Category Archives: Artifacts and Archives

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

A “Hare-Brained Scheme”: Prosecuting Tapping Reeve

Contributed by Bob Goodhouse

A grand jury indicted Tapping Reeve, founder of America’s first Law School and an esteemed Connecticut Superior Court Judge, for seditious libel against the United States and President Thomas Jefferson in the April 1806 New Haven Circuit Court.

The charge was based on an article Judge Reeve, an ardent Federalist, had sent to Litchfield’s The Monitor newspaper more than four years earlier, on December 2, 1801, in which Reeve had heatedly declared Jefferson’s violation of the U.S. Constitution, which he passionately insisted was now “marked for destruction.”

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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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Elephant on the Green Part 2, Contributed by Bob Goodhouse

The Festival Program began that Wednesday morning at sunrise on our current Green area with a 17 gun salute and military music, which must have caused some early-morning consternation at the Deming and Tallmadge homes. It included orations and many references to Osborne and Freedom of the Press, an outdoor meadow lunch with 17 toasts given and cannons regularly fired,  as well as a salute to Osborne when a military-style parade passed the old 1806 jail.  Notably, one of the parade marchers was Litchfield Law School student John C Calhoun, later U.S Vice President, U.S. Senator, and famous secessionist leader.

Uriah Tracy by Ralph Earl
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Inside the Collections – A Surprising Portrait

Note: This is part of an ongoing series of articles featuring objects from our upcoming exhibit, Antiquarian to Accredited: A Look Inside the Historical Society, opening in 2021. Check back often for new objects and articles!

One of the joys of my job is working with a material culture collection that is small enough to effectively manage, but large enough to still surprise me. For our upcoming exhibit, Antiquarian to Accredited: A Look Inside the Historical Society, we are featuring objects that both illustrate the diversity of our collections and tell unique stories. I went searching through our art racks for an interesting portrait that had rarely, if ever, been on display. Amid racks of familiar faces, I came across a well-executed portrait of a young woman with a famous name: Margaret Fuller, the noted author and feminist. Curious as to how the portrait came into our possession, and hopeful that I could find a connection between Fuller and Litchfield, I knew I had found the right piece for the exhibition.

Portrait of a young woman, possibly Margaret Fuller; Artist Unknown, c.1840. LHS Collection.
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Jane and Prince

The Historical Society began collecting in the 1890s, and was incorporated at that time. The first curator, Emily Noyes Vanderpoel, was the great-granddaughter of Benjamin Tallmadge. Members included descendants of Wolcotts, Demings, Tallmadges, and other early families of means. The Colonial Revival was in full swing, and veneration of one’s ancestors was all the rage. While we can thank these early members for preserving the records of the town’s past, there were certainly omissions. Whether through oversight or lack of available material, there remains little evidence of the African American and immigrant families who worked in Litchfield prior to the Society’s founding. Women are also underrepresented in the archives.

Little is not none, and our staff is making strides towards improving our description of materials that document the lives of underdocumented people. You’ll find examples of this in our finding aids (Tallmadge Collection here), as well as on our Tumblr log of the Elijah Boardman Papers project.

In this week’s Coffee with the Curator, I referenced a few receipts for the purchase of enslaved children. As we discuss Benjamin Tallmadge’s role in American History, we must note that he was an enslaver. Historian Lynne Templeton Brickley documented four enslaved members of the Tallmadge household, two indentured children, and a hired African American. The hired man, Cash Africa, as well as Tom Jackson, one of the enslaved, served in the Revolutionary War. There were other members of the household whose status was unclear. A number of Litchfield families, including the Deming, Wolcott, and Beecher households, included enslaved people and/or indentured servants.

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