John Trumbull, artist

John Trumbull, self portrait.

John Trumbull (1756-1843) was the son of Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull and first cousin of M’Fingall poet John Trumbull. John the artist graduated from Harvard in 1773 and served as an aide to General Washington during the Revolution. In 1784 he went to London to study with the painter Benjamin West. Continue reading

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

“Book of letters”

One of my tasks in getting the Oliver Wolcott papers digitized and online is quality control—looking at each image to make sure it is clear and legible. I am up to box 18 (of 59!). When I got to the volumes of draft letters in box 16, I noticed the “docketing” on the reverse. It gave me some insight into how his office was run. Wolcott wrote his own letters, but then secretaries took those, copied them, and recorded each letter in a register of sorts. Then that information was written on the back of the page, as can be seen in this example. This letter was written to the Secretary of State and recorded in “Book of Letters No. 3 to Executive Officers.”

A check of the National Archives indicates that for the Department of the Treasury, there is an entire series of “Letters Sent”, including indexes and registers that are organized by the recipient—President, Cabinet Officers, Congress, Judiciary, etc. The indexes cover the years Wolcott was in office, but evidently registers from those years did not survive. Hmm, sounds like at some point I should make the trip to Washington to see these registers and indexes in person. I love learning new things!

Digitizing the Wolcott papers is being funded in part by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

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

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

Roberts’ Opera House: Finest Place of Amusement in New England

In January 1869 the Roberts’ Opera House opened on Main Street in Hartford, Connecticut. In an article announcing the event, the New York Times called it the “finest place of amusement in New-England.” Today I was cataloging a ledger with listings of performances at the Opera House between 1871 and 1886. Each entry includes the name of the performer(s) and the amount of money collected at each event.

Roberts' Opera House records, 1871-1886, Ms 26034. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

A variety of acts, lecturers, and other performance groups entertained at Roberts’. There were many minstrel acts, some from as far away as California. Readings, lectures, operas, and marionette acts also occurred. Over the years many performances of Uncle Tom’s Cabin took place. Operas, such as a performance of Don Giovanni, brought in the largest sums (over $2700 for a performance in February 1872). Most, though, would yield a couple hundred dollars. At only $50, the Mansfield Seance in May 1878 was one of the lower grossing events. At the end of each year the total receipts were recorded, along with an average per show.

Roberts' Opera House records, 1871-1886, Ms 26034. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Some well-known people and groups took the stage, including Buffalo Bill, the Yale Glee Club, and Henry Ward Beecher. Others are less familiar to us today, such as Maid of Columbia, Waifs of New York, and Schools for Scandal. Black Crook held many performances, but I only noted one mention of Barnum’s Aggregation. In the later years temperance lectures were held in the hall, and it was used more than once by the Catholic Society. A newspaper clipping stored with the volume lists performances from 1870, including a two-headed girl!

If you are interested in researching amusement in Hartford, come visit! This volume is open for research.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton letter

Fall is quickly approaching, the new school year has begun, and the year 5771 has begun for Jews around the world. For us, this September is the beginning of a new grant cycle. After having cataloged 1945 manuscripts and account books since September 2008, our counter is being reset to zero (all have been entered into our online catalog). Over the next two years we hope to catalog at least as many items, further decreasing our backlog. This new project is also funded by the NHPRC and we continue to be grateful for their support.

I intend to return to my schedule of [This Month] in the Archives posts along with posts about items that Barbara and I find interesting (and hope you do, too!). I just spent some time doing an inventory of part of our holdings and was pleasantly surprised to find a letter written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Hartford, Connecticut suffragist Isabella Beecher Hooker. As we continue to display our suffrage exhibit and celebrate the anniversary of the 19th amendment, it seemed apropos to share it with you.

ECS letter

Elizabeth Cady Stanton letter, ca. 1890s, Ms x3025. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Mrs. Stanton wrote four pages to Mrs. Hooker. She began by explaining why she was unable to travel to Connecticut to help with the state’s suffrage cause. That spring and summer Stanton was quite busy addressing graduating classes. It was the first time a woman had been asked to do so, and she felt she could not pass up the opportunity.

The tone of the letter demonstrates that the two women were friendly, and had at least one friend in common. On the third page Stanton asks, “Will you & Pauline be at Saratoga?” Stanton signed the letter, “Lovingly yours.”

ECS signature

Elizabeth Cady Stanton letter, ca. 1890s, Ms x3025. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

The letter is open for research and the catalog record will be available at the end of September.

This Week in the Archives: Mary K. Talcott, Genealogist

Editors’s note: “This Week in the Archives” is filling in while “This Month in the Archives” posts itself to the beach for a week or two.

Mary Kingsbury Talcott (1847-1917) was a lifelong resident of Hartford, Connecticut. She was one of the foremost genealogists of her time in the state. According to a remembrance in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Talcott traced her descent back to John Talcott of Cambridge, MA (1632).  She also had family connections with many other prominent Connecticut families.

Among Talcott’s accomplishments were writing many articles about Hartford, Contributing to the Memorial History of Hartford County, and editing two volumes of Talcott Papers in the Connecticut Historical Society’s Collections . She was active in the Connecticut Society of Colonial Dames,  the Ruth Wyllys Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Society of Mayflower Descendants in the State of Connecticut, and the Order of Descendants of Colonial Governors, and a member of various Hartford clubs.

