Friday, July 24, 2015

Intern Update: Early Trips to NYC

By intern Ryan Bachman.

Theodore Sedgwick Gold manuscript.
(Collection of Cornwall Historical Society)

Among Theodore Sedgwick Gold’s papers in the archive are several stories about Cornwall residents that he took down during his lifetime. Some of these vignettes appeared in his History of Cornwall, while others remain less-known. Two tales recorded by Gold deal with the early days of Cornwall’s connection to New York City, a connection that still exists today, even without the presence of passenger rail service in the community.

After the completion of the Housatonic Railroad in the early 1840s, Cornwall, along with the rest of the Housatonic River Valley, became linked to coastal cities like Bridgeport and New York. Originally, trains took passengers as far as Bridgeport, where they embarked to New York on board steamships. Prentice Emmons, son of Cornwall farmer Luther Emmons, was one of the young people who removed to New York during this period in search of work. Five years after Prentice left home, Luther decided to drop in on him in the city for a surprise visit. Rather than ask Prentice for directions to his home ahead of time, Luther determined that he would simply ask around the city for Prentice’s address when he arrived in New York. After the ship landed, Luther was shocked at the sheer number of people walking the city streets—but still asked everyone he saw if they knew Prentice. To his disappointment, Luther later remembered, his questions were uniformly met with “blind stares,” and he returned home to Cornwall without finding anyone in New York that knew his son.

 In the early 1840s, Gold recorded that an elderly Cornwall couple (whose identities he never specified) planned a sight-seeing trip to New York. Together, the couple rode the train down to Bridgeport and boarded the steamship for the journey across Long Island Sound. As the ship docked, the wife became overwhelmed at the sight of the crowds mulling about the pier. Rather than disembark, she chose to remain on the ship overnight and return to Bridgeport when the ship traveled that way the next morning. Her husband, on the other hand, strolled off of the ship and disappeared into the crowd. After the wife returned to Cornwall, alone, the next day, her husband remained missing for several days. Finally, about a week after the couple began their trek, the elderly gentleman arrived at the West Cornwall train station. The husband was in excellent spirits after his adventure, yet remained evasive about the details of what he had done during his weeklong adventure for the rest of his days.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Intern Update: Cornwall's Support of Boston Revolutionaries in 1774

By CHS intern Ryan Bachman.

 In the aftermath of the Fourth of July holiday weekend, this week’s blog entry relates to Cornwall’s Revolutionary War history. Following the Boston Tea Party in December 1773, the British Parliament passed a series of punitive measures directed against the Province of Massachusetts Bay, popularly known in the American Colonies as the “Intolerable Acts.” One of these measures, the Boston Port Act, effectively shut down all commerce in Boston Harbor until the destroyed tea was paid for. In response to this development, towns from throughout the thirteen colonies responded to Boston’s plight by sending money and provisions to the blockaded city.

At a special town meeting on August 22, 1774, Cornwall residents voted that it was their community’s duty to support Boston, which the selectmen claimed was “suffering in the common cause of liberty” (emphasis in original). A benevolent committee was established to collect donations and forward them to Massachusetts, and to show just how enthusiastic the selectmen were in their support of Boston, voters ordered that the meeting minutes be printed in the Connecticut Journal and thus made public throughout the state. Members of the Cornwall donations committee gathered supplies from their neighbors and subsequently met with other committees from nearby towns at a county convention where they commonly sent their donated items north to Massachusetts along with a letter of support.

In November 1774, Cornwall’s selectmen received a reply from the Boston Committee of Donations, pictured below. According to the committee chairperson, David Jefferies, Boston’s civic leaders were very impressed with the “liberal donations” sent to the city from Northwestern Connecticut, especially in regards to the 51 cattle that were driven from the Litchfield Hill towns overland to the Massachusetts capital. Although the contents of the letter that the county delegation forwarded to Boston is unknown, the language was evidently prophetically strong—Jefferies took the time to specifically thank the Litchfield County committee for pledging to assist Boston with their “lives and fortunes whenever there shall be occasion.” Five months after the Cornwall selectmen received the letter from Jefferies, the Revolutionary War began at Lexington and Concord and militiamen from throughout New England swarmed to the countryside outside Boston. Four of the five men appointed to Cornwall’s donations committee went on to fight in the Revolution, namely Thomas Porter, Edward Rogers, John Sedgwick, and Heman Swift.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Intern Update: Base Ball Score Book

By CHS Intern Ryan Bachman.

