Just part of the job

KKK rally broadside. CHS 2014-054

KKK rally broadside. CHS 2014-054

Collecting history can sometimes be uncomfortable and it is often hard to retain objectivity. Such was the case with two recent acquisitions—a broadside advertising a Ku Klux Klan demonstration in Woodstock in 1926, and two protest posters from this past Saturday’s rally to repeal Connecticut’s gun laws. Continue reading

Sam Colt in Texas


Manuscript map of Lamar, Texas, on Aransas Bay, 1858. the Connecticut Historical Society, 2012.312.204 (detail)

A month ago I visited Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the south Texas Coast, the wintering grounds of the last wild flock of whooping cranes. The great white birds can be seen feeding in the vast marshes of the refuge, and also foraging in pastures and agricultural fields in nearby communities such as Lamar. In 1858, there were probably a lot more of them. That was the year when James W. Byrne, a native of Ireland and a veteran of the Texas Revolution, sent this map of the area to the Hartford gun manufacturer Samuel Colt, urging him to establish a gun factory in Lamar. Colt was evidently interested, and he acquired several large parcels of land. The last transaction between the two men took place on April 2, 1861, barely ten days before the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Colt died in 1862 without ever visiting Texas. Byrne died in 1865. It’s interesting to speculate what might have happened, if the factory had been built. Today Lamar is a sleepy little town catering to hunters and fishermen and birdwatchers, but the captain of the boat that took me out to see the cranes knew all about Sam Colt.

In 2011-2012, with support from Connecticut Humanities, the Connecticut Historical Society digitized more than 800 historic maps from its collections.  To see more maps, explore our online catalog.

Eli Whitney orders supplies for his armory

Eli Whitney, best known for inventing the cotton gin, was also a pioneer in mass-producing firearms.  There is little documentation, however, about this aspect of his engineering prowess. In a letter CHS recently acquired, Whitney himself provides some specifics.

The letter was written to John Adam of the Forbes & Adam foundry in Canaan.  Whitney (through his secretary who wrote the missive) specifies that the trip hammer be “made about one inch wide and let it be left without hardening.”  He also requests that Adam “forward my gudgeons, stakes, husk, hammer &c to Litchfield.”  Next he asks for help building a workforce, including “one or two nailers who are expert workmen & masters of the business . . . It is my intention to employ them in forging some of the light limbs of the musket.”

Accompanying the letter is an order sheet, seemingly in Whitney’s own hand, with specifications for three pieces of rolled iron, two “gudgeons made to patterns”, a husk, socket, 10 stakes, and a hammer and “Half a ton of rolled iron . . .”  On the verso are pencil patterns of the gudgeon.  These two documents complement our Forbes & Adam account book collection and provide valuable insight into and documentation of Eli Whitney and his gun manufacture.