eclipse the bulky cameras of yesterday on many levels. Continue reading

The CHS “Junk Drawer”

This post was written by Archives volunteer Marie Jarry.

All of us have that drawer at home for items we don’t know what else to do with–the junk drawer, the miscellaneous drawer. Perhaps you have a shoebox designated as such or even an entire closet. Well the Connecticut Historical Society has their own version of a miscellaneous box, only it’s approximately thirty boxes stuffed full of papers from another era. Some were tossed in the boxes after a flood a few decades ago. Others had been separated from their collections and were waiting to be reunited. Then there were items that nobody knew what else to do with.

Just a sample of the miscellaneous boxes!

When Barbara Austen, Florence  S. Marcy Crofut archivist here at  CHS, asked if I would like to make heads or tails of their miscellaneous manuscript collection, I jumped at the chance. Sure it was thirty boxes but my mind began to race with the possibilities.

What would be found in there? Perhaps a document signed by Abraham Lincoln? Or maybe some long forgotten copy of the Declaration of Independence? No, nothing as “glamorous” as that was found, though one of the first items I pulled out was a long-lost tax list of slaves in Hartford.  History isn’t just about the people and items who made headlines, it’s also about the everyday people and day-to-day activities that inform where we came from and why we do the things we do today.

Sometimes I found entire collections sitting in one box waiting to be cataloged. One of the most interesting was a collection of papers from a lawyer in Hartford named Andrew Broughel around the 1890’s. He had saved depositions from his cases, correspondence and bills. It was interesting to see what a couple getting divorced in 1897 had to argue over.

Another collection I found was created by the Connecticut Daughter’s of the Revolution Committee on Old Trails. From 1910-1930, they worked to preserve markers from the Old Boston Post Road. The collection contained hundreds of post cards, various maps and printed material. My favorite were little pictures of the “Madonna of the Trails” emblem that were “worn by anyone interested in the National Old Trails Road, the new Ocean to Ocean Highway.” They would cost you $1 each with all the proceeds going to the project.

Unfortunately, not everything in the miscellaneous boxes was as easy to catalog. There were hundreds of disparate letters, bills, promissory notes and poems that I had to try to make some sense of. I made detailed lists of names, places and dates from each item hoping to see some connections.

I began to notice I was accumulating a large number of letters from the town of Hampton addressed to Samuel Bennett and Harriet Spaulding. I figured these had to go together somehow. Now it was time for some detective work.

I first check the catalog at CHS to see if the person is already listed. If not, it’s on to and If I have the person’s name, town and rough estimate of the year, I can usually find out when they were born, who they married, when they died. Family and town books in the CHS research center are also helpful. Follow the breadcrumbs and you will often be surprised by what you find.

In the case of the Bennetts and Spauldings, I did discover there was already a William Bennett from Hampton in the catalog. Could he be related to Samuel? So I did some research on and lo and behold, the William Bennett in the CHS catalog was the father of the Samuel from my letters! Now I had to figure out if Harriet Spaulding was related to this family. Sure enough, she married Samuel.

I’d like to say I was able to process all the papers this easily, but it often does not end up that way. I still have hundreds of letters that don’t have enough identifying information to formally catalog, but I can say those thirty boxes have been culled down to two.  Maybe soon you’ll come in to CHS and check out an item rescued from the “junk drawer” of history.

Mary and Stephen Tilden: Marital Woes in the 1730s

“I do believe he hath committed ye sin of fornacation [sic] with Sarah Ellis,” explained Mary Tilden in a letter to the pastor of the First Church of Lebanon, Connecticut. Tilden wrote of her husband, Stephen, with whom she refused to live following his transgression. A committee of church members had been formed to advise her regarding this failure of duty on her part.

Divorce certainly was uncommon when Nicols wrote in 1732, but as remains true, not every relationship was successful. The letters and testimonies comprising the Mary Tilden court documents collection (Ms 71053-58) depict the tale of a woman jealous of her husband’s infidelity and the twists and turns of their relationship as they tried to reconcile. The collection contains Mary Tilden’s letters to the pastor, letters to her husband, one letter of testimony in favor of Mary, and one in favor of Stephen.

Humphrey Davenport of Coventry, Connecticut wrote on behalf of Stephen Tilden. “By ye singular expressions of his love and tender regards towards her, which he so variously manifested & so often repeated that during ye whole of my abode at his house I did esteem him…a real patern of conjucal love.” A much different view of the relationship was presented by Mary Nichols. In relating her interaction with the couple, Nichols described an incident in which Stephen Tilden threatened to beat a boy’s brains out because a part for his cart was missing. Nichols concluded, “the little time I was there, I see him act so towards his wife and children, I thought he had ye least tenderness I ever see in any man in my life.”  There is no way for us to know precisely what transpired between Mary and Stephen Tilden, though Mary’s letters are more closely aligned with Nichols’ view than with Davenport’s.

