How many copies does it take?

Sometimes you just don’t realize what you are looking at. I was reviewing the Wolcott papers to make sure I put the right volume- and object-numbered document in the correct “folder” of the finding aid (just one step in the project funded by NHPRC to get our manuscripts online through Connecticut History Online). I kept seeing the words “duplicate” and “triplicate” along the top edge of letters dated 1795 in Amsterdam and addressed to the Treasury Department in the U.S.

In the upper left, you can see the word "Duplicate". The letter was "mailed" July 1795 and did not arrive until October.

In the upper left, you can see the word “Duplicate”. The letter was “mailed” July 1795 and did not arrive until October. Note that the original was conveyed through Hamburg.

It was only by the time I had gotten through three or four folders that I realized that, in 1795, you did not pick up the phone, hop on a plane, or use any technology we are so used to today. In 1795, you sent multiple copies of a document (all done by hand, mind you, in perfect script) via several different routes to ensure the message arrived. I imagine the ones marked “Quadruplicate” were by far the most important. Even then, some letters took months to arrive. What happened to other copies? Did they arrive too and just not get saved? Or did they have some misadventure?

Three copies of this letter were sent to the Treasury Department.

Three copies of this letter were sent to the Treasury Department and took seven months.

In this day and age when Secretary of State Kerry can be in Ukraine in a matter of hours, how does one even begin to fathom the pace of diplomacy in the 18th century? The issue resolved in 1795, to which this letter was a part, was commonly called the Jay Treaty. The treaty averted war between the young United States and Great Britain and stipulated the final withdrawal of British troops from forts in the Northwest Territory. Maybe having to take your time meant you had to think about what you were doing in a more methodical manner.

A Who’s Who of the Early Republic

Working with the papers of Oliver Wolcott Jr. really is like reading a Revolutionary War/Early Republic who’s who, as I mentioned in my previous post about our grant-funded project. I keep running across letters to or from the likes of Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Noah Webster. 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

Dear Sir

Between 1865 and 1868, naturalist John Burroughs maintained correspondence with S.W. Adam of Canaan, Connecticut. The collection, now among our manuscripts (Ms 78678), is primarily letters from Burroughs to Adam, with a few written by Adam. While the bulk of their conversation pertains to birds, Burroughs managed to unwittingly stumble into a side conversation.

As the exchange began, all of Burroughs’ letters were’ addressed to S. W. Adam, Esq. He started each letter, “Dear Sir.” A couple of months into the correspondence, Adam wrote, “In conclusion you will allow me to say, that although somewhat of an advocate for ‘woman’s rights’ in my own family, I have not yet attained the position to demand the affix Esq. to my name!” The letter was signed Sarah W. Adam.

“Dear Madam,” Burroughs replied. “Is that right? Really I am very stupid, but how was I to know. I had said to myself my Canaan correspondent was a clergyman. I hardly know from what I drew my influence but such was my impression. But better than that it is a lady.” The remainder of the letter was once again about birds.

Burroughs was closer to getting it right. A couple letters later, he finally did.

Dear Miss Adam, I owe this to my good friend Mr. Benton. He assures me that you really are neither a Mr. nor a Madam but a veritable young lady, which seems quite improbable considering your tastes, as I have never known a lady old or young whom I thought had a deep and permanent love for nature or natural objects.

Burroughs just could not believe a young lady would be interested in topics such as taxidermy.

Adam and Burroughs did not correspond over the winter. Adam, in her next letter, began by mentioning that she did not see many winter birds. A couple pages later, in the midst of discussing Warblers, she wrote, “I saw your friend Mr. Benton, and took him to task for disabusing your mind of the idea that I was a ‘clergyman,’ able to shoot the Birds!” Two pages later, Adam again breaks from the bird discussion.

Here let me call you to account for your slander on my sex in yr. last letter – wherein you speak of knowing no ‘woman young or old who has a deep and permanent love for nature.’ Truly, you must have spent all your days in Washington or some more terrible place, if any such can be named. I will pardon you on the first sign of penitence.

From there Adam segued into an experience with frogs.

Penitence was offered in Burroughs’ reply.

I did not mean to say that a lady could not have a deep & permanent love of nature; I only meant to say that I had never known any such. Every lady professes the greatest love of nature but I find it does not go very deep. Do they go to the woods at all seasons and alone? That is my test.

“I am glad you apply such a mild test,” Adam wrote in her next letter, “to an ‘earnest love of nature’ – that of visiting the woods alone! Surely there must be a good many men among women, who can bear it. ” She admitted, though, she knew few.

Though the conversation would continue for at least another two years, Adam and Burroughs kept their discussion to birds, frogs, and nature in general. Burroughs probably never made assumptions again as to the gender of a writer!

