Archive for the ‘Hartfordiana’ Category


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.


Letter from Barbados–just in!

   Posted by: rring

From an antiquarian dealer in Massachusetts, we have just acquired a letter dated August 23, 1802 from Barbados by former Hartford resident “Mrs. Bunce” (a prominent Hartford family) to her daughter, “My Dear Anne.”  The writer laments the loss of a female friend who left two “fine, fine Boys,” and tells of her “distress” concerning “the misfortune of William being Press’d on board of a Man of War and we have not heard a syllable about him since that time which is about 18 months.” She hopes for happy days “if my affairs were settled with you & My Dear Aunt Olcott as well as all my Hartford friends.” She says this letter goes by Jack, about whom she complains greatly because of his not visiting, although “I must excuse such visits knowing the circumstances on board of a Vessel.” Her P. S. closes by saying “all the rest of the Blacks begs to be remembered.” This would be a superb subject for a history paper–who were the Bunce’s of Hartford? Did they have a plantation in Barbados? Are the sons, William and Jack, sailors of note? It is likely that there are family papers at the Hartford History Center, or the Connecticut Historical Society.