Memories Come Flooding Back

Recently the Hartford Courant has begun publishing a series of articles focusing on memorable events in Connecticut’s history since the newspaper’s founding 250 years ago. And let’s face it, there have been plenty of significant events to cover. Staff writer Jim Shea, better known for his humor column, tackled the story of flooding in Connecticut in a front page article, “Wild Waters”, in this past Sunday’s issue. Among the wet and wild events covered was the great August 1955 flood, the result of back-to-back hurricanes.

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What was the weather like . . .?

Weather diary kept at Ashford, Connecticut, 1837-1838.

Weather diary kept at Ashford, Connecticut, 1837-1838.

One of the more intriguing questions I get from researchers and writers is “what was the weather like on May 12, 1835”, or some equally distant date. Amazingly, I can often find the answer using regular diaries and what we refer to as “weather diaries.” Continue reading

Has spring finally arrived?

CHS Ms_33866_Pease_cover_1835It is May, and thoughts turn to spring. Samuel Pease of Enfield kept regular diaries between 1833 and 1851. He used an almanac within which he inserted blank pages so he could record his activities. With the beginning of a new month, I decided to take a look at what Samuel deemed important to record for the month of May. Continue reading

A backwards season

Is it global warming, or isn’t it? In a new acquisition for our collection, in 1827 Richard Bacon of Simsbury, Connecticut, may have thought so. In May he wrote: “The first part of the month quite warm + pleasant the latter part quite cold + the season backward.” In May, that trend continued:” The spring may be said to be quite cold and backwards hay was very short altho not scarce as was anticipated in consequence of a few warm days in April” and he complained of “many rainy days this month.” It sounds almost like Connecticut’s spring 2012.

The book covers 1827 to 1831. Many months Robert gave only a summary of the weather; for others he recorded nearly daily. And that was not all he recorded. On June 2 someone named Charles, who was 18, died at 8:00 in the evening; on June 20, the heifer went to the bull. One of his more interesting entries was made in September, which had been a very rainy month. He wrote, “My self at Granby at work on the locks on the night of the 19th about 10 o’clock fell into the Salmon Brook on the upper side of the culvert & was drawn thro the Center Timbers + with the asssitance of J. Ennis got out almost unhurt.”

Do modern scientists look at diaries such as this one to help measure climate change? I know they sample ice cores and things like that, but what about written materials? Anyone know a scientist we could ask?

To read the entire diary, visit our research center and ask for Ms 101628.

October in the Archives

The Connecticut Historical Society’s website is Please visit to learn more about us! (Due to circumstances beyond our control the site is not currently listed on Google)

And now back to our regularly scheduled blogging…

The temperatures are dropping, which means it’s a great time to warm up in the Research Center with some manuscripts. Another 130+ records will be making their way into our online catalog in the next few days. Some interesting, or at least out of the ordinary, items cataloged in October include:

Insurance company documents (Ms 55835) This is a collection of assorted insurance policy documents from various Connecticut companies. The companies represented include The Hartford Fire Insurance Co., Travelers Insurance Co., Connecticut Mutual Insurance Co., Hartford County Mutual Fire Insurance Co., and Windham County Mutual Fire Insurance Co. Unusual policies include those issued by the Hartford Live Stock Insurance Co. for race horses and a dog. The collection has some correspondence as well.

Edgar Welles autograph book (Ms 30237) Edgar Welles of Hartford, Connecticut kept an autograph book that contains signatures from people around the country. These include Lydia Sigourney of Hartford, Washington Irving, Theodore Woolsey of Yale College, John Underwood of Clarke Co., Virginia and J.R. Doolittle of Racine. Some are in Asian characters.

Edwin Parker sermon (Ms 31342) Ties to England have always been strong in this country, as evidenced by the sermon Rev. Edwin Parker gave in Hartford, Connecticut on the death of England’s Queen Victoria.

Samuel Pease diaries (Ms 33866) The diary entries kept by Samuel Pease, a farmer in Enfield, Connecticut were sewn into almanacs, one page per month. Pease noted weather conditions, some social occasions and town events. Even without the diary entries, the almanacs would be a worthy collection. Included are The New-England Almanac by Anson Allen (Hartford: Andrus and Judd), Middlebrook’s Almanac by Elijah Middlebrook (New Haven: S. Babcock), Green’s New England Almanack by Nathan Bowditch (New London: Samuel H. Green and Hartford: Gurdon Robins, Jr.), and The Farmer’s Almanack by Robert Thomas (Boston: Jenks & Palmer).

Frederick Stanley correspondence (Ms 32252) A collection of letters, most of which were sent to Frederick Stanley of New Britain, Connecticut. Correspondents include New Britain native, philanthropist, and social activist Elihu Burritt and well-known entertainer P.T. Barnum. Stanley is known for founding The Stanley Works.

Hartford Public High School class day book (Ms 35620) This notebook contains the Hartford Public High School’s Class of 1872 class history, by Hattie Bissell and Emma Tarbox; class poem, by Jeannie Stickney; class essay, by Louise Rowles; class prophecy, by James Bryant; class oration, by William Hyde; programs from the class day exercises and anniversary exercises; and a listing of classmates, their addresses, and occupations in 1876. With the exception of the programs, everything was handwritten.

