Iron industry in Litchfield County

There are so many topics for research in this collection, I don’t know where to start. We just acquired 48 account books that belonged to John Adam and Samuel Forbes, both individually and as the partnership Forbes & Adam. These two men were instrumental in developing the iron industry around East Canaan, Connecticut. Adam lived in Taunton, Mass. before moving to East Canaan where he married Samuel Forbes’ daughter. Forbes and Adam owned interest in several ore mines, a sawmill and a paper mill, a slitting mill, a “nailery” and a general (company?) store. The volumes we have date from 1748-1875.

Many of the entries in the ledgers include not only the person’s name but his occupation and town of residence as well. Some of the occupations mentioned are ore digger, ore carter, anchor maker, bloomer and iron turner. Those customers of African heritage are so noted in the volumes. There is a volume entitled “Woman’s book”, a ledger that put me in mind of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s book Goodwives in that women, who are almost entirely identified by their relationship to men, paid their bills by nursing, spinning, making butter, and making and mending clothes.

The volume marked “Real Estate” includes notes about building a forge in Norfolk, 1760; to paying John Forbes for his 999-year lease of 1/32 of Salisbury Ore Hill; and the purchase of one whole right in the Susquehanna Purchase. Other entries give a fascinating look at the extent the iron industry impacted northwestern Connecticut–buying land for cord wood, investing in ore mines, hiring agents, investment in turnpikes, and on and on.

I got very frustrated reading through these accounts when I saw what I termed “scribbles” made by Charles S. Adam on the blank pages of the early volumes. However, I finally realized that, although he defaced the “sacred” 18th century volumes, he noted his financial transactions, local births and deaths, and national events such as the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. There is a lot to be mined from Charles’ scribbles with further examination. I have learned to not be so hasty in my judgments.

This collection is a rich resource we sincerely hope the scholarly community will mine.

Larrabee Fund

When I was in graduate school the first time, I developed a course to study social movements of the 19th century, including abolitionism, womens’ rights, etc. There were a lot of women’s groups formed to help more unfortunate women. But today, I finished cataloging the treasurer’s records for a charitable fund created by a MAN. Charles Larrabee, in his will, established a fund to care for the “lame, deformed or maimed females” of Hartford. His property reportedly was worth several thousand dollars. His 1847 will bequeathed all of his real and personal estate to the Mayor, Aldermen and Selectmen of the town of Hartford, that the annual income may be appropriated for the relief and benefit for the needy. What his motivation was remains a mystery. I am sure the women whose names are listed in our recently acquired account book (1865-1973) were most appreciative, no matter what his motive.

Leena Cravzow Lippman

Leena Cravzow (1913-2006), the daughter of Russian Jews, was an accomplished pianist in Hartford. She attended Julliard School of Music and also took lessons from the noted pianist R. Augustus Lawson. Lawson, who was African American and Indian, was born in Kentucky but moved with his family to Hartford. He studied at Fisk University and later taught at the Hartford School for Music.

Through a lot of hard work on my part, and not a little angst all around, we recently purchased a small collection of Leena’s letters dated 1935-1992. There are four letters written to her by Lawson, which is what attracted us to the collection in the first place. However, reading letters written by Leena’s friend Thelma Altschuler Wachsteter is worth the time and effort. She has a wonderful turn of phrase and is not afraid to tackle any subject, even menstruation. Most of her advice is about men, love and marriage. Leena was a bit of a late bloomer–she was not married until about 1957 when she was past the “old maid” age of 30.

Later letters to Leena and her husband Sam Lippman are written by someone named Ed who also writes an entertaining letter from retirement in Florida. His companion is his dog, and Ed writes about the dog as if he were a person.

Griswold family of Hartford

Every once in awhile I get the chance to go through some collections we have had for years but that have never been processed before. When I do, I always find something intriguing, or at least interesting. So, last week I started going through the Ogden Griswold papers. However, there are more letters between his children than there are to or from him. The most prolific letter writer was Belle (Isabella Louise, born about 1845). She wrote to her sister Lizzie (Elizabeth C., born about 1836) and to her parents, from New York City. I have not had a chance to delve into the content of the letters yet, but I hope they provide some information about why Belle was in New York while her parents, Ogden and Cynthia, were in Hartford. The bulk of the other letters in this collection are addressed to Lizzie from her brothers Roland, Hubert and Ogden DeWitt (often known by his middle name alone) and from her father Ogden. There is a story brewing here somewhere, one that I hope is strong in women’s history.