Archive for the ‘Connecticut history’ Category


Re-discovering the archives!

   Posted by: rring

[Posted by Peter Rawson, Associate Curator of Archives & Manuscript Collections]

IMG_3248While conducting a survey of the archives I came across two 19th-early 20th century collections.

The first are the papers of the Reverend Frederick William Harriman, D.D, Class of 1872. Harriman served for over thirty years as the rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Windsor, CT, retiring in 1920.  The collection contains several of his hand-written sermons, information pertaining to his father, the Reverend Frederick Durbin Harriman, Class of 1845, personal correspondence, and family genealogy.
The second are the papers the Reverend Abner Jackson, Class of 1837, and eighth President of Trinity from 1867-1874. The papers contain three of his diaries from 1860-1864, personal correspondence, 1840-1874, certificate of ordination as a priest by Bishop Brownell (first President of Trinity), and a published volume of his discourses, 1875.
Both of these collections give us insight into Trinity’s early roots in the Episcopal Church, and the lives and perspectives of members of our community in the 19th and early 20th centuries.



Old Trinity’s view of the city

   Posted by: rring

img128About 15 years ago we acquired this “carte-de-visite” photograph, taken in the early 1860s, of the “View from Trinity College of the City of Hartford.” This is from the site of the old campus, now inhabited by the State Capitol, looking down across Bushnell Park towards Main Street.

Prescott & Gage (the photographers) were in business from 1861-1865, and Trinity moved its campus from the site in the 1870s.



WWI archive of a Connecticut veteran

   Posted by: rring

SharpeWe recently acquired a correspondence consisting of 37 letters between Connecticut native, Sergeant Kenneth C. Sharpe, and his family from 1917 until 1922 while he was stationed with the army during World War I along with a photograph of Sharpe. Most of the correspondence is from Sharpe to his family with some response from his mother.

Kenneth C. Sharpe enlisted in the medical department of the U.S. Army in 1917 and began his training at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, Indiana. He writes to his family, “I had a little touch of home-sickness when I didn’t hear from anyone…It seems just as thought the ones who volunteer are forgotten, for all the fuss is made over the drafted men. Well, I know I went in of my own accord, anyway.”

Shortly after Indiana he was sent to Fort Devens in Massachusetts where he learned of the Amy’s plans to form a new squadron of 27 men with an emphasis on sanitation, and Sharpe along with his friend, Ray, put their names in to volunteer for a position.

In February, 1918 he writes, “It is a branch of the Medical Department and a part of the division. There are to be 3 squads in all, two of them going across a month before the division goes…The work is just what the name suggests, sanitation in every form and the men in the squad supervise the work, details from other units doing the actual work when the job is too big. The squads will prepare the ground for the division. Test the wells and water supply, taking specimens to be tested in the laboratory. Investigate sanitary conditions in the surrounding villages…along the route of travel to the front, disposal of waste such as manure, dead mules and horses after battles, keeping down the growth of mosquitoes and all kinds of such work.”

By World War I the need for such a division had increased greatly and after much petitioning to Congress Surgeon General William C. Gorgas was able to convince the US government of this. By June 1917 a sanitary squad had been commissioned; “the organization enrolled newly commissioned officers with “special skills in sanitation, sanitary engineering, in bacteriology, or other sciences related to sanitation and preventive medicine, or who possess other knowledge of special advantage to the Medical Department.” Less than a year later Sharpe would be among this group.

img842We recently acquired a bit of Connecticut history that has been in a mid-western historical society since 1965, and was recently deaccesioned by that archive. We bought it from a dealer in Philadelphia and brought it back to Connecticut!

Dated 14 July 1763 at Preston, CT, this is an apprenticeship indenture which binds Asa Greer, “son of Elisabeth Parke and one of the poor of this town,” to John Greer and his wife to serve as an apprentice until age 21.

Young Asa (who was probably about seven years old) “shall not absent himself day or night from his master’s service,” and in return his master will “teach him to write and cipher and provide him with suitable board and clothes.” The nature of his apprenticeship beyond “service” is not specified.


Diary of Edward Watkinson Wells

   Posted by: rring

Page 1Our most significant acquisition this year came from a dealer in Philadelphia.  It is a 450-page diary written over 10 years (1841-1851) by Hartford artist and dilettante Edward Watkinson Wells (1819-1898), one of the many nephews of our founder, David Watkinson (1778-1857).