In February 1733 Stephen tearfully requested Mary return home. Two days later he told her she should not. Some time within the next month the Tildens went before the church appointed committee. The documentation does not indicate precisely what the committee recommended, though Mary was advised to return to Stephen. Stephen, however, did not comply with the advice given to him. “Since you do utterly refuse to comply with the advice of ye committee on your part,” Mary wrote in March, “I do hereby offer myself to return to you if you will discover your self willing to receive me as your wife….I think it very hard I must lye in the bosome of a man by his words and actions hath made me jealouse of him…yet I am advised it is my duty to return.”

Mary Tilden letter to her husband, 1733 March 12, Ms 71053-58. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Mary wrote two letters that day in March 1733; in both she spoke of jealousy. In one letter she declared that though she “laboured under many difficulties by reason of your carriage towards me while I lived with you,” she did find she “was in an error in leaving you as I did.” Neither of these letters would resolve the issue. A church meeting was held in November 1733 and Stephen agreed he would take Mary back as his wife, after she made a public apology. When Rev. Solomon Williams wrote to Mary in December, this had not occurred.

Mary Tilden’s brother, Joseph Fowler, replied to Williams’ note. His sister had left town. Rev. Williams had the final word on the subject, as it is presented to us in this collection.

At a church meeting December 21, 1733. Whereas Mary Tilden is gone of ye town ye Reasons of which are unknown to us & we can’t at present be certain whether she has any reason to offer why she did not comply with ye direction of ye church in returning to her husband or what reasons she has to offer- therefore voted to suspend the consideration of said case for some time till something farther appears.

If the situation was ever resolved, the documentation does not exist within this collection.

It would be easy, with our 21st century ideas, to judge Mary and Stephen Tilden’s actions and decisions. Laws and societal norms have changed significantly in the past 278 years. It is obvious, though, that troubled marriages are nothing new.

This collection is open for research. Come visit!

Transportation and the Imagination

Morgan Bulkeley Brainard (1879-1957) was a prominent Hartford resident. The Bulkeley and Brainard families have been established in the area for generations. A successful businessman, Brainard was President of the Aetna Life Insurance Company, a company founded by his grandfather,  Eliphalet Adams Bulkeley, for over 40 years. During that time, Brainard also served a term as President of the Connecticut Historical Society. Over the years we have acquired several collections of papers (search our online catalog) and objects (search eMuseum) from Brainard.

In the collection I worked with this week, I found a few interesting transportation-related items. Hartford’s train station is located on Asylum Avenue, in sight of the Capitol Building. I will admit to not having studied much about the station, but do know the current building is not the original.

Hartford roundhouse

Roundhouse letterhead, Morgan Bulkeley Brainard papers, 1802-1942, Ms 66426d. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Nor is the current building the one shown in the above letterhead. If it is shown to scale, the building would have been enormous. The Capitol is an imposing structure and in the picture it is dwarfed by the station.

For those who like old maps, Brainard’s papers contain a 1946 Connecticut road map.

CT highways

Connecticut Highways 1946, Morgan Bulkeley Brainard papers, 1802-1942, Ms 66426d. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

The highways shown have mostly stayed in place in the past 65 years. Driving them has certainly changed, and with the advent of the interstate system, most people would no longer consider many of them highways.  I showed  a photo of the map to a friend who is a historic preservationist. He remarked, “Ah, the good old days.” My friend was commenting on the well-documented troubles the City of Hartford has faced since the construction of I-84.

CT highways, 1946

Connecticut Highways 1946, Morgan Brainard Bulkeley papers, 1802-1942, Ms 66426d. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

You can see on the map above that no highways (as shown in red) previously traveled through the city.  It is left to our imaginations what the city would be like today, if construction had differed.

Imagination certainly comes into play when we look at the proposed New York and Boston Automobile Boulevard.

NY-Boston Auto Blvd

New York and Boston Automobile Boulevard, n.d., Morgan Bulkeley Brainard papers, 1802-1942, Ms 66426d. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Certainly the route would be convenient, and portions of the road parallel highways that have been built. It is amusing, though, to read the advantage it was thought this road would provide. Relief from highway repairs! No dust! Fast time, with safety! Imagine if these were true today…

Boulevard advantages

New York and Boston Automobile Boulevard advantages, Morgan Bulkeley Brainard papers, 1802-1942, Ms 66426d. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

This collection is open for research. Come visit! We are conveniently located off of several highways…

New ways to explore our collections

Things have been busy for the CHS staff this month, so blogging has been light. However, I wanted to make sure you are aware of two great new tools available through our website.

