Black Portraits of White Americans

This silhouette portrait of Joseph Morgan, the proprietor of Morgan’s Coffee House, an important gathering place for Hartford businessmen in the early 19th century, was cut by Peter Choice, an itinerant silhouette artist who was probably of African descent. Choice also cut portraits of Morgan’s wife and two young daughters.  Choice was a man of many talents: barber, hairdresser, dentist, maker of shoe polish, mender of razors and pen knifes, as well as an artist who made cut paper and painted portraits.  He also offered to teach gentlemen’s servants the art of cutting hair.  Besides this information, gleaned from advertisements in the Hartford Courant, little is known about Choice’s life.  He was clearly an artist of great skill, and would be an interesting subject for further research.  Additional silhouettes from the collections of the Connecticut Historical Society may be viewed in the CHS online catalog.

More Than One Man’s Story

As a museum curator I am of course interested in the big picture, the sweep of events that bear on us all to one extent or the other. But the stories of individuals also have an undeniable lure, because sometimes in the story of one person we can better understand some of the larger forces at work. Continue reading

Mr. Veeder’s Neighborhood

As if secret panels and an in-home car wash weren’t enough to delight visitors on our monthly Secrets of the Veeder House Tours, we’ve now added new information on the rapidly developing West End neighborhood that Mr. Veeder chose as the site of his home.  Before he began building the stone colonial revival home for an estimated cost of $143,000 in 1925, the land belonged to the Goodwin family farm. The Hartford Courant waxed sentimental about the rapid development in the area in same year that Veeder’s construction began:

“It was not many years ago when out Asylum Avenue, west of Woodland Street, the rolling fields of the Goodwin estate drew much comment. To the north and south fields stretched out, lending the aspect of the country right within the city.”


In 1889, Farmington Avenue had yet to experience the boom in development that would come in the 1910s and 1920s.

Continue reading

We’re with You, Ella!

May 10 was the birthday of Ella Grasso, the first woman in the United States to become Governor in her own right. She would have been ninety-four years old. Grasso was born in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, the daughter of Italian immigrants. She was elected Governor of Connecticut in 1975. This photograph shows her campaigning for re-election at the Danbury Fair. In an article in the Hartford Courant, Barbara Kennelly recalled the campaign. “At the Danbury Fair, all we heard were shouts of ‘Ella! We’re with you, Ella.  She was THE personality.” The warm and charm of this tough politician come through clearly in the photograph. If anyone knows the identity of the man in the jeep or any of the other people in the picture, please let us know! To find out more, go to YourPublicMedia.


How Hartford Heard about the Lusitania

On May 7, 1915, the RMS Lusitania sank off the coast of Ireland from damage caused by a German submarine’s torpedo. The news appeared in The Hartford Times, Hartford’s evening newspaper, that same afternoon. The Hartford Courant, a morning paper, first carried news of the disaster the following morning. Even before these detailed accounts appeared in the local papers, Hartford residents had begun hearing about the event. How was this possible? In an age before the internet, before social media, how did news travel so far so fast? Before the late nineteenth century, news from Europe might take weeks, even months to reach the U.S. To find out Hartford residents first learned of the sinking of the Lusitania, go to Learning About the Lusitania at

Hartford Times Headline 5-7-1915

A look back

We tend to use the holiday season as an excuse for many things — overeating, overspending. Today I am going to use it as an excuse to talk about a printed document, one that is not part of our project. Fear not! There is at least one tie-in.  It is also a time of year for looking back. So in the spirit of “Auld Lang Syne,” I bring you The Courant Almanac for 1880.

1880 Almanac

The Courant Almanac for 1880, Almanac collection, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, Connecticut.

The Hartford Courant is the country’s oldest newspaper in continuous publication. This past fall the paper celebrated its 245th birthday. CHS’s Diana McCain, Head of the Research Center, and Rich Malley, Head of Collections, were on hand for the festivities. They brought with them an original copy of the Courant’s first issue (there are many reproductions available).

In the late 19th century the Courant published an annual almanac. Many local businesses advertised in the almanac, including Aetna Insurance Company, The Hartford Fire Insurance Company (which will celebrate its bicentennial in 2010), and The Travelers Life and Accident Insurance Company.  One advertisement in the 1880 edition is for Neptune Cord and Twine Mills. Back in January I processed, and created a record for, CHS’s Neptune collection. Ads in the 1880 Courant Almanac

One of several cotton and twine mills in the area, Neptune was originally known as Higgins and Card. It later became Card and Company, and finally Neptune Twine and Cord Mills (or Cord and Twine Mills). The business was handed down from Stanton Card to his son-in-law, Emory Johnson and then to his grandson, E. Emory Johnson. The company consisted of two mills, the upper and lower. The lower was built by Card and later renamed the Neptune. Johnson built the upper in 1862. Following E. Emory Johnson’s death in 1905, the company was sold out of the family. Most recently the land on which the mills operated has become a Connecticut State Park (Machimoodus State Park). Business records, primarily from the 1960s when the firm was owned by Raymond Schmitt, can be found in the boxes. The 155 volumes consist of Account Books, Blotters, Daybooks, Journals, Ledgers, Production Records, and Time Books. The volumes date from 1814 to 1956. The collection also includes some miscellaneous items, including the shipping account book of James Cone, likely a neighbor of the Card – Johnson family. (Ms# 95860)

Reading this almanac it is clear some things have changed in the past 130 years. The ad opposite Neptune’s is for a butter store. They boast the “finest alderney creameries,” certainly not something we see too often these days. In addition to advertisements, the almanac included a list of the state’s elected officials, stories, and monthly calendars. The illustration opposite the almanac’s January calendar, though, depicts the Instrument Room of the Storm and Weather Signal Service Bureau in Washington, DC. We certainly have not lost our obsession with weather watching!

January 1880

Weather illustration

A piece about camping, printed opposite the May calendar, offers the following advice. “Treat all with whom you come in contact with courtesy; the good-will of a dog is better than his ill-will. Leave all chronic grumblers, and those not willing to make the best of everything, at home. Exception — one such in a party will be found endurable as a butt.”

Among the stories we can read about the personification of oysters. Apparently they do not like the letter ‘R’ (middle of the right column, just above the Household Recipes).

Stories in the Almanac

This coming year CHS will celebrate its 185th year of inspiring and fostering  “a life-long interest in history through exhibitions, programs and Connecticut-related collections”. We hope you will join us!