Edward was immersed in Hartford’s cultural life in the 1840s, exhibited his works at local fairs and gave lessons to the locals. He portrays an active involvement with with his large extended family, which often crossed and re-crossed the other prominent families of Hartford (i.e., Barnard, Channing, Dexter, Ely, Gallaudet, Gill, Goodrich, Hudson, Rockwell, Silsbee, Tappan, Terry, Tracy, Trumbull, Van Renselaer, and Wadsworth).

Edward describes dancing and costume parties, soirees, teas, dinners, and receptions in private homes and public venues. He meets Charles Dickens and his wife when they come through Hartford in 1842, and describes brushes with other luminaries, such as Col. Thomas L. McKenney (who lectures on American Indians), and the Unitarian clergyman Rev. Henry Giles, who gave a pro-Irish speech.

Other entertainments included a balloon ascension, exhibitions of mesmerism and hypnotism, parades, and performances by well-known groups.  He also chronicles the progression of the construction of the Wadsworth Atheneum, and touches on his father’s far-reaching interests in the business world–canals, railroads, factories, and real estate.

The cost of this valuable document of mid-19thC Hartford was generously underwritten entirely by a  member of the Watkinson Trustees.


Hartford’s poetess

   Posted by: rring

img839We recently acquired a few more items for our collection on Lydia H. Sigourney (1791-1865), the “sweet singer of Hartford.”

Shown here is a letter to an unidentified friend dated 22 July 1857. In it, Sigourney apologizes for the delayed response, and is empathetic to an obviously bereaved friend, who lost someone named Elizabeth: “Strongly have I been reminded of your mother and yourself, and your desolated house, by the image of dear Elizabeth . . . objects from her tasteful hand continually meet my eye–the needle-case in my work-basket, the embroidered cushion in the guest chamber, the “Holy Family” upon the walls of the apartment which my daughter used to occupy…”

Another letter, dated 19 May 1857, seems to be to a publisher or distributor, who apparently had asked if she would be able to use 750 copies of Voices of Home.  “It is true that have occasionally desired some as gifts for friends going on voyages,” she admits, but for those purposes she requests only 50 copies.

img840There are two engraved portraits of Sigourney as well, and two manuscript poems:” Addressed to Madame Wadsworth, on seeing her surrounded by her children, and grand-children, on Thanksgiving Day” dated 30 November 1816; and “Lines written on reading this morning ‘A Letter to Maj. General Dearborn by Colonel Putnam, repelling an unprovoked attack on the character of his deceased father, the late Maj. General J. Putnam,” dated 5 June 1818.Sigourney poem


Good Samaritan!

   Posted by: rring

Last fall I got a call from a man in Illinois who said he had bought three 19th-century letters on e-Bay related to the Watkinson family, and did we want them? I admitted we were interested, since we are the main repository of Watkinson family papers, asked for a few details, which he provided, and then I asked what he wanted for them.  “I want to give them to you,” he said, and continued, “I like to buy historical letters and documents like this, and if I find a place were they belong, I like to give them away.”

I was both astounded and pleased, of course, and I wish there were a thousand more like him.

The letter shown here was written March 18 & 19, 1827 by our founder, David Watkinson, to his brother, John R. Watkinson, asking the latter to represent David’s interest in an insurance claim.  “I am requested by the Hartford Fire Insurance Company to . . . persuade you to accompany one of our Directors to Jewit [sic] City to appraise the damage . . .”  A fire broke out in Jewett City, and the claimants estimated $20,000 in damages, to which David comments, “probably their property destroyed was not worth more than half the amount.”


Notes of a Connecticut Inventor, ca. 1815

   Posted by: rring

We acquired this fascinating piece of Connecticut-iana at the recent antiquarian book fair in New York City.  It is a 36-page scientific workbook by Robert Pierpont Cunningham (1782-1867), a mechanic and inventor from Pomfret, CT.  He was the son of Peter Cunningham, a retired sea captain, and Elizabeth Pierpont Cunningham, daughter of a wealthy Boston family.

The manuscript begins with notes on experimental theorems, chemistry, varnish, life boat design, mechanics, laws of motion, and optics, among others. Drawings and remarks on steam engines and calculations related to how ships see each other over the horizon are shown here.  Cunningham cites his sources (Isaac Newton and Erasmus Darwin are among them) and conducts his own experiments.  He seems to have been an active inventor, having patented at least four inventions between 1808 – 1945: a cider press machine, steering helm machine, and two different looms.