Diane, our Collections Manager, worked long and hard to bring us eMuseum. Over 8000 of our museum objects may be viewed on the site.

Here in Manuscripts, we are pleased to announce the return of our finding aids to the web. New and improved, these guides to the manuscript collections are available in both HTML and PDF formats.

Looking for graphics? Don’t forget to check out our offerings on Connecticut History Online.

All of our collections are available for further study here in our Research Center.

We will be closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, but otherwise, come visit!


“As this is my first attempt at an editorial…I of course tremble at the idea of having so great a responsibility resting upon me”

"Excelsior," Seymour, Hattie, ed., 1863, Ms 39424. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Hattie Seymour and her Hartford, Connecticut schoolmates self-published a paper called Excelsior. Volume 1, number 4 was edited by Hattie, the previous three having been edited by others in the class. Her editorial is short, remarking on the approaching end of their time together in school. Hattie encourages her classmates, as they “climb higher up the ladder of learning,” to study in order “to show ourselves approved unto God, and then at his coming we shall not be ashamed.”

A devotion to God is evident in several of the essays. Mary Felt defines nature as “all the works of God.” One unsigned piece commands the reader to “Be a sunbeam on earth…that you will be more fully prepared when God shall call you to shine as an angel in heaven.”

The remainder of the paper is filled with stories such as “The History of a Rocking Chair,” told from the point of view of the chair. Beckie Watrous’ story traces the life of the chair from its time as a tree in a large lot to being relegated to the garret by its owner. Given the year they were writing, it is not surprising that several students wrote about the Civil War and its horrors. Other topics include George Washington, memory and the mind, and several (such as Mary Felt’s alluded to above) about nature.

Red ribbons tie the pages of the paper together. The title is in color, but the remainder was handwritten in black ink. The entire work is in the same hand, with 19 stories covering 18 pages. In addition to Hattie Seymour, Mary Felt, and Beckie Watrous, stories are attributed to Louise Kellogg, Sarah Langdon, Nellie McManus, Mary Wilson, Sarah Belden, and Ed Roberts.

Unfortunately there is no indication as to which school the students attended, and if it was even in Hartford. Census data suggests, though, that Hattie Seymour was a resident of the city and would have been 18 in 1863.

This item is available for research. Please come visit! If you are interested in a different style of student work, enjoy our Connecticut Needlework exhibit while you are here as well.

September in the Archives

We have now completed the first month of our 2010-2012 NHPRC grant-funded cataloging project. In most ways, the 2010 project has picked up where the 2008-2010 project left off. Account books, diaries, and town papers remain high priority for cataloging, but if a manuscript collection contains more than just a single sheet, it is likely on our list.

No two collections of town papers and records are alike. Often they consist of tax documents (rates, bills, etc.), school records, and property deeds. Many times the collections comprise just a few documents, pulled (some might say haphazardly) from various other manuscript collections. Occasionally they are marked with the other accession number; most often they are not. Without any idea where they originated, it is impossible for us to return them. Creation of such collections is not a practice that actively continues at CHS. However, much of it is  information we want to make sure our researchers are aware exists. In September I added records to the online catalog for the following towns/areas: Bozrah, Burlington, Canton, Chaplin, Chatham, Coventry, East Hampton, Haddam, Hampton, Kensington, Killingly, Killingworth, Manchester, Milford, Newington, Portland, Preston, South Windsor, Tolland, and Woodstock. Many towns have already been cataloged, so if you do not see the one you are looking for, make sure to check the online catalog.

Among the other collections making their online catalog debut are the papers of the First Church of Windsor and the Tyler family. The earliest pieces from the Windsor church’s collection are the following from a 1681 seating chart.The two, non-contiguous sheets display the assignments made by the town’s Selectmen.


Seating chart, Windsor Church records, 1681-1850, Ms 00079. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT


The bulk of the material in the collection dates from the late 1780s and the tenure of the church’s minister, Rev. David Rowland. It includes a letter from Rowland accepting his position, a controversy concerning some of his methods, and agreements for his son, Rev. Henry Rowland, to co-lead the church.

The Tyler family collection is mostly military orders signed by John Tyler and Samuel Tyler. The most original piece is a report of the guards at a prison in New London, Connecticut.