John Burroughs letter to Sarah W. Adam, 1865 July 24, Ms 78678. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

This collection is open for research. Come visit!

President Garfield shot!

Little bits of history keep popping up as we continue to catalog the manuscript backlog. Last week I  happened upon a folder that simply stated, “telegram, E.K. Winship to J.R. Hawley, 1881”. What I had found was a message concerning the assassination attempt on the President!

Telegram to Joseph Hawley about the assassination attempt on President Garfield, Ms 67770. Connecticut Historical Society.

On July 2, 1881, Charles Guiteau took two shots at President James A. Garfield at the Baltimore and Potomac train station.  Soon thereafter, E.K. Winship sent his telegram to General Joseph R. Hawley in Hartford, Connecticut, conveying the news. He mentioned that the “bore of pistol admits finger” and that “Surgeon General Barnes says doubtless fatal.” Hawley had been a General in the Civil War; after the war he served as Governor of Connecticut for one term, and from 1881-1905 Hawley was a United States Senator and a Republican leader. He was also a newspaper publisher.  Garfield lingered 11 months before he finally succumbed to an infection, attributed to the doctor exploring the “bore of pistol admits finger” without sanitizing his hands. How far modern medicine has come since then. But how little progress, really, we have made in protecting public figures from people who have an agenda.

Another collection in our library contains additional information on the Garfield assassination. It is the correspondence of Frank Trusdell, a journalist assigned to the White House to await the President’s death. These fascinating letters are in the Clark and Hathaway Families Papers, 1834-1940 (Ms 90839).

New Fort for New London Harbor

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the War of 1812. That summer, as the war got underway, Secretary of War William Eustis wrote to Capt. C. D. Wood in New London, Connecticut. “Sir, You will immediately commence the repairs of the magazine at Fort Trumbull and the block house at Fort Griswold and will forward estimates with your opinion of the enclosed plan & works for the harbour of new London.”

Below is the plan Eustis enclosed. Rarely do we find anything so colorful among our manuscripts!

Plan for New London harbor, 1812, Ms 84137. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

The scale in the upper right corner of the document shows that the scale is 20 feet to one inch. Various letters, listed in the lower left corner, denote distances between points, a well, and magazines for powder and fixed ammunition. Structures visible are the officers quarters and barracks. The plan is on a single sheet of paper, approximately 11×17 inches. An image of the profile is on the reverse side.

Plan for New London harbor, 1812, Ms 84137. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Fort Trumbull, in New London, was in fact rebuilt in 1812. We do not know what Wood thought of the plan, nor if it was ultimately used. The fort that was built was torn down in 1839, replaced by the structure that still stands.

This collection is open for research. Come visit!

Making Connections: Ann Frances (Darling) Ibbotson

Though I have not specifically mentioned our NHPRC funded project lately, it certainly continues. Yesterday we completed our 2400th record. That leaves us with 600 to complete in the next seven months, definitely an achievable goal. Since we began this project in September 2008, over 5400 collections have been cataloged (3000 during the first two-year grant, the current 2400 in the second grant period). These days, when I head into the stacks to find manuscripts to work with, there are so many fresh, acid-free envelopes and Hollinger boxes lining the shelves that it is more of a hunt to find uncatalogued material. But I do find it!

As I combed the shelves yesterday I found a slim manilla (very acidic and therefore harmful to collections) envelope bearing the name of Ann Frances Darling Ibbotson, and stating that it contained letters to her parents. It did indeed contain those letters, and a few other items as well. My initial reaction, though, was to be perplexed about the relation of the items to Connecticut.  Why do we have a collection of letters being sent from England to New York? However, it is this sort of mystery that makes this job exciting.

Following an afternoon of research, I figured out the Connecticut connections. Ann Frances Darling Ibbotson is a descendent of  the Ely family, who first settled in Lyme, Connecticut in the 1600s. Her father, Thomas Darling, is said to have been of New Haven and New York. Ann Frances and Henry Ibbotson were married out of her father’s New Haven house. Later, the Ibbotsons’ son, Henry William, married Lucy Matilda Cary and settled in her hometown, Portland, Connecticut.

Of the early letters (1832, 1833 and 1840), three describe life for Ann Frances, a bride in her husband’s native England. She obviously misses her family, and in October 1833 wrote to her mother,

Wherever we are, under every variety of circumstances in which we may be placed, ones thoughts naturally turn to home,_ the abode of our earliest friends with feelings of the liveliest affection: is it not so? I know my mother can, from her own experience, appreciate  my feelings, for doubtless after she was left in a strange country, altho among very dear friends, yet often, like me, did she long for the presence of her Parents, and in a thousand trivial matters to as a mother’s advice, and many a time the knowledge of what she approved determined her conduct.

