Wolcott goes online

Oliver Wolcott. A portrait painted by Gilbert Stuart.

Oliver Wolcott. A portrait painted by Gilbert Stuart.

With grant money from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), a division within the National Archives, we recently started a project to digitize manuscript collections that have already been captured on microfilm. The digitized images are going to be available on Connecticut History Online, and there will be links from our online finding aids to the digital images. The first collection we are working on is the Oliver Wolcott Jr. Papers. Wolcott, a native of Litchfield, was first appointed in 1789 as auditor at the new Treasury Department then appointed to comptroller and finally, in 1795, when Alexander Hamilton retired, Wolcott became Secretary of the Treasury. Continue reading

America’s First “Brown Water” Navy

This past weekend we offered a special Civil War-themed behind the scenes tour at CHS. I spent a day selecting a wide variety of objects, manuscripts and graphics items to include in the tour, including several that I had not used in the past. Among these was a pair of fine photographs of river gunboats being constructed in September 1861. Continue reading

A Keepsake

Ms_101845.4It only measures 3-3/8” tall and 2” wide and has a gold stamp on the front and back cover. It is one of the latest additions to the CHS collection. The title is A Story for the Beautiful and it is inscribed “For Mary from Mary” and Hartford, 1845. The binding may be an example of Allen S. Stillman’s work, a Hartford binder.

A Story for the Beautiful was actually written by N.P. Willis and published in The New Monthly Magazine in 1839. What caught my fancy was the first paragraph in which the author states:

It is a conceded point that an author may chose his readers. The devout are separately addressed, so are the political, so are the scientific, so are the rich and the poor, so are the learned and unlearned. I address myself to the beautiful! Stop here plain reader! This tale is not for you! Continue reading

Celebrating America

For over 230 years, Americans have been celebrating the birth of America.  Although our celebrations of America generally culminate on the fourth of July, have you ever stopped to think of the ways we might celebrate America every day of the year?  Let me give you a few historical examples of how people in the past did just that…


Sampler. 1821. Gift of Jane Tuttle. 1923.9.0

Continue reading

Historical Surgeries

Dr. Howard Franklin Smith, assistant house surgeon at Hartford Hospital, kept a  notebook from April to June of 1897 recording his patient’s ailments and treatments. Many of these cases are a little unusual! Dr. Smith noted his patients’ professions and countries of origin. He saw people from all walks of life, from saddlemakers to school children to painters. Some patients were originally from New York, while several others were immigrants from Ireland or Scotland.

His notes indicate that ether and cocaine were frequently used during operations. Dr. Smith later ran into legal issues surrounding prescription drugs. In February of 1914, he was arrested under the charge of “having received a quantity of strychnine, nitrous ether and codeine which he knew had been stolen by burglars from the drug store” (The Hartford Courant, February 21, 1914). He was later found to be innocent. (The Hartford Courant, March 12, 1914). In March of 1914,  Smith was expelled from the Hartford Medical Society as a result of prescribing excessive heroin to patients and friends (The Hartford Courant, March 3, 1914).

Highlights of his cases include an April 24th entry that notes an 18-year-old bottle maker who came in because, “[b]oth hands [were] injured by [a] dynamite explosion.” Just as today, people often made poor decisions and hurt themselves when drinking. The notes from May 10th on a 53-year-old man read, “Had been drinking beer with companions. He fell asleep + a comrade set his leg on fire inflicting a burn.” Also on May 10th, another drunk man, 28-years-old, who was urinating behind a car, had a stone thrown at his ankle that caused an injury. Dr. Smith also treated a handful of patients who attempted to commit suicide. One such patient “cut his throat with a pocket knife” resulting in a “3 in. incision.” There are many other fascinating cases, as well as some more common cases that highlight medical issues in 1897.

Posted by Jess Reeve, Archives volunteer

The CHS “Junk Drawer”

This post was written by Archives volunteer Marie Jarry.

All of us have that drawer at home for items we don’t know what else to do with–the junk drawer, the miscellaneous drawer. Perhaps you have a shoebox designated as such or even an entire closet. Well the Connecticut Historical Society has their own version of a miscellaneous box, only it’s approximately thirty boxes stuffed full of papers from another era. Some were tossed in the boxes after a flood a few decades ago. Others had been separated from their collections and were waiting to be reunited. Then there were items that nobody knew what else to do with.

