Category Archives: Litchfield’s History

Blog posts about Litchfield’s history, from town settlement in 1719 through to modern day Litchfield.

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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My Very Dear Maria

This lengthy missive was penned by Tapping Reeve in March of 1807 following the rumors of a broken engagement of Maria Jones Tallmadge and Virgil Maxcy, who studied law in Litchfield following his graduation from Brown College in 1805. She was 15, he was 20.

Maria Tallmadge was the daughter of Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge and Mary Floyd Tallmadge. She was born in Litchfield in 1790 and attended the Litchfield Female Academy from 1802-1802. According to Emily Noyes Vanderpoel’s Chronicles of a Pioneer School, Tallmadge “took a prominent part in the school theatricals.” Virgil Maxcy was from Attleboro, MA. He was born May 5, 1785 to Levi and Ruth Newell Maxcy. Following his graduation from Brown College, Maxcy studied law in Litchfield, where the two likely met.

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Broken Vial

This letter, written April 20, 1779, is one of my favorite pieces of correspondence from the Benjamin Tallmadge Collection. It clearly conveys the danger of the enterprise undertaken by the members of the Culper Ring and their acute awareness of the extraordinary risks they were taking. Tallmadge writes to Washington enclosing intelligence gathered by his agents about British activities in Rhode Island. The letter expresses the difficulties present in getting information to Headquarters expediently, writing, “I have urged by Letter & Verbally the plan of forwarding Letters by some shorter Route to Hd Qrs. – C – wishes, as much as your Excellency to hit on some more speedy mode of Conveyance, but after all his Enquiry finds such a step very dangerous & difficult.”

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Using the Code

Letter in Cipher, Benjamin Tallmadge to George Washington, July 28, 1779, Helga J. Ingraham Memorial Library, Litchfield Historical Society

One of the spycraft methods employed by Benjamin Tallmadge and the Culper Ring was the use of a code. Tallmadge developed a code dictionary and shared it with General Washington. Although this dictionary is not part of our collection, we are fortunate to be able to access Washington’s copy, now preserved by the Library of Congress. A transcribed version is available on the Mount Vernon website.

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