Monster Lake Trout

As the early days of summer heat up and with Father’s day right around the corner, our thoughts turn to outside pursuits. Hiking, swimming, and fishing are just some of the activities Nutmeggers have enjoyed through the generations.  In 1927, a “monster” Lake Trout was pulled from Lake Wononscopomuc in Lakeville, CT. Continue reading

Treasure Maps

Maps may lead us to buried treasure, but not all treasure is found below the ground. On Saturday, June 8, learn more about the map holdings of CHS at our Behind-the-Scenes tour. A map recently discovered in the Rudd and Holley Family Collection leads us to another kind of “buried treasure.”  Continue reading

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.

Iron industry in Litchfield County

There are so many topics for research in this collection, I don’t know where to start. We just acquired 48 account books that belonged to John Adam and Samuel Forbes, both individually and as the partnership Forbes & Adam. These two men were instrumental in developing the iron industry around East Canaan, Connecticut. Adam lived in Taunton, Mass. before moving to East Canaan where he married Samuel Forbes’ daughter. Forbes and Adam owned interest in several ore mines, a sawmill and a paper mill, a slitting mill, a “nailery” and a general (company?) store. The volumes we have date from 1748-1875.

Many of the entries in the ledgers include not only the person’s name but his occupation and town of residence as well. Some of the occupations mentioned are ore digger, ore carter, anchor maker, bloomer and iron turner. Those customers of African heritage are so noted in the volumes. There is a volume entitled “Woman’s book”, a ledger that put me in mind of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s book Goodwives in that women, who are almost entirely identified by their relationship to men, paid their bills by nursing, spinning, making butter, and making and mending clothes.

The volume marked “Real Estate” includes notes about building a forge in Norfolk, 1760; to paying John Forbes for his 999-year lease of 1/32 of Salisbury Ore Hill; and the purchase of one whole right in the Susquehanna Purchase. Other entries give a fascinating look at the extent the iron industry impacted northwestern Connecticut–buying land for cord wood, investing in ore mines, hiring agents, investment in turnpikes, and on and on.

I got very frustrated reading through these accounts when I saw what I termed “scribbles” made by Charles S. Adam on the blank pages of the early volumes. However, I finally realized that, although he defaced the “sacred” 18th century volumes, he noted his financial transactions, local births and deaths, and national events such as the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. There is a lot to be mined from Charles’ scribbles with further examination. I have learned to not be so hasty in my judgments.

This collection is a rich resource we sincerely hope the scholarly community will mine.

Vacation at the Bantam Lake House

Today, Litchfield County is considered the summer playground of the wealthy. Apparently the area of Bantam Lake served as a resort of sorts in the 1870s. Recently added to the collection is the guest book from the Bantam Lake House, 1875-1878. Many of the visitors were from Litchfield County, some were from New York State, and some came from Hartford. The most noteable visitors were Sitting Bull and Ulysses S. Grant, whose signatures grace these pages. More information on the Bantam Lake House would be welcome.