Category Archives: Artifacts and Archives

Blog posts include anything that involves items from the artifact and/or archives collection of the Historical Society.

An Anglo-American Friendship: John Masefield’s Letters to Miss Dorothy Bull

John Masefield’s Letters to Litchfield

By Barbara Potter, Litchfield Historical Society

The first of his mid-April letters to Dorothy Bull (1888-1934), on April 20, 1917, was a sad and simple plea for more letters.  Brief, mournful, to the point.

The second, penned some 24 hours later, is John Masefield’s (1878-1967) enthusiastic reply to Bull’s latest letter.  The reply conveys his elation but is stuffed with starched enthusiasm and jaunty catchphrases prompting questions to fly from the folder in which both letters sit, washed up into their jarring juxtaposition.

English: John Masefield (1878-1967) Portrait by Mary Dale Clarke


The juxtaposition seems important.  We just aren’t sure why.  We, at the Litchfield Historical Society, don’t even know questions to ask.  So will share what little we know follow it with a future post.

John Masefield wrote Dorothy Bull at least 94 times.  Masefield wrote a 95th letter to her brother after his return from Australia, in 1935.  In that letter Masefield echoed sentiments shared by locals at Bull’s death a year earlier.  She was a good person, they said without exception.  Of all Masefield letters to Dorothy Bull, his ‘line’ of the 20th of April is singularly, palpably sad.  Like an exclamation point that leaps off of a page.

Masefield expressed the same sadness to other, more important correspondents while conducting his unpaid research on the Somme’s battlefields in the spring of 1917.

Foremost among them was Masefield’s wife Constance (Letters from the Front: 1915-1917, Peter Vansittart, 1984). Masefield wrote her almost daily.  He wrote detailed, reports about the war’s progress, war crimes, field actions, conditions and fortifications, and the remains strewn across battlefields all along the Somme’s war zone.  These letters appear to have been written without a shred of self-censorship and little or no B.E.F. Field Censor filtering.  But then these were the letters of an Englishman to his English wife.  Relative to Masefield’s Anglo-American letters of the same period there seems to be no comparison in terms of candor and content.

Masefield also wrote to Florence Corliss from the Somme.  He wrote the American heiress, and wife of prominent American banker Thomas William Lamont, nearly 2,200 times between 1916 and 1952.  At the beginning of April 1917, Masefield noted, to his wife Constance, that Florence Lamont “surpasses herself” by sharing her knowledge about the United States’ declaration of war.  For this or, perhaps, for other reasons, Masefield’s letters to Lamont may have undergone lighter international censorship than letters to other Americans such as Bull.

But we just can’t know.

What we do know is that Masefield’s April 20th letter to Bull conveys a sadness nowhere else so clearly expressed in this Collection.  And it is a letter written one day apart from the letter bearing Masefield’s great (most brittle?) good cheer.

So we’re left wondering what happened in Masefield’s mind during this period.  Was he trying to paper over impressions expressed to Bull the preceding day?  Was he self-censoring his thoughts so assiduously they would sail past the toughest B.E.F. Field Censors with the pace of a military march?

We don’t know.

American: Dorothy Bull (1888-1934)

Bull wouldn’t see Masefield until the following winter, when he came to lecture across the U.S. and visit U.S. military camps with recruits preparing for war.   But it seems quite possible that, in 1918, the failed debutante and aspiring writer reframed her probing questions for England’s successful poet and battlefield chronicler.

We wish we knew the whereabouts of Bull’s letters to Masefield.

But we don’t.

They might have answered some of our questions.  But they might not.

Perhaps all of them went the way of the wind in the stretch of time when many Masefield papers came to special collections at Harvard and Columbia.  Perhaps not.

In any event, we all feel privileged for the tiny peek Dorothy Bull and her family gave us…into the mind of an Englishman with courage enough to explore a real waste land four or five years before T.S. Eliot penned the immortal opening lines of his 1922 poem:  “April is the cruellest month.”

The finding aid for this collection is a work in progress. You may view it here. We are also working to digitize the collection and will let you know when the images are available in the Connecticut Digital Archives.

