Law School Letters

The Helga J. Ingraham Memorial Library at the Litchfield Historical Society has recently purchased three new letters pertaining to the Litchfield Law School and its students. Two of the letters are likely relatable to many of today’s parents as they discuss the expense of educating children.

The first letter, written in 1815 by Putnam Catlin, father of Litchfield Law School student George Catlin (who later left the law to paint) was addressed to his friend Steuben Butler and detailed the financial difficulty in providing for his children’s education:

I am obliged to consider myself as a mere farmer, republican farmer, Beechwood farmer, without a hired man in this hurrying season of the year. How then am I to spare George and James? I admit that your reasoning is just in regard to George but I know not how to spare him at this time. I shall not be able to give him a public education. If he shall persist in the choice of law he will have to glean for himself an education in some law office, perhaps. I may indulge him a year at Litchfield, in the meantime, I will do better for him if it be in my power. Should my ‘ship arrive from England’ or should I make sale of some land I can spare he may be more favored.

Putnam Catlin to Steuben Butler, May 3, 1815
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Putnam Catlin by George Catlin, Smithsonian American Art Museum, between 1840-1849

The second letter was similar in tone. James Averell, Jr. wrote to his son, William Holt Averell, who was studying in Litchfield in 1818. “I have neglected writing you until now for I have had my doubts wheather [sic] I could obtain money to the amt you state you shall want to pay your expenses for the year” James Averell, Jr. to William Holt Averell January 11, 1818

The most recent of the three purchases is an 1805 letter of introduction from Henry W. DeSaussure to Benjamin Tallmadge, introducing a “Mr. Calhoun” who was traveling to Litchfield to study law with Tapping Reeve. This is an interesting companion to another letter in the Society’s collection in which John C. Calhoun introduced William Martin, another young student to Tapping Reeve. Following his education in Litchfield, Calhoun began a long political career that included being the 7th Vice-President of the United States.

These letters were not donated, and the prices varied greatly. The Catlin letter cost $875; the Averell $150; and the DeSaussure $1086. The Litchfield Historical Society makes these purchases with a fund devoted to acquisitions and collections care. The fund is not endowed but is grown through donation and deaccession. Important but expensive acquisitions quickly deplete this fund, making it important to raise additional money.

In addition to the cost of purchase, significant staff time is spent making materials available to the public. Following the purchase, the documents were each accessioned, which involves assigning them a number, creating an accession record in ArchivesSpace, our finding aid database, creating an analog accession file, and creating a finding aid to help researchers locate the material.

Law School and Female Academy accessions require extra work because they are also added to The Ledger, our database of students. We update related student and parent records to include new information that wasn’t available when the Ledger was created, and upload images of the documents, which means we also have to digitize them.

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Henry W. De Saussure letter to Benjamin Tallmadge, May 13, 1805

High resolution scans are made of each letter as a preservation original, and JPEGs are generated from those for use on the web. In addition to the costs of storing and providing access to the original letters, we now have a digital object to care for as well. Storage and backup are additional collection costs.

If you are interested in contributing to our work, or to our collections, visit to learn more about making a donation to our artifact or archives collection, or a contribution to the Litchfield Historical Society Acquisitions fund.

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