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

Lodge Diana Birger Jarl No. 3, Vasa Order of America

On March 17, 1928, the meeting of the Birger Jarl Lodge was called to order at 7:45 pm. Minutes indicate that several individuals were missing. The members who were present approved the minutes of the previous meeting, were read a list of people who were sick, and appointed a committee to sell tickets to their upcoming ball. The financial report concluded  the meeting.

A record book of the Birger Jarl Lodge was recently added to our collections. The minutes of meetings date from 1923-1940 and document a fraternal organization in Connecticut that helped newly arrived Nordic immigrants assimilate into American society, sought to preserve Nordic culture, and offered financial support when needed. Benefit societies like Birger Jarl Lodge No. 3 were often formed around an ethnic identity, a geographic location, a church, or a particular business. They were particularly important because there was so government-funded health insurance at the time of their creation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Vasa Order of America, which was the umbrella organization for the New Haven lodge, was founded September 18, 1896, in New Haven, Connecticut, to provide spiritual, physical and financial aid to its members. It was a combination of various sick benefit societies of Nordic origin within the State of Connecticut.

This is a great addition to our collections concerning immigrant populations to America. The only catch is, the entire volume is written in Swedish! It took an international effort for us to even understand the text of a single meeting. It presents a challenge not unlike that of the records of the Young Italian American Club which is primarily written in Italian.

The record book will be available through our Research Center. Ask for Ms 101617.

Letterhead for the Swedish aide society, Ms 101617.

Minutes of a meeting of the Birger Jarl No. 3, New Haven, Conn.

Two notable families

We just acquired a particularly rich family collection that we hope researchers will use a lot.  It consists of correspondence among members of the Terry and Bacon families of Hartford and New Haven, respectively.  Nathaniel Terry, the progenitor of the family, married Catherine Wadsworth.  Nathaniel was mayor of Hartford and a Congressman.  His sons were also quite distinguished and most of them attended and graduated from Yale.

One son, Adrian Russell Terry, was a physician, and his most fascinating letters are those written while he was in Ecuador trying to establish a medical practice there.  Great observations of the local land and citizens, plus a huge list of medical supplies he purchased in New York City are two of the highlights among his papers.

Charles A. Terry, another of Nathaniel’s sons, was also a physician and when he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, he sent back vivid descriptions of that city.  His brother, Alfred Terry, was the most avid letter writer in the family.  His letters are mostly from his student days at Yale and later at Litchfield, Connecticut, where he studied law under James Gould.

Daughter Catherine Terry married noted minister, theologian and author Leonard Bacon.  All of their children (and there were plenty) wrote to mother about their activities, the development of their children, their relationships with other family members, etc.  Leonard Bacon and his son Leonard W. traveled to Europe and the Middle East from 1850-1851 and they wrote long, detailed letters of their impressions of the familiar and unfamiliar.

Catherine and Leonard’s son, Francis Bacon, a physician, wrote from Galveston, Texas where he tried (unsuccessfully) to get established in a practice.  His letters are filled with disparaging remarks about the lack of culture among the population there.  He also could not stand the weather.

George Bacon, another son, wrote several letters in the 1850s while he was on board the U.S.S. Portsmouth when it sailed to Shanghai and Hong Kong. Daughters Rebecca T. Bacon and Alice Mabel Bacon also made names for themselves, the first as an educator, the second as a teacher in Japan and as the founder of a nurses training school for African-American women in Hampton, Virginia.  And I could go on, as does the collection.

As I mentioned at the outset, this promises to be an extremely important research collection.  I cannot wait to learn what other gems exist in addition to the letters from Rutherford B. Hayes, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Lydia Sigourney and Alexis de Toqueville.