“Can the Kaiser” – Food Preservation in World War I America

By J.J. Hutton, Curatorial Intern

J. Paul Verrees, 1918. Collection of the Litchfield Historical Society.

By 1917, the European powers had been at war for three years, and their people were feeling the effects in every aspect of their lives. Even vital necessities like food were not guaranteed, and millions of soldiers and civilians alike faced starvation. Many of the farmers had left the fields for the front and the farms near battlefields were trampled or shelled. In an attempt to exacerbate the food crisis in Britain, Germany re-implemented unrestricted submarine warfare on February 1, 1917. This soon brought the United States out of neutrality and officially into the war because American ships (often bringing donated supplies and food to the UK) were now being attacked by Germany with no warning.

Charles Livingston Bull, 1918. Collection of the Litchfield Historical Society.

After the United States entered the war, the government began expanding in order to better orchestrate the country’s war effort. In order to oversee the production and distribution of food Congress enacted the Food and Fuel Control Act, also known as the Lever Act, on August 10, 1917. This act authorized the creation of the US Food Administration. The USFA’s responsibilities were to encourage Americans to use less food in order to better supply both American soldiers and their European allies as well as to prevent hoarding and monopolies. President Wilson appointed Herbert Hoover as the head of the Food Administration. Prior to this the future President had been the chairman of the Commission for Belgian Relief, which coordinated donations and delivered them to the starving people of German-occupied Belgium. In his new role Hoover had authority over all things food in the country, so much so that he was nicknamed the “food czar”. Hoover’s goal was to appeal to the sense of American volunteerism rather than coerce conservation through mandatory rationing. When he took the position as head of the USFA, Hoover implored Americans to “Go back to simple food, simple clothes, simple pleasures. Pray hard, work hard, sleep hard and play hard. Do it all courageously and cheerfully.” (Archives). Hoover sought to cater to American values and patriotism in order to maximize wartime efficiency and minimize negative backlash towards the programs.

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Anson’s Brother: Portrait Miniatures by Daniel Dickinson

Article written by Molly Ford, Curatorial Intern.

Daniel Dickinson (1795-c.1866) was born on October 20th in 1795 in Milton, Connecticut, to Anna Landon and Oliver Dickinson, Jr. He was the younger brother of well-known portrait miniature painter Anson Dickinson. His father Oliver was also an amateur portrait painter. Daniel Dickinson grew up with his siblings Anson (1779-1852), Raphael (1781-1837), Ambrose (1783-1806), Lucinda (1785-?), Leonard (1788-1824), Henry (1790-?), Anna (1792-1792), Anna Landon (1798-?) and Andrew (1801-1883), and his parents in Milton, a village located on the banks of the Shepaug River in the township of Litchfield. In Milton, he was apprenticed to become a silversmith like Anson, but also like Anson, Daniel abandoned the craft to paint portrait miniatures.

Portrait miniature of unidentified gentleman, attributed to Daniel Dickinson. Recently acquired by the Litchfield Historical Society.

Daniel is believed to have studied in New Haven, Connecticut in about 1812. There, he studied draftsmanship from drawings and books with the brothers Nathaniel (1796-1881) and Simeon Smith Jocelyn (1746-1823). While there, Daniel was almost unconsciously drawn into miniature portrait painting, and in his experimental years at school he created fancy sketches that were very attractive and popular. These sketches mostly consisted of female figures in graceful positions. Daniel Dickinson wrote himself that “I have employed my leisure time in fancy subjects, such as might best illustrate female beauty and grace”.

Because his work was so popular in New Haven and showed much potential, after his schooling he moved to Philadelphia to paint portraits and miniatures, which he did from 1818 to 1846. He was exhibited annually at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and regularly at the Artists’ Fund Society, as he was a member himself. He became very successful and well-patronized in Philadelphia, so he remained there for a great number of years.

