Fairly took away my breath

Valentine’s Day has come and gone, but love goes on forever. A letter recently received with the Keller family archive evokes both the holiday and the lasting power of love. Continue reading

Illustrating Stylish Travel

Often times at the CHS, we write articles, present programs, and give tours based on our collections.  Many times these articles, programs, and tours are based on information and items we already know we have in the collection.  However, sometimes the topic comes first, and the illustrations come second.


Cheney Album. Volume 5. 1991.28.5.

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This week’s curiosities

Every week there are one or two items that, while I find them incredibly interesting, hardly warrant their own blog post. So this afternoon, with a few minutes to spare, I thought I’d share some of my recent finds.

Ms 76796: Marriage certificates were as necessary in the early 1800s as they are today.

What struck me, though, about Rev. Aaron Hunt and Hannah Sanford‘s marriage certificate was how small it is. At a mere two and a half inches long, this could easily have been lost over the past 200 years. Yet this unassuming vital record has survived.

Ms 77209: How great would it be if your rent did not increase at all over the course of 14 years? Mrs. Margaret (Williams) Green moved to Hartford in 1906 with her daughter, Lucy Green. Mrs. Green had been widowed for over 20 years. In Hartford she was near her brother, Job Williams, longtime principal of the American School for the Deaf.

In researching the Greens I learned that Lucy died in 1909. The next year, her sister Julia returned from Ceylon to live with her mother. Julia had actually been born in that country; her father, Dr. Samuel Fiske Green, served there for a number of years. Julia and Margaret moved to 264 Whitney Street in 1925. Margaret died in 1927 and Julia continued to live on Whitney Street until her own death in 1951. Bills from items the Greens purchased during their first year in the city may be found in another of our manuscript collections (Ms 99928).

Ms 77548: Want to try your hand at some magic? Take a look at the Catalogue of Fred D. Jewett‘s Magic Tricks as Performed by him in his Regined Sleight of Hand Entertainments. According to The Connecticut Catholic in 1891, Jewett, “has won a well deserved reputation in Hartford and vicinity for his achievements in the world of magic, has a remarkably fine collection of magical apparatus at his residence on High street.” The article continues to describe a visit to Jewett’s “den of mystery.”

Fred D. Jewett catalogs of magic tricks, 1890-1892, Ms 77548. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

The catalog lists 175 magic tricks, most with illustrations. Prices for the items range from the 50 cent Spinning of a Handkerchief on a Walking Stick to the $150 Thought Transfer and Wonderful Feats in Second Sight.

All of these collections, and many more, are available for research. Not sure what we have? Take a look at our online resources. Come visit!

Dear Miss

I know that if I had received a letter like this from my intended husband, I would have canceled the engagement immediately!

Sometime before 1767, John Talcott wrote a letter (or a treatise?) to his future wife Abigail Ledyard. The letter was ten pages long and filled with sage advice, or what he termed “my sentiments on a particular subject.” He credited himself with being a person who valued women for their calming effect on a man’s character and passions, for their ability to polish men’s manners, and for being able to lessen the weight of men’s pains. A man who appreciates women, he explained,

“will pay a proper regard to their persons; but their principal attention, will be employed on the improvement of their understanding. Although their minds, as well as bodies, may seem to be endowed with less firmness, & strength, yet, as their sensations are allowed to be more delicate, so I doubt not, their minds are more susceptible of refined improvement. And since this improvement, is the principal thing to be regarded, in preparing your sex, as well as ours, to act their parts with propriety, in what ever station, they my providentially be placed; it is necessary they should know the means by which it is attained, and the end proposed by it.”

The way to improve one’s mind, he stated, was through conversation, reading and reflection. John then recommended a book of morals written for young ladies by Rev.  Wetenhall Wilkes in 1740. The letter concluded with John’s thoughts concerning the importance of two people sharing the same sentiments, which he assumed he and Abigail did, and he asked for Abigail to respond in kind.

Historians, and others, often fall into the trap of interpreting the past using current values and sensibilities. So what some women today would see as condescending and insulting, Abigail may have found enlightening and encouraging. After all, she did end up marrying him.

This letter came to light as a result of our NHPRC-funded project to catalog our backlog of manuscripts. See our continually growing online catalog at www.chs.org.

Mary and Stephen Tilden: Marital Woes in the 1730s

“I do believe he hath committed ye sin of fornacation [sic] with Sarah Ellis,” explained Mary Tilden in a letter to the pastor of the First Church of Lebanon, Connecticut. Tilden wrote of her husband, Stephen, with whom she refused to live following his transgression. A committee of church members had been formed to advise her regarding this failure of duty on her part.