Baseball Score Book
(Collection of Cornwall Historical Society)

Among the shelves of scrapbooks, diaries, and account books in the Cornwall Historical Society vault sits a baseball score book from the late nineteenth century.  From 1869 through 1890, dozens of Cornwall baseball players jotted down their names and statistics, and their notes give insight into sports culture in rural Connecticut during the final decades of the 1800s. 

All of the ballplayers listed in the record book were men in their early- to mid-twenties. Games were played during the summer and fall, and it appears that the timing of games may have prevented many young professionals from taking part. Instead, the majority of people who took part were college students. In one typical 1878 game between the Blue Gulls Base Ball Club and the Black Legs Base Ball Club played near the village green, six of the athletes whose identities are known were college students at the time. 

Team names were occasionally chosen for the neighborhoods where their players lived, such as in a game between the Dudleytown Base Ball Club and the Dibble Hill Base Ball Club, but other team names were taken in a more light-hearted manner. For example, in 1870 the Pot Base Ball Club played the Kettle Base Ball Club in Cornwall Plains, and eight years later, the players of the Muffin Base Ball Club took on the Booze Base Ball Club near Ballyhack. Most of the team names found in the record book were of the lighthearted variety, and these teams typically only existed for one or two games, with the notable exception of the Drunkard Base Ball Club.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Intern Update: A Farmer's Diary

Ryan Bachman, a graduate student at James Madison University, is working as an intern at CHS this summer, creating a Finding Aid to our archives collection. He will be posting highlights from the archives throughout the summer. This is the first post in the series for this year.

The vault at the Cornwall Historical Society is full of diaries and journals written by Cornwall residents over the past two centuries. In 1859, East Cornwall farmer Seelye Hart purchased his first diary from Pratt and Foster’s general store. For the next several decades, Hart kept a daily record of life on his College Street farm. His notes reveal not only the everyday details of operating a nineteenth-century farm, but also a wealth of information on social life in the community. In all, there are six volumes of Hart’s diaries in the historical society vault, and this week’s installment to the historical society blog comes from his first volume.

Page from Seelye Hart's Diary
(Collection of Cornwall Historical Society)

In 1859, twenty-eight year old Seelye Hart and his twenty-six year old wife Jeanette lived on College Street with Jeanette’s widowed mother Marie, their two young sons, Reuben and Elias, and their dog Rover. Every night after work, Seelye sat with his diary and recorded the events that occurred during the day. Topics in Seelye’s entries range from everyday struggles on a New England farm, such as digging large stones out of his fields, to worries that his baby son Elias’ cough may have been indicative of the croup, to musings about Rover chasing woodchucks around the family garden. Entries from the last week of February are especially useful in showing the contrast of hard work and leisure time that Cornwall farmers experienced in the mid-nineteenth century.

February 1859 was unusually warm for northwestern Connecticut. After a long day of work on his farm, Seelye excitedly recorded the happiness he felt working to the tune of “blue birds singing.” In the midst of the unseasonable warm spell, the Hart farm welcomed the birth of three healthy calves. In addition to the newcomers, the Harts already owned twelve milk cows, and after making a delivery to Pratt and Foster’s general store in West Cornwall, Seelye noted matter-of-factly that his farm had sold 3,778 pounds of cheese in the past year—Pratt and Foster used their store’s location along the railroad tracks to ship massive amounts of dairy products to urban locations like New York City. However, the Harts’ lives did not revolve solely around work, as Seelye’s late-February recollections reveal.

On February 24, Seelye and Jeanette left their two sons in the care of their grandmother, and went to a cotillion in Litchfield with their friend Eve. Cotillions in rural New England resembled square dances, and according to Seelye, couples danced to the accompaniment of fiddles, mandolins, and bass viols. The cotillion was held at the home of wealthy farmer, Daniel Dickinson, and lasted late into the night; Seelye and Jeanette didn’t arrive back at their farm until 4:30 AM. In spite of their late night out, they woke up at their usual time later that morning, and Seelye spent the day helping his father build an earthen dam while Jeanette worked at preparing oysters for a family dinner that evening. The cotillion was one of many such events that Seelye and Jeanette spent their leisure time enjoying, and Seelye’s diary is an interesting window into the social lives of farmers in rural Cornwall during the 1850s.