Flowers are Blooming!

Summer is right around the corner – the weather is getting warmer, the grass has turned a brighter green, and flowers are popping up in gardens all over the state! Perhaps one of the most amazing Connecticut gardens to view at this time of year is the Rose Garden at Elizabeth Park (Hartford, CT). The garden was created in 1904 by Theodore Wirth and spans just over 2 acres of land, filled with approximately 800 different varieties of roses.  Continue reading

Giving Thanks!

It is that time of year (I can’t believe that November is already here) when everyone begins to think about the things that they are thankful for. I want to give a big thank-you to the following for making 2013 such a great year! Continue reading

Phelps family record

Silas and Ursula Phelps family record. Ms 80728

Silas and Ursula Phelps family record. Ms 80728

Every once in a while I come across a really poignant document in the midst of deeds and letters and other family papers that can be more mundane. That happened this week when I cataloged a collection of papers related to the Work and Smith families. Tucked in among the numerous deeds and family memorabilia was a hand drawn record for the family of Silas Phelps and his wife Ursula Thrall Phelps of East Granby, Connecticut.

The vignette drawn at the top reminds me of decorations found on samplers, making me wonder if this was perhaps something done at school by one of the girls, possibly Tryphena. The buildings and ship have a very European look, which lends further credence to the school exercise theory.

The last noted birth was that of a stillborn daughter on June 1, 1810, leading me to believe this record was created very near that date. The entry for “A son” born June 18, 1805, who died fourteen days later reminds me how children were not named immediately at birth as we often do today, because the “little stranger” had a good chance of not surviving past the first month. It was harder to lose a child who had an identity.

This was obviously cherished by someone in the family, because the death dates are entered in different hands, starting with Silas in 1835 and ending with Anna Phelps who died in 1859. Who that person was, and how the document ended up here at CHS is a mystery we may never solve.

You can see the record in person in the Research Center by requesting Ms 80728.

The Colors of Fall!

Fall is my most favorite time of the year – slightly cooler weather, fairs and festivals serving delicious pumpkin and maple flavored treats, and the changing of leaves from green to vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges. If it were up to me, (and I know a lot of you will be happy that it is not), fall in New England would last all year! Continue reading

Charlotte Cowles Letters, an introduction

First page of Charlotte's letter of April 17, 1833. Ms 101754

First page of Charlotte’s letter of April 17, 1833. Ms 101754

At last, I can write about my favorite young woman of the 19th century! Her name was Charlotte Cowles, and we recently acquired a number of letters she wrote between the ages of 13 and 21 while living in Farmington, Connecticut. I don’t know if she meant to be humorous, (it may be my modern perspective) but I find her writing delightful.

In a letter from April, 17, 1833, she starts by admonishing her brother Samuel, who is in Windsor, Vermont, for neglecting the family. He has not written for fourteen weeks. This theme about timely letters is one that appears repeatedly in her letters.  Like many of her early missives, she talks about family news—Ma being sick and Pa going to Providence. She then tells Samuel:

“I am as much of a reader as ever, but have not had much to do with novels yet. I do not suppose they are very useful to any one; and I never intend to read many.”

All I can think when I read that is the polemics in magazines of the 19th century about the dangers to young ladies; reading novels would corrupt their minds and souls! Evidently Charlotte believed that, too.

Unlike many writers of the same age and time period, Charlotte is not afraid to express her opinions in her letters, at least not to her brother. She does not have a good opinion of her cousin Isaac Andrews. All Isaac is doing in Berlin is driving about. Charlotte comments,

“but that is not very profitable employment for a youth of nineteen.”

She also has an opinion about Samuel’s friend Henry Seymour who left his employment without telling family or friends. She writes,

“Now he reaps the reward of his folly; and doubtless many like disappointments will happen to him, before this instance of youthful rashness is forgotten.”

It is very likely that Henry was older than Charlotte (she was 13 in 1833), so she is taking a rather motherly approach to his indiscretion.

Some of Charlotte’s letters are more revealing than others, and I look forward to posting about my favorites in the weeks to come. Thanks to all the individuals and the Farmington Bank for helping us secure the money to purchase these fascinating letters. You can read all of Charlotte’s letters, and their transcriptions, on Connecticut History Online.

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

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!

Rev. William Weston Patton

It isn’t too often that I start cataloging a collection and find that the subject has his own Wikipedia entry. That was the case yesterday as I worked with the diaries of Rev. William Weston Patton. Patton was born in New York on October 19, 1821. He graduated from the University of the City of New York (now New York University) and Union Theological Seminary. After being ordained, Patton served as pastor of Phillips Congregational Church in Boston (1843-1846), of Fourth Congregational Church in Hartford (1846-1857), and in Chicago (1857-1867). His professional career also included Editor of  a Congregational newspaper, The Advance, lecturer at Oberlin and Chicago seminaries, and President of Howard University. Patton was married first to Sarah Jane Mott (d. 1850) and secondly to Mary Boardman Smith (d. 1880). He was the recipient of two honorary degrees, a member of several organizations, and a published author. He died on December 31, 1889.

The diaries have entries ranging in length from two words to ten pages. Patton writes about his daily life, including his reading and ministering, as well as the larger events in his life. His Christian beliefs are quite strong,  and his desire for everyone to be Christian is prominent in many entries. On January 28, 1849 he opened his entry with, “Today my wife’s sister Julia who is visiting us from New York, told my wife that she had decided to be a Christian.” The entry from April 27, 1850 reads, “Called to see the children of Mrs. Pond, now without father & mother, the youngest about ten years of age. Found only the two sisters at home. Conversed with the eldest & urged her to become a disciple of Jesus.”

