Journal of occurances in a journey

Cover of an anonymous travel journal, 1800. Ms 01811.

Cover of an anonymous travel journal, 1800. Ms 01811.

In May of 1800 an as yet anonymous man traveled from New Haven to New York City and on to Philadelphia in the company of Jeremiah Day, a tutor at Yale. They took a boat from New Haven to New York, where the city was in an uproar from recent state elections. From there, the men took a stage on their way to the former capital city. He comments on the landscape and agricultural and industrial potential, gives descriptions of taverns where they stayed (one was particularly poor), and describes the other people in the stage.

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How Others (Don’t) See Us…

Coming off a road trip to West Virginia (mentioned in my previous blog) I was thinking about perceptions of place, and by extension the people who inhabit them. As coastal-oriented folks, my wife and I had absolutely no experience traveling through interior states; and oh my, West Virginia certainly lived up to its nickname “The Mountain State”; just ask our poor underpowered Honda. Thought those winding climbs to 3500 feet and above (complete with switchbacks and precipitous drops worthy of a James Bond film) would never end. With apologies to Dorothy and Toto, we knew for sure we weren’t in Connecticut anymore! Continue reading

Illustrating Stylish Travel

Often times at the CHS, we write articles, present programs, and give tours based on our collections.  Many times these articles, programs, and tours are based on information and items we already know we have in the collection.  However, sometimes the topic comes first, and the illustrations come second.


Cheney Album. Volume 5. 1991.28.5.

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“As I have nothing else to do . . .”

Don’t you love holiday traffic when everyone seems to be on the same road, at the same time, going the same way? Imagine if you were at the mercy of the weather–or more exactly, the wind.

Recently added to our collections is a poem, penned by Alexander Bushnell (1771-1838) while on a ship traveling from Long Island back to Connecticut.  Bushnell had just been visiting his friend William Wells (1773-1855) of  Southold, Long Island. Alexander married William’s sister, Sarah in 1796. The poem tells a wonderful story, and also illustrates just how frustrating travel could be in the 18th century. No outboard motors in those days!

Bushnell wrote that the “wind was faint, and contra too out from the East it gently blew”, but they were still moving. That is until “the wind did die away and we did quick come to a stay where we did stand and look around to see the calm and silent sound”. The ship had left at 6:00 am and was becalmed soon after, until about noon.  Resignedly, Alexander wrote, “This seems my luck always to be when I set out my Friends to see to have the wind ahead or none, so I am Long in getting home.” But he did indeed make it home, and was able to send the poem to William although he had no sealing wax or wafer on board to seal the letter, as he explained on the back.

Page one of the poem.

His comment about lacking sealing wax is in the left bottom corner, opposite the address.

What are you working on?

This is a question I am asked routinely by family, friends, and co-workers. Admittedly, I often struggle to come up with something more profound than, “Uh…um…you know, stuff.” I encounter great material every  day, and it is so hard to remember all of it! The larger collections are usually easier to recollect, simply because they can be discussed more broadly. Many times, though, some of the most original pieces are found in the smaller collections.

Such was the case today as I started working on the Solomon Porter papers (MS 62050, 0.25 linear foot, 1 box). Solomon Porter was born in Windsor in 1753. He later moved to Hartford where, in 1782, he married Rebecca Dodd. The earliest papers date from 1783, when Porter was working as a merchant with his father, Nathaniel Porter. I found three pieces that were different than I have seen before.

A traveler, perhaps one of the Porters, journeyed to Boston and made several stops along the way. This piece demonstrates that not only did the traveler make multiple stops along the way, but he chose to stop at different places on the way home from Boston than on the way there.

The Porters sold a variety of goods, including musical instruments. Who knew that instructions for German flutes were so popular. The list suggests they had 48 copies! Most often I read of merchants selling staples such as wheat and sugar. Not too many are selling bassoons!

My favorite for the day is a 1792 order for a backgammon table, clothes, and “print of an angel descending with a child.” The buyer wants to make sure the coat binding they receive will match their clothes, and has therefore attached five samples to the letter, with wax.  There are so many things about this piece I enjoy, and if I were teaching, I think this piece could provide young students with so many lessons. Among other things, I would love to show the wax seals and refer to it as 18th century Scotch tape.

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.