She continues to share information about their travels and activities in England. In the same letter Ann Frances describes the reaction her black servant, Eliza, has been receiving.

She attracts great notice, and crowds gathered round her when she first went to chapel to look at the novel sight of a black woman, and many shook hands with her…Perhaps Eliza is more looked at on account of her appearing better dressed than the servants here, whose apparel is subject to the direction of their mistress.

I have not had time yet to completely read Ann Frances’ letters, but am certainly curious what other observations she has.

After 1833, the letters skip to 1840 when Ann Frances and her children have arrived in Brooklyn. Her next letter is written in 1882, from her home in Binghamton, New York, to her granddaughter Anne.

Aside from the genealogical connections, I was also able to connect these letters with items in our museum collections.

The CHS has two pairs of shoes and a pelerine owned by Ann Frances, including the pair she wore at her wedding on 23 July 1833. It is so great to be able to read Ann Frances’ thoughts on paper and also catch a glimpse of how she presented herself in public. Overall, we come away with a more complete image of this former Connecticut resident.

The shoes, pelerine, and Ann Frances (Darling) Ibbotson papers (Ms 71966) are open for research. A catalog record for the papers will be uploaded to our online catalog, HistoryCat, in early February. The shoes and pelerine may also be viewed on eMuseum. Come visit!

Gold Street and the Ancient Burying Ground

Gold Street after being widened (click to enlarge).

“But for you Gold Street would still be a blot on our beautiful city, and we all owe you a debt of gratitude. Now if those stables could go, there would be nothing to offend the eye when the street is finished.”

These words were written to Emily Seymour Goodwin Holcombe by Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt in June 1899 (Ms 66889). Mrs. Colt was responding to an invitation to be present at a ceremony that would be held on June 17th to mark the transfer of Gold Street land to the City of Hartford.

On February 5, 1895 Rev. George Leon Walker, pastor of Center Church, read a paper before the Connecticut Historical

Eastern end of Gold Street before widening (click to enlarge).

Society in which he recommended something be done to clean up the area around Gold Street and the Ancient Burying Ground.  As The Hartford Courant noted the following morning, “Few of the living of the present Hartford have ever set foot there or set eye there even. It is shut out from sight and it and its are forgotten.” An area such as that, the resting place of approximately 6000 citizens, deserved better.

The woman to take up the charge was Emily Seymour Goodwin Holcombe. A descendant of the founders of Hartford, Mrs. Holcombe was also Regent of the Ruth Wyllys Chapter of the

Western end of Gold Street (click to enlarge).

Daughters of the American Revolution. The work was done under the auspices of the DAR. In January 1897 Mrs. Holcombe and her committee appealed to the Court of Common Council, who passed the matter to the Streets Board. Soon after meeting with the Streets Board, the project was approved. Fundraising was swift and most of the money, almost $24,000, had been raised by October.

Even though the owners of the buildings on the north side of Gold Street were willing to sell, the destruction of those tenements did not begin till April 1899. Two months later, though, they were gone. The street had been widened, the cemetery cleaned up, and it was time to celebrate.

The Courant reported that the

dominant feeling of the great gathering ws one of gratitude that the shame of the old Gold Street, with all its uncanny and wicked associations, had vanished forever before the unremitting efforts of the women of the chapter and their friends, and that in its place there was a wide avenue, full of June sunshine, and that just where the line of the old rookeries backed up against Hartford’s precious but neglected God’s acre, there was the open of sweetness and light just tempered by the shade of a few trees that have withstood bad treatment and lived until their tall branches could once more drink in the warmth of the sun.

Bands played, speeches were given, and Mrs. Holcombe was presented with a cup for her efforts. The deeds for the property, purchased by the DAR, were formally presented to the City of Hartford.

Presentation of Gold Street deeds to the City.

In 1913 the Court of Common Council reserved space for Mrs. Holcombe’s own burial in the cemetery she worked so hard to preserve. She died at her home in Hartford on March 28, 1923.

Bevin Bells

East Hampton (them Chatham), Connecticut has long been known as Belltown. Beginning in the 19th century, many bell manufacturers set up shop there. All but one of those factories, Bevin Brothers Manufacturing Co., has shut down. Bevin, the only American company still producing only bells,  has been making the news recently. Last year there was an article in The Hartford Courant* and last week a story aired on NPR.

Today, while gathering manuscripts to catalog, I found a patent issued to Isaac A. Bevin for an improved gong bell.

Patent for improved gong bell, 1866 October 9, Ms 73508. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

A great find during this holiday season, as Bevin makes all the bells for the Salvation Army. Clicking on the image will enlarge it, though it may still be difficult to read. All are welcome to view it in person. Come visit and research!

*My apologies if you have difficulty accessing the Courant article. You may have to log in to iConn with a Connecticut library card number in order to view it.