On his painting style, Dickinson wrote, “I adopted a style between my brother Anson’s, Malbone’s and J. Wood’s, fifteen years after my brother commenced”. This style included a feigned landscape background, and a more fashionable rectangular format. Daniel’s miniatures are often mistaken for his brother’s work; however, Daniel’s style differs in that he worked with a broader and more painterly brushstroke than Anson, which left the effect of a freer, less controlled presentation of hair and clothing. Also, his faces were strongly modeled, with deep contrasts between light and dark areas. His main method of creating portrait miniatures was watercolor on ivory. Daniel also advanced to painting on some larger canvases and oil portraits around 1830.

An example of Daniel Dickinson’s trade label, found inside the case of a recently auctioned portrait miniature.

In 1847, Daniel moved to nearby Camden, New Jersey, and as the years went by and his success dwindled due to the rapid development of photography. Soon after, he abandoned his career as a portrait painter and devoted himself to horticulture. In Camden, he opened a rose and grape nursery in 1850. Daniel Dickinson died in 1866 in Litchfield, Connecticut.

A Family Reunion

Its hard to believe that it is mid-November already. Here at the Litchfield Historical Society that means that the museums will soon be closing for the winter season. With only a couple of weeks left we hope that you will take advantage of stopping by the Tapping Reeve House or the Litchfield History Museum by December 1. Although the museums will be closed to the public during the snowy months that does not mean that things will slow down here for the staff. With the museums closed we will be busy changing exhibits in preparation for the beginning of next years exhibition season. What does that mean for you? It means you only have a handful of days left to stop in and see our Civil War exhibit, The Hour of Conflict before it comes down!


The exhibit closing however, does not mean the end of your chance to come into the museum and learn more about Litchfield during the war. Throughout the year we have all kinds of visitors who come to the historical society to research with both our archival and museum collections. Some are serious scholars, while others may have another reason for wanting to view a specific item. Occasionally the reason is very personal. This past year we had a very touching visit from a family regarding a Civil War item that is as important to their familys history as it is to our local story about the Civil War.

For almost one hundred years the Litchfield Historical Society has cared for the Civil War overcoat of Sergeant Edgar A. Alvord. In March of 1915 the seventy-five year old veteran, and member of the Litchfield GAR, personally came to the historical society looking for a safe place to deposit the overcoat that he wore during the war. It was his hope that it would be well taken care of and respected even after he was gone. Ninety-eight years later Mr. Alvord’s great-grandson, Don Alvord, came through the same front door of the Noyes Memorial Building and brought with him his wife, cousins, and grandchildren to view the coat that his great-grandfather cared so much for.

Srgt. Alvords Overcoat, 1918-34-0, Litchfield Historical Society

Born in Morris, CT in 1840, Edgar A. Alvord was twenty-one years old when he enlisted as a Private in the 5th CT Infantry. After a year of performing guard duty along the Potomac River Alvord was wounded and captured at the battle of Cedar Mountain, VA during a charge on the Confederate Army. He was imprisoned for one month at Libby Prison (notorious for the overcrowded and harsh conditions) in Richmond, VA before being moved to the prison at Belle Isle for another two months. He was then paroled and moved to Annapolis, MD and again to Alexandria, VA before being exchanged back to the Union Army.

Photograph of Srgt. Edgar A. Alvord, ca. 1863, Private Collection

In December of 1863 Alvord re-enlisted in the Union Army as a veteran and was promoted to Corporal and then to Sergeant. In 1864 when he traveled home to Connecticut on furlough Sergeant Alvord brought his overcoat with him and left it in the care of his family in Morris for the remainder of his service in the Union Army. On July 19, 1865 after four years of active service where he served in several battles and was with General Sherman’s March to the Sea, Sergeant Edgar Alvord was mustered out from the Army and returned home to Morris.

Don Alvord’s trip to the Historical Society this year was a real family affair. Not only did Don and his wife make the trip from Missouri, but they brought cousins and grandchildren along with them to the museum to see Sergeant Alvord’s coat. Being a veteran and son of a veteran himself, viewing an item used in wartime by his great-grandfather solidified for him the importance of service to your country and family tradition. One of the highlights of the visit came when the family and Historical Society staff were able to share information with each other about the coat and the Alvord family. Working together the group was able to uncover many bits of family and local history. As the family placed a treasured photograph of Sergeant Alvord next to the coat for a photo op it became obvious that both the family and the Litchfield Historical Society are working to preserve the history and memory of one of Litchfield County’s Civil War hero’s for future generations.