Just a sample of the miscellaneous boxes!

When Barbara Austen, Florence  S. Marcy Crofut archivist here at  CHS, asked if I would like to make heads or tails of their miscellaneous manuscript collection, I jumped at the chance. Sure it was thirty boxes but my mind began to race with the possibilities.

What would be found in there? Perhaps a document signed by Abraham Lincoln? Or maybe some long forgotten copy of the Declaration of Independence? No, nothing as “glamorous” as that was found, though one of the first items I pulled out was a long-lost tax list of slaves in Hartford.  History isn’t just about the people and items who made headlines, it’s also about the everyday people and day-to-day activities that inform where we came from and why we do the things we do today.

Sometimes I found entire collections sitting in one box waiting to be cataloged. One of the most interesting was a collection of papers from a lawyer in Hartford named Andrew Broughel around the 1890’s. He had saved depositions from his cases, correspondence and bills. It was interesting to see what a couple getting divorced in 1897 had to argue over.

Another collection I found was created by the Connecticut Daughter’s of the Revolution Committee on Old Trails. From 1910-1930, they worked to preserve markers from the Old Boston Post Road. The collection contained hundreds of post cards, various maps and printed material. My favorite were little pictures of the “Madonna of the Trails” emblem that were “worn by anyone interested in the National Old Trails Road, the new Ocean to Ocean Highway.” They would cost you $1 each with all the proceeds going to the project.

Unfortunately, not everything in the miscellaneous boxes was as easy to catalog. There were hundreds of disparate letters, bills, promissory notes and poems that I had to try to make some sense of. I made detailed lists of names, places and dates from each item hoping to see some connections.

I began to notice I was accumulating a large number of letters from the town of Hampton addressed to Samuel Bennett and Harriet Spaulding. I figured these had to go together somehow. Now it was time for some detective work.

I first check the catalog at CHS to see if the person is already listed. If not, it’s on to ancestry.com and familysearch.org. If I have the person’s name, town and rough estimate of the year, I can usually find out when they were born, who they married, when they died. Family and town books in the CHS research center are also helpful. Follow the breadcrumbs and you will often be surprised by what you find.

In the case of the Bennetts and Spauldings, I did discover there was already a William Bennett from Hampton in the catalog. Could he be related to Samuel? So I did some research on familysearch.org and lo and behold, the William Bennett in the CHS catalog was the father of the Samuel from my letters! Now I had to figure out if Harriet Spaulding was related to this family. Sure enough, she married Samuel.

I’d like to say I was able to process all the papers this easily, but it often does not end up that way. I still have hundreds of letters that don’t have enough identifying information to formally catalog, but I can say those thirty boxes have been culled down to two.  Maybe soon you’ll come in to CHS and check out an item rescued from the “junk drawer” of history.

March in the Archives: Civil War collections

It has been a while since I wrote a [Month] in the Archives post, but with the sesquicentennial of the Civil War and the number of related collections we cataloged in March, it seems like a good time to return to the series. Scholars of the Civil War may already know of these collections; most of them have already been featured as part of our  Civil War Manuscripts Project. Much of the biographical information comes directly from that site. Thanks to our grant from the NHPRC, they can now be searched on our online catalog.

We begin with Hartford, Connecticut resident James Eldridge, who kept a diary during the Civil War and added notes ca.1893-1898. According to the notes, Eldridge enlisted on 11 August 1862, was promoted to Corporal on 6 October 1862 and was again promoted, to Sergeant, on 10 November 1862. He received the rank of Second Lieutenant on 12 September 1864 and First Lieutenant on 19 March 1865. He joined the 23rd U. S. Colored Troops, with the rank of Second Lieutenant, in September 1864. (Ms 64832)

