A dreadful accident

Charlotte Cowles letter to her brother, October 13, 1833.

Charlotte Cowles letter to her brother, October 13, 1833. Ms 101754.

On October 7, 1833, the boilers on the Steamer New England exploded while the vessel was unloading passengers at Essex, Connecticut. It was on a voyage from New York to Hartford. Six days later, Charlotte Cowles writes a letter to her brother about acquaintances of theirs who were on the vessel. Charlotte writes: Continue reading


It is funny how things seem to come in batches. Recently, as part of our NHPRC grant, I cataloged several documents related to the War of 1812, one right after the other.  The most interesting document, at least to me, was what appeared to be a draft of a message written by Marsh Ely, commander of American forces at Lyme, Connecticut. He wrote  “To the officer commanding the detachment of his Britanick [sic] Majestys Marine Forces now gone against the shiping [sic] lying near the mouth of Connecticut River.” Ely appealed to the British commander’s honor to “avoid the effusion of human blood” a battle would surely cause.  Since the American forces are superior in number (which they were not), Ely suggested “to you[the British commander] the propriety of surrendering your selves as prisoners of war”. The letter is dated April 8, 1814. That same day, the British fleet sailed up the Connecticut River to Essex and destroyed 20 vessels. I guess the British commander did not take the surrender suggestion seriously.

Marsh Ely calling for the British to surrender, 1814. Ms 37848.

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!