Samson Occom- Getting More Collections Online

The past few days I have been preparing the scans from the microfilm of the Samson Occom papers so I can publish them in Connecticut History Online. This is another of the collections we are getting online with funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. I have already blogged about the Wolcott papers, which are only about half done. Continue reading

Getting collections online

nhprc-logo-mHurray! We just received our official award letter from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the granting arm of the National Archives. This $35,000 grant is going to fund the digitization of eleven manuscripts collections that have already been microfilmed. Microfilm is still the best option for preserving manuscript collections, but we all know how people HATE using microfilm. By digitizing the film we make the collections more available both here and on the web. The goal is to add the scanned collections to Connecticut History Online. Continue reading

The Names Have Been Changed


Map from The New and Unknown World, by Arnoldus Montanus, Amsterdam, 1671. The Connecticut Historical Society, 2012.172.2

Look at any really old map of Connecticut—from about 1800 or earlier—and you’ll see lots of unfamiliar place names. In part this is simply because spelling had not been standardized, but many places were simply called different things at different points in time. The Native Americans had their own names and so did the Dutch. A few of those early names have endured, but others have long been replaced by names imported from England. There is a wonderful book called Connecticut Place Names, long out of print, which was published by the Connecticut Historical Society in 1976. It gives the origins of all the different names by which communities and geographical features have been known over time. We use it at CHS when we try to determine where old photographs were taken, when all we have to go by is a microscopic road sign in the picture or a scribbled annotation on the back. We also use it to date undated maps on the basis of the names that do or do not appear on them. It’s a reminder that names are often arbitrary things and that just like everything else they are subject to change.

So take a look at some of the old maps which have recently been digitized with support from Connecticut Humanities, and think about the names you see every day, as you drive to work or walk around your neighborhood: the names of streets and streams, roads and rivers, towns and cities. Rightly understood, these names have the ability to take us back in time and connect us with the past.

To all to Whom these presents shall come…

We have lots and lots of deeds in the collections at CHS that do not regularly inspire great interest. Last week, however, we acquired two very important deeds that were signed by Native Americans in Branford.

Native American deed for land in Branford, 1686. CHS Ms 101753

Native American deed for land in Branford, 1686. CHS Ms 101753

In 1686, Wampum, Nawatockis, Sibbon Jonson, Geoffry and Manapollet all made their mark on this deed that provided clarification on land previously deeded to the English proprietors. Whether that first transfer was verbal or written is not specified or known, but the parties determined it was “not so formall as should be respecting the boundaryes of said land although the above-said English have had quiet possession for many years.” The previous agreement also did not state anything about Native Americans’ rights for hunting and fishing. The question is, who wanted more formality in that transfer? I assume it was the English, with their penchant for law and propriety.

The second document (below), dated 1716/17 and signed by only two of the previously named Natives, known as Richard Sr. and Richard Jr., seems to be another fine-tuning of the agreement and involves land on Indian Neck in the south central section of Branford.

Deed for land in Branford, 1716/17. CHS Ms 101753

Deed for land in Branford, 1716/17. CHS Ms 101753

We are delighted with this new acquisition because deeds signed by Native Americans are rare, and we do not have really strong holdings related to Branford. This was a double “win” for CHS.

November in the Archives

November is always a month of elections and Thanksgiving. Going with that theme, this month’s “in the Archives” post is going to focus on the papers of a politician and of a Native American.

Of the 130 catalog records we created in November, three relate to the papers of Roger Sherman. Sherman, a native of Massachusetts, moved to Connecticut in his early twenties. Over the years he had several occupations, including store owner, surveyor, lawyer, and mayor of New Haven, Connecticut. Sherman is also well known for his participation in the formation of the government of the United States. He is the only person to have signed all four of the following: the United States Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Association, the Articles of Confederation, and the United States Constitution.

Sherman’s governmental work is evident in his 1779 diary (Ms68355). A small almanac, the pages opposite each month’s calendar served as notepaper for Sherman (this was a common practice). Some have notes about taxes and the Continental Treasury. There are also more mundane notes, such as the amount of butter he purchased.

In his role as Clerk of the First Ecclesiastical Society in New Milford, Sherman signed a certificate (Ms 80283) in December 1754 certifying the process of the construction of a new meeting house. The certificate describes the frame (sixty by forty-three feet), notes that the roof had been added, and mentions the tax that will be levied on the citizens of the town to finance the construction.

Also cataloged this month are a letter and a writ signed by Sherman, one dated July 1781 and the other September 1782 (Ms 44831). The letter, dated 1781, was sent to John Lawrence, Esq. and provides an account of the surrender of the British in Augusta, Georgia. Sherman signed the 1782 writ as a justice on the Connecticut Supreme Court. It was summoning Alling and Huldah Carrington to appear before the court “to hear read, the Record, Process of Judgment had & rendered in a certain Cause” between the Carringtons and Asa Huntington.

Roger Sherman diary

Roger Sherman diary, 1779, Ms 68355. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Gladys Tantaquidgeon was a medicine woman and active member of the Mohegan tribe. She studied anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and published about Native Americans and medicine. The University of Connecticut and Yale University both awarded Tantaquidgeon honorary doctorates for her accomplishments. Among the many honors she received, Tantaquidgeon has also been inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame. Other jobs she held include working with the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and librarian at the Niantic (Connecticut) Women’s Prison.

In 1933 Tantaquidgeon, in association with the University of Pennsylvania, compiled an eight page document detailing the designs of Mohegan-Pequot basketry (Ms 44083). She described the types of baskets, materials, techniques, and design elements. The paper includes three pages of drawings of the designs used. Among our museum collections we have a number of baskets made by members of Tantaquidgeon’s family.


Basket, 1860-1880, 1950.479.0, Connecticut Historical Society collections.

The basket and the manuscripts are all available for research. Come visit! While you are here, or from the comfort of your home, buy a membership for yourself or someone else on your holiday gift list. Memberships, some of our recent publications, and other items are available for purchase through our store.

Stonington, Connecticut.

One of the largest collections cataloged for our grant project was the Stonington selectmen’s records, 1792-1903.  The collection, measures 30.25 linear feet (61 boxes) and dates from the entire 19th century, the bulk of the records are from the 1880s and 1890s. Earlier records, from the 1820s, have yielded names of colored people (a term often used to refer to Native Americans) and Negroes living in town. Later records detail purchases of groceries for the poor, schoolhouse expenses, and labor for highway repairs. Each month the selectmen would submit their bill to the town, complete with all their receipts. Earlier submissions were entirely handwritten, but by the 1880s the majority of the documentation was written on pre-printed forms.

Among the more interesting discoveries was that supplies for the poor were divided among the five voting districts, with the second district receiving the most assistance. Also, dog owners were fined if their dog killed or injured a sheep.  By 1890 the fine for this offence was up to five dollars per sheep.

Also of interest are many bills for town residents enrolled at the Connecticut School for Imbeciles and those receiving services at the Connecticut State Hospital. There are several mentions of town residents being treated for small pox. A list, compiled during the Civil War, provides the names of substitutes drafted to serve in place of Stonington residents.  MS 70293