Civil War letters and diary Civil War material is always popular with CHS researchers, even more so with the approach of the 150th anniversary. This month I cataloged letters by Lucien Dunham (Ms 38335)  to his brother, Dwight, in Warehouse Point, Connecticut, and to his sister Ellen.
Orra B. Bailey (Ms 40880) sent letters from Beaufort and Morris Island, South Carolina, Fernandina, Florida, and Washington, DC. Bailey enlisted and was mustered-in a Private on 23 August 1862. He was transferred to the Sixth Regiment, Veteran Reserve Corps, Company A, on 27 January 1864 and was discharged 3 December 1864.
Elizur Belden diaries (Ms 41878) Belden, of Rocky Hill, Connecticut kept these diaries while serving in the Civil War with the Sixteenth Connecticut Infantry, Company C . An unmarried farmer, Belden enlisted 11 August 1862 and was mustered-in 24 August 1862. He was captured 20 April 1864 at Plymouth, NC, and died in captivity at Florence, SC, on 2 November 1864.

Weather records It was hardly a coincidence that I mentioned weather as I introduced this post. Often local weather personalities quote highs, lows, and other significant figures from official records. Here we have some of the un-official records.
Trinity College records of precipitation (Ms 31343) were kept in part by Samuel Hart. The records cover 1871-1899.
The Battell family weather records (Ms 35955) are temperature records, taken three times a day in Norfolk, Connecticut. They include occasional notes on wind speed and precipitation. Per a note attached to the first volume, the records were begun by Mrs. Joseph Battell and continued by her son Robbins, daughter Anna, and later granddaughter Mrs. Carl Stoeckel.
In Hartford, the Hoadley weather records (Ms 36119), kept by Jeremy and Charles Hoadley, recorded temperatures at sunrise, noon, and sunset. Also noted were the wind direction and general remarks about the day’s weather.
Lastly, we have the William Collins weather records (Ms 38144). Collins, of Hartford, Connecticut diversified his entries with newspaper accounts. In later years his entries are in regard to the Civil War.

All of the above are available for research. Come visit!

Though all the material in our collections is exciting in one way or another, I admit the piece I will “sign off” with the one that excited me the most this past month.

John Hancock signature, Morris Family papers, 1732-1834, Ms 34744. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Weather report for September 22

Do you have any idea what the weather was like on this day in 1860? According to Samuel Chapman of East Hartford, Connecticut, it was clear and pleasant, with wind from the south.

Samuel Chapman weather records, 1841-1874, Ms 16017. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Chapman kept daily records of the weather between 1841 and 1874. The entries, as you can see in the above image, were very general and always included the direction of the wind. Occasionally, as in February 1848, Chapman noted information about local happenings. “NB the North River is open for Steamboats,” he wrote between the entries for February 4 and 5.

Of the entries I’ve read so far, my personal favorite is from May 1868.

Samuel E. Chapman weather records, 1841-1874, Ms 16017. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

An old robber was acquitted!

These volumes, as well as other weather records, are available for research. Come visit!

“Warm as you please, thunderstorm in eve.”

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a story (“Twitter Updates, the 18th Century Edition,” April 13, 2010) about how the 140 character limit for a Twitter post would not have been a problem for diarists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  As luck would have it, some Connecticut related examples have recently crossed my desk.

The Emmons, Foote, and Loomis diary collection (Ms 70822) consists of six volumes, written by four different people, all living in Colchester, Connecticut between 1854 and 1894. While Colchester has certainly changed in the past century, certain aspects of life have remained constant. People still record the weather and still prepare food.

In the example below, Alfred I. Loomis, was poetic about the warm temperatures on June 15, 1854. “Warm as you please, thunderstorm in eve.”

Alfred Isham Loomis, Jr. diary, 1854, Ms 70822. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

On September 14, 1860, Aaron E. Emmons, kept his weather entry short and to the point. “Weather pleasant.” Emmons, who authored two of the volumes, actually tended to write much longer entries.

Aaron Ely Emmons diary, 1860, Ms 70822. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Abigail Foote Loomis, mother of Alfred, always noted her baking. Bread and pies were in her oven on August 14, 1867. Loomis also noted her other housework. She “washed a great wash” on August 12. We all still have to do that from time to time, as well!

Abigail Foote Loomis diary, ca. 1867, Ms 70822. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Certainly there were diarists who kept longer entries, though most of the volumes were not designed for such. The diaries ranged in size, most being approximately four or five inches long by three or four inches wide. The smallest I’ve encountered is shown below, with its accompanying pencil (unfortunately, it was not actually used as a diary). As the examples demonstrate, however, most of those choosing to write within the allotted space had to keep their entries short. The length would be just about perfect for a Twitter tweet.

Diary, 1894, Ms 70822. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Another way in which Twitter and nineteenth century diaries are similar, is their use of additional media to record events. On Twitter it is common for a user to attach a photograph to a tweet or provide a link for more information. With a diary, the author can place items between the pages. Lucy Maria Foote (the fourth author of the group, not shown) included a fabric sample from her mother’s dress. Aaron Emmons included, yes, hair.

Aaron Ely Emmons diary, 1863, Ms 70822. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

How were all of these people connected? Would they be following each other on Twitter today? Possibly. Aaron Ely Emmons was the brother of Catherine Ely Emmons Loomis. Catherine’s husband, Caleb Loomis, was a distant relative of Alfred Isham Loomis, husband of Abigail Foote Loomis and father of Alfred Isham Loomis, Jr. Abigail Foote Loomis was also distantly related to Lucy Maria Foote. If you would like more specifics, you are welcome to visit our Research Center and make use of our genealogy resources!

These diaries are available for research. Come visit, and follow us on Twitter (@ConnHistSoc)!