Srgt. Alvord and His Overcoat Reunited After 98 Years

-Jessica Jenkins, Curator of Collections

Elijah Boardman Acquisition

The Litchfield Historical Society’s Helga J. Ingraham Memorial Library is elated to announce the recent acquisition of a significant collection of business records created by Elijah Boardman (1760-1823).


Thanks to the generosity of Elijah and Mary Anna Boardman’s descendants, Joan Boardman Wright McDaniel and her daughter Caroline Boardman McDaniel Lamphier, scholars will be able to pore over this iconic entrepreneur’s ledgers, blotters, and day books. Boardman’s newspaper advertisements reveal that he went to great lengths to bring a variety of foreign goods to this rural market. His ledgers document his intricate pattern of trade in which he shipped local agricultural goods, received in trade or purchased, which he shipped to New York and sold at a premium. He brought back rum, molasses, and a large variety of textiles.

The family retained the papers for generations, first in the Boardman house in New Milford, and, for a number of years, had them on loan to Yale University. Recently, Mrs. Lamphier and Mrs. McDaniel made the decision to donate the 97 volume collection to a historical society. Derin Bray, an art and antiques consultant who did extensive research for To Please Any Taste: Litchfield County Furniture and Furniture Makers, 1780-1830, published in 2008 by the Litchfield Historical Society, contacted the family upon learning about their collection. His familiarity with Litchfield County and early republic history enabled him to recognize the significance of the collection and suggest to the owner that the family donate the papers to the Society whose professionally trained staff and regular hours would enable scholars to have regular access to the collection.

ledger2These volumes document a business with close ties to Litchfield and to the Society’s existing collections. Prior to embarking on a mercantile venture with his brother Daniel, Boardman served in the American Revolution and trained as a clerk in New Haven. He commenced business as a merchant in New Milford in 1781. The Society holds Boardman & Seymour records, 1794­-1811, a collection of orders, invoices, receipts, and correspondence documenting a partnership between Boardman and Moses Seymour Jr. of Litchfield.

In 1795, Boardman became a member of the Connecticut Land Co., one of the purchasers of the Connecticut Western Reserve. The Notes and Proceedings of the Connecticut Land Company, 1795-1809; the Judson Canfield papers 1760-1856; and the Samuel Flewwelling Papers, 1799-1868 are among the Society’s extensive documentation of the settlement of Ohio by Connecticut natives, many of whom migrated from Litchfield County.

Two of the Boardman’s sons, William Whiting Boardman and George Sherman Boardman, attended the Litchfield Law School. Two of their daughters, Caroline Boardman Schreoder and Mary Anna Boardman, attended the Litchfield Female Academy. Schroeder’s schoolgirl diary is in the Society’s Litchfield Female Academy collection.

Boardman became prominent in politics after 1800. He was repeatedly elected to the Connecticut General Assembly and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1821. For this election, Boardman, a democrat, joined Oliver Wolcott (1760-1833) on the Toleration Party ticket. Boardman died on a visit to Ohio in 1823.

Scholars and history buffs alike know well the Ralph Earl painting of Boardman that hangs in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The collection at the Wadsworth Athenaeum boasts the Earl landscape of the Boardman house in New Milford, CT. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA holds the Earl painting of Boardman’s wife, Mary Anna Whiting Boardman, and their son William Whiting Boardman. This collection provides exciting new documentation of significant American works of art.

The collections of the Litchfield Historical Society have long been lauded by enthusiasts of the Early Federal period of American history for their richness in documenting the social and political history of that era. This collection can only serve to enrich existing holdings and expand knowledge about early American commerce, early Connecticut, the Western Reserve, and a host of other topics. The Society will begin processing the collection immediately and hopes to make it available to scholars as soon as possible. It will certainly prove an invaluable resource to all manner of historians and decorative arts scholars, not to mention the added value it will provide the Society’s exhibitions, publications, Web site, and programs.