Category Archives: Staff Topics

Blog posts that are staff favorites, chosen topics, or updates abut what goes on behind-the-scenes.

A Book Review by the Chief Justice

The Litchfield Historical Society is thrilled to announce the acquisition of a previously unpublished letter from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall to Judge James Gould, instructor at the Litchfield Law School, in which Marshall provides feedback on Gould’s book about pleadings.

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Engraving of James Gould
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Young Lawyers Head West

Contributed by Leith Johnson, Project Archivist

Among the women and men who settled the Connecticut Western Reserve in the early 1800s were students of the Litchfield Law School. To get an idea of the impact these individuals had on the development of the territory, I selected one student more or less at random and researched his life and the lives of his children. What I am going to sketch out here is by no means comprehensive, but it does offer an illustrative case study. Much of what I am writing is taken directly from The Firelands Pioneer, a journal first published in 1852 by the Firelands Historical Society, that is an indispensable resource for information about the settling and development of the area farthest west in Western Reserve known as the Firelands.

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Litchfield Cowboys and Cowgirls

Recently someone on the “I Grew Up in Litchfield” Facebook group asked when the high school sports team adopted the nickname “the Cowboys.” We did some digging, and came up with roughly the same answer as another member of the group. We thought you might enjoy some of the wonderful sources we used to come to the conclusion that the name was in use by the 1920s, and possibly earlier.

Scrapbook from the Donald B. Peck papers
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Finding Evidence of Underrepresented People in the Archives

It’s long been a challenge for those researching ancestors who may have been illiterate, poor, or marginalized to learn about their heritage. Institutions like the Litchfield Historical Society were founded and began collecting during the Colonial Revival, a time when there was tension over immigration and clashes between races, classes, and nationalities. Our founders were the descendants of wealthy white immigrants from Western Europe who wished to preserve their history by saving their ancestor’s decorative arts, artifacts, and papers, predominantly those of men.

While we continue working to make our collections more representative and inclusive of all the people who made Litchfield home, a lot of the town’s early history of women, minorities, and the natives displaced by the settlers was lost, or perhaps never documented at all.

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Sylvia Stocker: The Enslaved Woman who Started a Town Library

Contributed by Dan Keefe with Bob Goodhouse

Twenty-six slaves are listed in Litchfield’s 1790 census including Sylvia Stocker, one of two people enslaved by Isaac Baldwin, Sr. Like all other slaves, she is recorded by number, not by name. In 1805, when Sylvia was 33, Baldwin’s heirs petitioned the Town Selectmen for her freedom and received their approval. Sylvia lived to be 64, and her will is recorded in Litchfield’s town records. Remarkably, she left her small library to the Town Selectmen for use by the poor.   

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