Founding Fathers

I have been unnaturally quiet recently, working feverishly on cataloging at least 900 collections before September 2010.  I am not doing this alone, however.  I am ably assisted by Project Archivist Jennifer Sharp, several volunteers, and CHS’s Assistant Archivist Cyndi Harbeson.  Since September 1 we have created more than 150 catalog records.  We are off to a good start.

For my part of the project, I decided to tackle two of what I considered our most important collections, although until I actually went through them I had no idea just how important.  The first was the papers of Jeremiah Wadsworth, who is one of the unsung founding fathers.  He was responsible for provisioning Washington’s troops against amazing odds–no teamsters to hire, no farmers willing to sell the bulk of their crops to the army, no money to pay the farmers, etc.  Eventually Jeremiah resigned as Quartermaster General, but shortly after his resignation, he was appointed agent for the French troops who were stationed in Newport, Rhode Island.   One of his responsibilities was obtaining provisions. As you may imagine, he ran into some of the same problems he had previously.  What I find most amazing, however, is his very active role in re-establishing trade with France after the close of the Revolution and his role in establishing the US bank.  His correspondents reads like a who’s who of the Revolution–Rochambeau, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, the Marquis de Lafayette, and the list goes on.

The second collection was the papers of William Samuel Johnson.  He was a lawyer from Stratford, Connecticut, and is credited with being the “Father” of the Connecticut Bar.   An Anglican, at one point he was arrested by the government of Connecticut as a loyalist, but was later excused. His attachment to Great Britain came in large part from his five years there representing the colony before the Privy Council in the Mohegan Case.  The evidence and testimony from this trial form a large portion of Johnson’s papers and include original deeds signed by Uncas and other Indian leaders, and documents signed by John Mason.  Johnson corresponded with people like Jared Ingersoll, Roger Sherman, Jeremiah Wadsworth, Eliphalet Dyer and Matthew Griswold on this side of the Atlantic and with Richard Jackson and Benjamin Latrobe from across the sea.

I can only scratch the surface of these two collections, but I can see several theses or a dissertation coming from either of them.  Once they are fully cataloged, I hope researchers make their way to these two extremely rich collections.

Frank Smith correspondence

How would you feel if your younger son went off to war? Annie Smith of New London, was nearly beside herself when son Frank joined the Quartermaster Corp in 1918. Her letters to him, part of the many letters sent to popular Frank, are filled with comments about how much she misses him, how she cries when she reads his letters, how she cries when she writes back to him, and how much she fears he will go “across”. Frank worked in the laundry at Forts Mead and Meigs and with the reclamation department in Ohio. His chances of going oversees were limited.

While Annie’s sentiments about her son are intriguing, so are some of the tidbits she included in her letters. She tells him one time that she had to cut the cake she made him to fit in the box.  She is also struck that there are girls working down at the machine shop! “They have to wear overall and shirts.” The flu epidemic was in full swing while Frank was in the service (yet another worry for Annie!) and she mentions that there are a lot of sick people in New London and that a lot are dying. It seems New London was quarantined for awhile during the outbreak.

As a slice of life in New London in the early 20th century, this collection is a gem.

Little-known gems from the era of the Revolution

Although we have an “American Revolution Collection”, there are still many important documents found in other collections or by themselves. Here are a few examples. From February 25, 1780, we have an account of the State of Connecticut with Joshua Elderkin, Commissary for cloth sent to the Northern Army and to the Ship O. Cromwell, for refreshments to the marching troops, and for supplies in the Quartermaster’s department.

Many of our manuscripts enumerate the types of supplies the army needed. As late as 1782, Roger Tyler Jr. of Branford reported to the State Treasurer the articles of provisions, cloathing, &c taken in on the 2/6d tax, namely beef, pork, oats, white woolen cloth, white and brown linen cloth, and woolen stockings.

Eliphalet Thorp raised his own Company of men for the winter campaign and was reimbursed by the Pay-table Committee on December 31, 1776. David Silliman billed the state for carrying a warning to the Representatives of Redding, Danbury, New Fairfield and Newtown. The bill, dated February 15, 1781, included the cost of hiring a horse (40 miles at eight pence a mile), for two days of travel (at ten shillings a day), and for incidental expenses. The grand total was two pounds, thirteen shillings in state money. There was no federal or national money at that point. The state was also responsible for the cost of transporting [gun] powder for the use of Colonel Ward in 1776.

State printer Timothy Green submitted his bill in 1782. He published Assembly resolutions, advertisements, copies of laws, resolutions of the Governor and Council of Safety, and proclamations, along with the local New London newspaper. Undoubtedly, with some searching, we could find examples of his printing elsewhere in our collections. This is just one of many instances where the print collections and manuscripts complement each other.