"A Report of the Officer of the Day," Tyler Family papers, 1777-1811, Ms 23054. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT


The report lists the prisoners’ names, regiment, name of the person who confined them, the crime, and number of nights confined. On this day there were ten men arrested for desertion and four who had been taken prisoner of war at sea. The piece also details the number of guards present at the prison and where they were stationed.

All of these collections are open and available for research. Come visit! Your admission will cover both the research center and to our galleries, particularly our newly opened Connecticut Needlework exhibit.

Please contact us if you have any questions about the CHS, our collections, and the learning opportunities we offer.

Woman suffrage in Wyoming Territory: A letter to Mrs. John Hooker

Woman suffrage is one of my favorite topics, and I was therefore quite excited this morning when I stumbled upon this letter. It is even more relevant considering we have just celebrated the 90th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment.

H. Glafcke letter to Mrs. John Hooker, 6 May 1871, Ms 100929. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

The women of Wyoming voted in their first general election in September 1870. Herman Glafcke, who served as Secretary of Wyoming Territory between 1870 and 1873, shared his recollections of the event in a letter to Isabella Beecher (Mrs. John) Hooker, a well known suffragist in Hartford, Connecticut. Dated May 6, 1871, Glafcke begins by stating his opposition to suffrage before he moved to Wyoming. “You are aware that, when I left your state for Wyoming Territory about a year since, I looked upon woman suffrage as an impracticable idea; a movement, if carried into effect, likely to undermine the fundamental principles governing our social system.” The September election, however, served as a catalyst for an incredible change of opinion.

Glafcke watched as a seventy-eight year old woman was the first to cast a ballot. The men, he wrote, “took off their hats and remained uncovered, while she performed the sovereign duty of an American citizen.” After this, numerous women followed. According to Glafcke, everyone at the polling place was on their best behavior.

The records from Glafcke’s office indicated that approximately two-thirds of eligible women voted (he noted that the numbers did not include Indians). In addition to voting, women earned the right to serve on juries. Wyoming Supreme Court judges, according to Glafcke, “concur in the opinion that, since women have served on our juries, crime has decreased wonderfully; criminals have been brought to justice; and a due regard for the law has been instilled into those who had formerly committed crimes without fear of being punished.” Certainly the fundamentals of the social system were not being harmed.

H. Glafckce letter to Mrs. John Hooker, 6 May 1871, Ms 100929. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

At the end of the letter, Glafcke boldly comments, “Our community is satisfied with the result and could not be induced to return to the old, barbarous system of disfranchisement of a portion of our citizens any more than our nation could be persuaded to return to allegiance to Great Briatin.” It would be difficult to find a more rousing endorsement. Glafcke had clearly been convinced that the benefits of giving women the vote far outweighed the risks.

A record for this letter will be added to our online catalog at the end of August. Please search the catalog to learn more about our collections, including other Isabella Beecher Hooker items, suffrage material, and anti suffrage material.

H. Glafcke letter to Mrs. John Hooker, 6 May 1871, Ms 100929. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

This letter is open for research. Please see our website for more information about visiting and researching at CHS. Don’t forget, we also have a special hallway exhibit currently on view regarding suffrage.

Who ya gonna call?

Today I found an account book from the Essex Central office of Southern New England Telephone Company. SNET was founded in New Haven, Connecticut in 1878, and this account book demonstrates that by 1890, telephones were still not found in every home and office. Phones were rented to customers for at least $5 a quarter, with most subscribers paying $10 a quarter.

So, who had a phone in 1890? Father Peter Skelley, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Chester, Connecticut, paid for two quarters that are listed in the volume, August (below) and November.

SNET August 1890

SNET Account Book (page 28), 1890-1891, MS 84670. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Several other individuals, the Griswold Inn, and Deep River Savings Bank were also listed more than once.  Unfortunately, the beginning pages of the volume have been removed and by early 1891 very little information was being recorded.  Regardless, it is still interesting to see the charges for Western Union telegraphs and inter-town calls, and the phone company’s expenses. The last expense listed on the page above is for lunch. I wonder how many people were served for 35 cents!

Though the number of subscribers was low, it is obvious that residents and visitors to the area were making use of all available phones. As demonstrated below, the amount of money collected for inter-town calls was significantly higher from the Pay Stations than from individuals and businesses.

SNET - Essex Central Office

SNET Account Book (page 36), 1890-1891, MS 84670. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Compared with some of our other account books, this volume contains a small amount of information. However,  it is a unique glimpse of life in Essex and the surrounding area in 1890. Come visit and take a look!