There was certain behavior Patton did not tolerate among the members of his church. Several times he expressed his displeasure. “Many of the young members of the church have lately attended dancing school, balls, etc.” (February 26, 1846) The next month two of those young members were called before the Prudential Committee. “Silas Golpin & Samuel Porch two young members, who have been guilty of worldly conduct, attending at balls, absence from communion etc, were present for conference, by request. The former seemed somewhat moved, the later not at all. They evidently came in company in order to sustain each other & keep each other in countenance.” (March 2, 1846) The next day, Golpin visited Patton. “Conversed freely & kindly with him on his evil course & prayed with him. He seemed much more subdued than on the interview with the committee. Have hopes that he may yet be ‘gained’.” (March 3, 1846)

By July 5, 1851 Patton had softened somewhat and allowed Jenny Lind to perform in the church. “We consented to let her in, (although the evening did not seem suitable, nor are we pleased to use the house for such purposes) because of her pure character & because she could sing only on this evening, & no other house was to be had at all convenient. ” Unfortunately, people who were unable to attain tickets caused a bit of a disturbance. Patton commented, “the whole scene was disgraceful to our city.”

Patton noted all family deaths, and the anniversaries of those deaths. The death of his first wife, Sarah, hours after giving birth to their son Charles, was entirely unexpected and particularly difficult. Patton wrote a ten page entry describing the events of the day and his reaction to  them. Though still strong in his faith, the following lines indicate just how upset Patton was at the potential loss of his wife. “From the first all my hope was in prayer, for I knew how fatal these cases generally prove. Oh how I pleaded with God to spare me this blow + vowed that if he would as a simple ‘thank offering’ I would give $100 this year to Foreign Missions – not that God was to be hired, but to evince my gratitude.” (March 29, 1850) A year later Patton began visiting with Mary Smith. He continued to document their courtship, marriage,  honeymoon, and life together.

Before writing the catalog record for the collection, I wanted to verify that the writer of the diaries was indeed the subject of the Wikipedia entry. Wikipedia states that Patton’s lyrics to the song John Brown’s Body were published in the Chicago Tribune on December 16, 1861. I turned to the volume covering 1861 and found the following entry:

Rev. William W. Patton diary

December 23, 1861, Rev. William W. Patton diaries and account book, 1835-1889, Ms 68129. CHS, Hartford, CT.

Rev. William W. Patton diary

December 23, 1861 cont.

Not only does Patton mention the publication in the Tribune, he also expresses his displeasure with President Lincoln and slavery. “Our President is ruled by Kentucky influences, & there the war is waged to put down the rebellion & preserve slavery! Oh fatal infatuation! I dread the judgments which God may need to inflict before we are willing to give freedom to the oppressed.”

While I have concentrated on Patton’s time in Hartford, he started his diaries in 1835 and continued writing until his death in 1889. Though I would love to sit and read each volume in its entirety, at this point I have only been able to skim them. As I reached the final volume, I found a sheet tucked in the back. It was a list of pros and cons made by Patton as he considered whether to stay in Boston or move to Hartford. The sixth entry for Hartford is one of my favorites. “Hartford is much pleasanter than So. Boston as a place of residence.”

Patton's pros and cons

Pros and cons of moving to Hartford, Rev. William W. Patton diaries and account book, 1835-1889, Ms 68129. CHS, Hartford, CT

This collection is open for research. Check out our new website, and come visit!

Two notable families

We just acquired a particularly rich family collection that we hope researchers will use a lot.  It consists of correspondence among members of the Terry and Bacon families of Hartford and New Haven, respectively.  Nathaniel Terry, the progenitor of the family, married Catherine Wadsworth.  Nathaniel was mayor of Hartford and a Congressman.  His sons were also quite distinguished and most of them attended and graduated from Yale.

One son, Adrian Russell Terry, was a physician, and his most fascinating letters are those written while he was in Ecuador trying to establish a medical practice there.  Great observations of the local land and citizens, plus a huge list of medical supplies he purchased in New York City are two of the highlights among his papers.

Charles A. Terry, another of Nathaniel’s sons, was also a physician and when he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, he sent back vivid descriptions of that city.  His brother, Alfred Terry, was the most avid letter writer in the family.  His letters are mostly from his student days at Yale and later at Litchfield, Connecticut, where he studied law under James Gould.

Daughter Catherine Terry married noted minister, theologian and author Leonard Bacon.  All of their children (and there were plenty) wrote to mother about their activities, the development of their children, their relationships with other family members, etc.  Leonard Bacon and his son Leonard W. traveled to Europe and the Middle East from 1850-1851 and they wrote long, detailed letters of their impressions of the familiar and unfamiliar.

Catherine and Leonard’s son, Francis Bacon, a physician, wrote from Galveston, Texas where he tried (unsuccessfully) to get established in a practice.  His letters are filled with disparaging remarks about the lack of culture among the population there.  He also could not stand the weather.

George Bacon, another son, wrote several letters in the 1850s while he was on board the U.S.S. Portsmouth when it sailed to Shanghai and Hong Kong. Daughters Rebecca T. Bacon and Alice Mabel Bacon also made names for themselves, the first as an educator, the second as a teacher in Japan and as the founder of a nurses training school for African-American women in Hampton, Virginia.  And I could go on, as does the collection.

As I mentioned at the outset, this promises to be an extremely important research collection.  I cannot wait to learn what other gems exist in addition to the letters from Rutherford B. Hayes, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Lydia Sigourney and Alexis de Toqueville.