The John G. Crosby Civil War collection consists of letters written by John Crosby to his wife, Abby J. Crosby. Also included are his discharge and muster papers; several later documents, 1863-1885, including minutes of a meeting of the 24th Connecticut Veterans in New Haven in 1868; and documents regarding his wife’s attempts to secure a widow’s pension, 1882-1883. Crosby enlisted on 8 September 1862 and was mustered-in as First Sergeant, Company D, on 18 November 1862. He was promoted to Second Lieutenant, Company H, on 6 April 1863 and mustered-out with his nine-months unit on 30 September 1863. At the time of his enlistment, Crosby was a 38-year-old barber. Crosby was a detailed correspondent. (Ms 64706)

Another general collection contains letters written by three individual soldiers. The first letter was written by J. Q. Adams in camp at New Haven, Connecticut, 1862 February 28, to his brother. Adams was with the 13th Connecticut Volunteers, and this letter was written on the regimental letterhead. The second letter was written from Morris Island by John Allen with the 10th Connecticut Volunteers. The final letter, dated 1863 July 11, was written from Yorktown, Pennsylvania, and was not signed. The author did indicate he was with the 16th Connecticut, and he also mentioned that he wanted the recipient to go back to Yorktown with him after the war to taste the berries, the best he had ever eaten. All of the letters described camp life, particularly food, and the movement (or non-movement) of their units. (Ms 84849)

John Chadwick wrote to his friend Matthew Murdock, of Westbrook, Connecticut, from Camp Thibodaux, Louisiana. The letter was written on letterhead illustrating the statue of Henry Clay in New Orleans. The cover bears an image of an eagle flying with an American flag. Chadwick described his trip to Louisiana, a battle in which four men were killed, and the improved quality of the food. (Ms 84960)

Enfield, Connecticut resident Walter Smithson‘s papers include two Civil War discharges, a Mason’s certificate, and a Grand Army Memorial record form, filled out by Smithson. He served as a Private in Company B, 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. Smithson, born in England, listed his occupation as a farmer. His Master Mason’s certificate is from Doric Lodge No. 94, Enfield. Smithson received a gunshot wound in his left side at Cold Harbor, VA, on 3 June 1864 and was sent to the hospital in New Haven for treatment. His most intimate comrades were listed as Sergeant Henry Moody, Private John Harris (died 2 March 1864) and Sergeant Joseph Glover (killed 2 July 1864 at Petersburg, VA). Smithson enlisted on 18 September 1861 and was mustered-in on 27 September 1861. Surviving his wound at Cold Harbor, he was mustered-out on 12 December 1865. Smithson was present during engagements at: New Bern, NC, 14 March 1862; Siege of Fort Macon, NC, April 1862; Antietam, 17 September 1862; Fredericksburg, VA, 13 December 1862; and Fort Darling, VA, in May of 1864. (Ms 65522)

Next we have a collection of correspondence and military papers sent and received by Alfred Howe Terry, a native of Hartford, Connecticut. It includes letters sent to his parents and siblings in New Haven, Connecticut, while he was traveling in Europe in 1860. After his return, Terry enlisted to fight in the Civil War. During that time, and later, he wrote many letters to his siblings, including sister Harriet, brother Robert, and mother Clarissa. He enlisted on 22 April 1861 and was mustered-in as commander of the 2nd Connecticut Infantry on 7 May 1861. He was mustered-out of this three-month unit on 7 August 1861. Terry reenlisted in the 7th Connecticut Infantry on 20 August 1861 and was mustered-in as Colonel on 17 September 1861. He was promoted to Brigadier General (U. S. Volunteers) on 25 April 1862, to Brevet Major General (U. S. Volunteers) on 26 August 1864 and to Major General (U. S. Volunteers) and Brigadier General (U. S. Regular Army) on 15 January 1865. Terry was promoted to Brevet Major General (U. S. Regular Army) on 13 March 1865. Alfred Terry retired a Major General from the U. S. Army in 1888. Among the correspondence are many military telegraphs sent in 1864. A memo book contains some diary entries as well. (Ms 65598)

Letters written by William Winship to his mother in Farmington, Connecticut,  from various locations in the south, form the bulk of Winship’s collection. Other items include the fragment of a diary (March-May 1863) on paper from “a secesh house,” and two discharge papers. Winship, an unmarried farmer, enlisted on 8 September 1862. A member of the Twenty-Fifth Connecticut Infantry, Company K, Winship was mustered-in on 11 November 1862. He was mustered-out of his nine-months unit on 26 August 1863. According to his 1863 discharge papers, Winship was 19-years-old, had a light complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. (Ms 65847)