Divorce certainly was uncommon when Nicols wrote in 1732, but as remains true, not every relationship was successful. The letters and testimonies comprising the Mary Tilden court documents collection (Ms 71053-58) depict the tale of a woman jealous of her husband’s infidelity and the twists and turns of their relationship as they tried to reconcile. The collection contains Mary Tilden’s letters to the pastor, letters to her husband, one letter of testimony in favor of Mary, and one in favor of Stephen.

Humphrey Davenport of Coventry, Connecticut wrote on behalf of Stephen Tilden. “By ye singular expressions of his love and tender regards towards her, which he so variously manifested & so often repeated that during ye whole of my abode at his house I did esteem him…a real patern of conjucal love.” A much different view of the relationship was presented by Mary Nichols. In relating her interaction with the couple, Nichols described an incident in which Stephen Tilden threatened to beat a boy’s brains out because a part for his cart was missing. Nichols concluded, “the little time I was there, I see him act so towards his wife and children, I thought he had ye least tenderness I ever see in any man in my life.”  There is no way for us to know precisely what transpired between Mary and Stephen Tilden, though Mary’s letters are more closely aligned with Nichols’ view than with Davenport’s.

In February 1733 Stephen tearfully requested Mary return home. Two days later he told her she should not. Some time within the next month the Tildens went before the church appointed committee. The documentation does not indicate precisely what the committee recommended, though Mary was advised to return to Stephen. Stephen, however, did not comply with the advice given to him. “Since you do utterly refuse to comply with the advice of ye committee on your part,” Mary wrote in March, “I do hereby offer myself to return to you if you will discover your self willing to receive me as your wife….I think it very hard I must lye in the bosome of a man by his words and actions hath made me jealouse of him…yet I am advised it is my duty to return.”

Mary Tilden letter to her husband, 1733 March 12, Ms 71053-58. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Mary wrote two letters that day in March 1733; in both she spoke of jealousy. In one letter she declared that though she “laboured under many difficulties by reason of your carriage towards me while I lived with you,” she did find she “was in an error in leaving you as I did.” Neither of these letters would resolve the issue. A church meeting was held in November 1733 and Stephen agreed he would take Mary back as his wife, after she made a public apology. When Rev. Solomon Williams wrote to Mary in December, this had not occurred.

Mary Tilden’s brother, Joseph Fowler, replied to Williams’ note. His sister had left town. Rev. Williams had the final word on the subject, as it is presented to us in this collection.

At a church meeting December 21, 1733. Whereas Mary Tilden is gone of ye town ye Reasons of which are unknown to us & we can’t at present be certain whether she has any reason to offer why she did not comply with ye direction of ye church in returning to her husband or what reasons she has to offer- therefore voted to suspend the consideration of said case for some time till something farther appears.

If the situation was ever resolved, the documentation does not exist within this collection.

It would be easy, with our 21st century ideas, to judge Mary and Stephen Tilden’s actions and decisions. Laws and societal norms have changed significantly in the past 278 years. It is obvious, though, that troubled marriages are nothing new.

This collection is open for research. Come visit!

A messy divorce, 19th century style

Sometimes, our volunteers and interns have all the fun!  If you can call divorce fun.  In the papers of Augustine Harlow (Ms 68508), processed by Zac Mirecki, are a series of letters from Augustine’s sister Flora Barry who was living in Boston.  The letters date from 1872-1873,  and in them she details the actions of her husband, Charles A. Barry, in obtaining a divorce.

The first indication that all was not well is enclosed in a letter dated November 16, 1872.  He wrote: “I have fully resolved to make a change in my domestic affairs on the first of December next.  I am not happy here, and the expense to me in carrying on so large an establishment as this is greater than I can any longer than the first of December willingly meet.”  On December 4, he wrote again: “A few days before you went away from this City–on the 27th of November last–I made known to you that I could not continue to live as we have lived–in an expensive manner. You have been away from home–against my wishes–a large part of the time for several years.”  He tried to get her to agree to a separation, which she refused to do.  Flora was a singer and was on frequent concert tours  and she mentions trips to Maine, Nova Scotia, and Chicago.  Evidently Charles did not like her independent life style.  When he issued his ultimatum to move to a smaller house and stop traveling, she refused and he sued for divorce.  But not before punching her in the eye and cheek and publishing slanderous articles in the Boston newspapers.

The end of the story is that Flora finally filed her own divorce suit against Charles, and when he did not bother to show up, the divorce was granted.  These letters are intriguing in that rarely do we get to see the inner workings of a marriage in total failure.

The  Augustine Harlow papers are a study in contrasts.  The bulk of the collection consists of letters exchanged almost daily between Augustine and his wife, Ella, who had a very happy and loving marriage.  The less positive side of life is reflected in the letters of Emma Jean Ritner, Ella Harlow’s sister, in which she mentions local incidents of rape and sexual assault as well as instances of childhood injury.  Love, courtship, divorce, assault all in one collection.  The research possibilities are endless!