We have several of Mary Talcott’s collections already listed in our online catalog. Yesterday I encountered another (Ms 86768). The collection has received several levels of processing over the years and consists of three sets of boxes. The first set, numbered 1-6, contains correspondence sent to Talcott with genealogical inquiries. Personal letters comprise one folder. The material is arranged chronologically and the folders are labeled with the dates.

In the second set, numbered 1-4, there is a collection of forms gathered by Talcott for the History of the Kingsbury Family (I have not yet found that this was ever published). Additionally, it contains correspondence (1892-1908) and one folder of assorted printed material. Folders are also labeled with the dates.

In addition to correspondence, the final three boxes (not numbered) contain church records, certified records, copies of Hartford’s death records and probate records, two publication rough drafts, and a volume on the King family. These items have been foldered, but are not necessarily in any order.

For those interested in genealogy and the history of genealogists in the Hartford area, the collection likely contains a wealth of information. It is open for research and the catalog entry will be added at the end of the month. Please visit our website for more information about researching at CHS.

Physicians Record Book

It has been a few weeks since I have reported on our NHPRC project. We now have created over 1900 records. July’s entries will be added to the online catalog early next week.

Today I enjoyed paging through a manuscript labeled Physician’s Record Book. A very brittle volume, it begins with notes copied from medical books. There are also notes about religion. What I found most interesting was the vast amount of medical information provided. It begins with pages listing patients’ names, ages, and what they were being treated for. In the doctors account books I have previously cataloged, they often simply wrote that they saw a particular family member, such as “To seeing wife” or “to treating son.”

The doctor who used this volume (it does not appear to contain his name) made notes of congestion in the brain, cholera morbus, spasm from constipation, and ecchymosis. He also wrote about more common ailments such as influenza, diarrhea, and teething. Particularly with the more serious illnesses, the doctor recorded whether the patient recovered or died.

Physician's Record Book

Patient listing, Phyisican's Record Book, 1816-1824, Ms 85583. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Of particular interest are the pages of journal entries regarding women in childbirth. The doctor detailed not just the current pregnancy, but others the woman may have had, along with whether there were complications. In this section he referred to the woman only by their last initial. As you may read below, the doctor spared few details in his description of Mrs. D.

Record Book

Entry from Physician's Record Book, 1816-1824, Ms 85583. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Mrs. D was on her forth pregnancy. Her most recent one had been normal, though she had trouble with the first two. The doctor details his patient’s pains and the position of her child. It is difficult to ascertain whether the child survived. The mother, however, did not. Ten days after the doctor recorded the pains, etc., Mrs. D. suffered some horrible experiences (detailing them would lead to too much spam!) and soon passed away.

Fortunately we can balance out Mrs. D’s ordeal with that of Mrs. H. Her third labor lasted 12 hours and she fully recovered.

Entry from Physician's Record Book, 1816-1824, Ms 85583. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Though we do not know the author of the volume, names in the listing of patients can be found in Massachusetts census records from 1810 and 1820. The doctor was most likely in the Boston area. Our usual practice would be to recommend de-accessioning an account book from a state other than Connecticut. However, neither Barbara nor I could bear the thought of passing along this invaluable look at female medicine in the nineteenth century.

This volume is open for research. As always, please come visit. Make sure to read about other items in our collections on Connecticut Public Broadcasting’s Your Public Media site. You may also “like” us on Facebook and follow @ConnHistSoc on Twitter.

First Church collections book

Recently I cataloged an account book kept by one of the collectors for the First Congregational Society in Hartford. It is a small volume, only partially filled, and was used for the fifth district.  The district’s limits were “North of, but not including State St, East side of Main St. & Windsor St., and all between these limits and Connecticut River.”

Among the organizations for which the church collected were the American Education Society, Seamen’s Friends Society, and general missions home and abroad. As you can see on the image below (click to enlarge), Calvin Day was among the church’s supporters.

Calvin Day

First Congregational Society collections and expenditures book, 1853-1868, Ms 77596. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Day was a prominent Hartford merchant who was active in the church and many other organizations in town. His fortune allowed him to donate generously, and it is not a surprise to see his signature.

What I did not expect to find in the volume were the biographies of those receiving aid. Eleven individuals and families are listed as beneficiaries of the church.


First Congregational Society collections and expenditures book, 1853-1868, Ms 77596. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

(I have chosen to display Mr. and Mrs. Buatt since he was a lithographer and we are pretty keen on lithography around here. Have you seen our Kellogg Brothers exhibit?).

The entries are all very similar, noting when the aid recipients joined the church, where they were born, other family members, their current expenses, and how much they received from the church.  Some received just cash, others also received coal deliveries. Regardless of what they received, these are the people whose stories are not remembered as well as the Calvin Days of the world. Each entry provides a brief glimpse into their lives. Mrs. Candace Augustus, age 95,  lived with her daughter-in-law and had to pay board. Laura Wheeler was “a weak minded woman” who married “Geo. Woodworth, a worthless fellow.” Sarah C. Smith “has supported herself by her needle,” and planned to move to live with her brother in Jacksonville, IL when she regained her health.

I did some more research on Sarah Smith and found that she did not move to Illinois. She is listed on the 1870 and 1880 Hartford censuses and is in the Hartford city directories through 1887. Her death does not appear to have been recorded in the Hartford Courant.

This piece and all others are available for research. Come visit!