Slightly different is a short letter from Philip Smith to Donald L. Jacobus about an error Smith made in tracking pension records. The letter is accompanied by transcription of Civil War pension records for various men named Waterman. (Ms 56068)

The papers of Captain Leonard A. Dickinson contain a list of names of the soldiers of Company C, 12th Regiment,  along with the men’s rank, date of enlistment, and comments about promotions, desertions, deaths, discharges, and illnesses. According to Captain Dickinson, “This blank muster roll I found in Fort Jackson, La. when that fortification was taken in April 1862. It is a “Confederate” production. On it I have endeavored to keep the history of the men of my company since its organization for my own gratification + for future reference.” (Ms 101096)

Henry  Snow family corresponded with his family in East Hampton, Connecticut, including his mother Eunice, brother Rufus, and sister Lavinia. Lavinia died of scarlet fever in May 1863. Snow, an unmarried mechanic, enlisted on 15 August 1862 and was mustered-in a Private on 5 September 1862. Part of the Twenty-First Connecticut Infantry, Company H, Snow was promoted Corporal on 1 March 1865 and was mustered-out on 16 June 1865. Due to illness Henry did not participate in the battle of Fredericksburg, VA, in December 1862, although his regiment was present. (Ms 66721)

Dwight Peck was born and lived in North Windham, Connecticut, although he appears to have tried his hand at teaching in Ohio. His collection consists of a letter from a friend about a war meeting in Ohio in 1856; several chatty letters to friends, 1859; letters in 1860 about the presidential election  and possible candidates, the state elections, his activity in the campaign, and a ballot of the Union Party in Connecticut. Also a series of letters while Dwight was serving in Virginia with the 21st Connecticut Infantry Regiment in 1862, in which he described to his family his activities, politics, the effectiveness of the Emancipation Proclamation, and his opinion of the commanders of the Union Army. In January 1863 there were  a series of letters from fellow soldiers and his commanding officer to his parents about Dwight’s death in the hospital of typhoid fever. One letter contained  advice about how to get Dwight’s body back to Connecticut. The collection also includes his military promotion to Corporal, an account of his pay and clothing, and correspondence to his parents from the federal government about Dwight’s back pay which was due to them. Finally, there is an essay about Windham that appears to be written by Dwight, a poem about Dwight’s death written by a cousin, and bills to Dwight’s father Pearl Peck, 1846. (Ms 87160)

Dictated or typed by Albert Peck in 1906, the pages of his reminiscences recall his service as captain with the 17th Connecticut Volunteers, Company D, during the Civil War. He was in the militia in Bridgeport, Connecticut, before answering the call for soldiers in 1862. A significant portion of the memoir relates his involvement in the battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. (Ms 86269)

There are a few more non-war related records we created last month that will be the subject of my next post. In the meantime, search our online catalog for any Connecticut history topic and come research with us!

Bald? Try Onions!

Medical treatments

Dr. Howell Rogers medical receipts, 1801-1823, MS 59357. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, Conn.

Howell Rogers (1774-1851) was a doctor in Colchester, Connecticut. Between 1801 and 1823, Rogers recorded medical receipts (recipes) in a small notebook. This notebook made its way to my desk for cataloging this morning and several of the treatments caught my eye.

A Relaxing Unquint calls for skunk cabbage root. A Whimsical Treatment for the Rhematism includes brandy and hogs hoof’s [sic]. There are cures for ringworm, dysentery, tooth ach [sic], and asthma. Some recipes, such as the West India Cordial, were not assigned to any specific ailment.

Apparently tumors may be cured with a little wild turnip.
Take – Wild Turnip,
Scabish-root &
Itch-weed-root, a a
p. ce. Ster in a little skunks
grease – untill the virtues of
the ingredients are extract-
ed, then strain and apply
to the tumor. – It either dis-
perses or brings them to sup-
puration – immediately. (p. 120)

My favorite, though is shown below. The cure for baldness (page 87) calls for onions and honey!

Onions, honey, and baldness

Cure baldness with onions and honey!

This account book, Ms# 59357/Account Books, is available for research. Come visit!