Hyam Plutzik ’32, American Poet

   Posted by: rring

Our April/May exhibition will focus on the life and career of Trinity alumnus Hyam Plutzik ’32, who studied under Trinity professor Odell Shepard (1884-1967).  During his student years, Plutzik served as an editor on the Tripod, and helped revive the student yearbook, the Trinity Tablet, which had been dormant for many years.  Several years after graduation, he returned to Connecticut to spend a “Thoreauvian” year in the countryside, undoubtedly inspired by Professor Shepard’s interest in the nineteenth-century Transcendentalists.  In 1941, on the eve of America’s entry into World War II, Plutzik wrote a detailed account of his life since graduation in a remarkable 72-page letter to Odell Shepard, the original of which is in the Watkinson, and will be on display. It was Odell Shepard who wrote Plutzik’s recommendation letter to Yale University, where he pursued graduate work on scholarship from Trinity College

Most of the materials on display are on loan from the University of Rochester, which hosts the Plutzik Reading Series, one of the longest-running reading series in the country.

The opening of the exhibition (which is being installed as I write) will be on April 9, from 1:30 – 3:30pm, and will feature readings of Plutzik’s work by our own award-winning poet Ciaran Berry, Artist-in-Residence Clare Rossini, and Dick Allen, the Poet Laureate of Connecticut.  Trinity students will also read selections of their own poetry.


Long may they wave…

   Posted by: rring

We are delighted to welcome the research archive of Geraldine S. Caughman (1933-2012) of Wethersfield, CT–an amateur historian who served for decades as a docent at the Old State House and the Capitol building in Hartford.  She was affectionately known as “the Flag Lady” around the Capitol.  In 2006 (revised 2011) she produced a multi-volume work on the regimental battle flags of Connecticut from 1856-1920, and her research papers will be invaluable to students studying Connecticut’s role in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I.

From “About the Author”:

Geraldine (Gerry) Caughman joined the Connecticut Capitol tour guide program in 1979. With a passion for history, she immersed herself in research of the many stories of the Capitol, its history and its artifacts. Within a short while, she became one of the most knowledgeable guides about the Capitol’s history and of our system of government. Visitors thoroughly enjoyed her tours and wrote numerous letters expressing their appreciation.

While giving tours, Gerry was attracted to the Capitol’s 171-piece battle flag collection in the Hall of Flags. During the 1980s the Capitol building was undergoing a complete restoration. She feared for the safety of the flags during such an undertaking and volunteered to supervise their removal to storage. With the authorization of Legislative Management, she designed special crates to cradle the flags and had the Capitol’s carpenters build them. She then enlisted the help of Boy Scouts, civic clubs and other interested parties, and in one busy day, all of the flags were safely transported away to storage. A love affair had been kindled.

When the flags returned to the Capitol, she embarked on a four-year long, arduous task of evaluating each flag, photographing, cataloging, marking and writing condition reports for each one. With so much flag work going on, Gerry soon became affectionately known around the Capitol as “The Flag Lady.”

It was readily apparent to her that many flags in the collection required conservation. To that end, she diligently studied the various conservation methods and procedures, met with many conservators including the Smithsonian, the National Park Service and private companies. She also reviewed potential conservators and visited their labs in Washington, New Orleans, Indianapolis, New York, and Massachusetts. As funds became available for conservation, she wrote the specifications for each flag’s unique conservation needs and oversaw the work in progress.

During these years, owing to heightened interest in the Civil War, many outside requests for flag information and pictures were received at the Capitol, all of which were referred to Gerry for a response. She realized that many of the flags would never be seen by others since they were in such fragile condition and conservation was extremely expensive. Thus was conceived the idea of writing a book with pictures of all the flags with commentary about them and the men who carried them. The initial book was written as cut-and-paste, but was not a good final product. She decided to rewrite the book and expand its content. Gerry spent years in our State Library and countless other libraries doing extensive research. She traveled to most all of the battlefields that Connecticut men fought on during the Civil War. The result was Qui Transtulit Sustinet, a 328-page Volume I about our 110 Civil War flags and a 177-page Volume II about our 61 flags from the world wars and contemporary conflicts. Her wish was to print thirty sets of these books to donate to historical institutions and libraries, some state and some national. The books were copyrighted in the name of the Capitol as her gift to Connecticut and in honor of those who have risked their lives over the years to protect our nation and to preserve our freedom. Through all of this, she continued a very active tour guide schedule. Some years her tours numbered as many as 114.

The number of flags on display grew as conservation progressed during her tenure. There are currently 92 flags on display in the Capitol’s Hall of Flags with 79 in storage awaiting funding for conservation.

In March of 2011, Gerry was diagnosed with a health problem, which required that she retire from her beloved Capitol tours and the battle flag program. Gerry lost her loves, and the Capitol lost a dedicated and tireless volunteer.