A Glimpse into Farmington’s Past: The Charlotte Cowles Letters

Author: Garrett Coady

Farmington, Connecticut had been a New England hub for evangelical abolition during the decade of 1835 and 1845. Farmington had established an anti-slavery society in 1836 that was initiated around abolitionist reform and evangelical revival. One of the Farmington Anti-Slavery Society’s founding members had been Horace Cowles. Horace and his wife, Mary Anne Steele Smith Cowles had a large family. Among their ten children was their daughter Charlotte Cowles.

During the heart of the Farmington abolitionist movement, Charlotte Cowles had written her brother Samuel Cowles a large volume of letters that highlighted the unique and volatile Farmington environment between 1835 and 1845.  Charlotte’s letters expound upon past on goings in Farmington, Connecticut and often on the inner workings of the Farmington Anti-Slavery Society.

Much of what Charlotte had written to her brother Samuel was about Farmington’s staunch evangelical abolitionist following, but Charlotte’s letters also help shape her personal persona. Charlotte comes across as an intelligent, caring, thought-provoking, and loyal abolitionist who saw the anti-slavery movement as a means to improving humanity through Christianity. The Charlotte Cowles Letters are treasure-troves of nineteenth century Farmington history. These letters are archived and available for public viewing at The Connecticut Historical Society. What follows is just a small snippet of the invaluable information that Charlotte Cowles scribed.

The Cowles family was one of Farmington’s prominent families of the nineteenth century. Charlotte may have been influenced by the temporal, benevolent and abolitionist work of her father Horace who was energetic throughout Connecticut as a member of multiple Christian reform programs.

From a young age Charlotte’s letters highlight her as an active member of the local abolitionist community in Farmington. Charlotte had written her brother Samuel often of her displeasure with anyone who did not believe abolition was for the betterment of humanity. Some of Charlotte’s earliest letters to her brother feature the daily proceedings of local anti-slavery meetings, like the selling of anti-slavery handkerchiefs to raise money for the movement in Farmington.
Outside of her activity within the Farmington Anti-Slavery Society, Charlotte may have been a teacher at Ms. Sarah Porter’s Farmington Female Seminary.  In a letter dated in February 1840, Charlotte had written Samuel detailing that she had received an application from Miss Sarah Porter to teach immediately at her school, which would have paid her $150 for the ten months of service. In the same letter Charlotte had written that she felt “Latin is sadly neglected in schools.” The statement was missing additional context, but it begs the question whether or not Charlotte was trained in the classical language. In her letters to Samuel, Charlotte comes across as an intuitive woman, so it seems reasonable to think that she may have known how to speak and read foreign languages.

Charlotte conquered with the sentiments of Mr. Phelps that “the architects and inhabitants of this town are in the form of abolitionists.” Charlotte stressed almost all people of nobility and high standing joined the anti-slavery movement. If Charlotte had viewed Farmington Anti-Slavery Society members as people of the highest order, presumably Charlotte would have regarded ones acceptance of colonization as the polar opposite. Charlotte had questioned this anti-slavery practice many times in her writings to Samuel and could not understand the allure.  Charlotte had attended an anti-slavery lecture with the agenda dealing with colonization, writing that, “when I returned from the lecture, I was able to see the absurdities of colonization more clearly and read it…with more clarity than ever before!”

One of Charlotte’s more fascinating letters was dated March 24, 1841, recounting the stay of the Amistad “Mendi” Africans in Farmington after their release from prison.  This letter not only presented Charlotte’s tolerance of the Mendi, but also showed her as a compassionate young woman. Charlotte stated that a young Mendi girl named Kan-ne had been staying with her family, Dr. Noah Porter housed Ta-ne, and the last Mendi child was at Timothy’s.  Charlotte was astounded by how smart Kan-ne had been, the “cheerful spirit” the little girl possessed, and was stunned with the writing skills of the Mendi.

In her letter’s, Charlotte features a substantial group of mindful and forthright abolitionists in Farmington, Connecticut during the decade of 1835 to 1845. Not all of Farmington saw abolition as a means to eradicating slavery, but a strong portion of town shared an anti-slavery mindset like Charlotte Cowles. The Charlotte Cowles Letters are a peak into an evangelical belief system, which felt the institution of slavery could be abolished peacefully through Christianizing the world. Charlotte had written her brother Samuel a great deal more than what has been presented here. A visit to the Connecticut Historical Society to read more of Charlotte’s riveting letters on Farmington’s local history is strongly recommended!

 

Elijah Wampey: Christian Education in Farmington, Oneida, and West Stockbridge

Author: Anthony Vinci

In Farmington, Connecticut, the Wampey family was considered one of the most prominent families. Elijah Wampey, the father of eight children, played a crucial role in advancing Christianity beyond Connecticut and to both New York and Massachusetts. He became interested in advancing Native Americans’ knowledge of English law and individual land ownership, a common characteristic among Puritans. This increased confidence among the local Indians helped them to send letters to the Connecticut General Assembly, which assisted in their move to Oneida, New York and West Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where they acquired individual land. While at Farmington, in Wampey’s house, Joseph Johnson was offered the schoolteacher job in 1772 and the residence was often used for Christian meetings. Wampey’s children, Wampey Jr. and Hannah Wampey also frequently came in contact with Johnson who was their schoolteacher, preacher, and community leader.

Along with Johnson, Wampey played a critical role in ensuring New England Natives received individual land in Oneida. On December 23, 1773, Johnson wrote a circular letter to the seven towns of New England, urging each one to send a representative to the Oneida conference. The letter was signed by some of the most prestigious Tunxis Tribe members that included: Solomon Mossuck, Daniel Mossuck, Andrew Corcomp, Solomon Adams, David Robin, and Elijah Wampey. As a result of Johnson’s request, four representatives on the first week of January 1774, set out to meet at Kanawarohare. Joseph Johnson represented Mohegan, Elijah Wampey for Farmington, Jacob Fowler went for Montauk and Groton, and Samuel Tobias for Charlestown, Rhode Island.

On May 25, 1774, Wampey wrote to the Connecticut General Assembly to receive an English law book. In this memorial, Wampey asked the General Assembly to help the Tunxis tribe become more proficient with English literature and the laws of Connecticut, by giving them a law book. This information would help the Natives uphold the regulations set forth by the officials of the Connecticut colony. Leaders of the Tunxis tribe, including Wampey, Mossuck, Samuel Adams, and Thomas Moses, made the disclaimer that the Christian Natives had been instructed in writing and reading English with the help of the Bible. A better understanding of colonial jurisdiction allowed Christian Natives to become more accustomed to English culture.

Elijah Wampey Letter To The Connecticut General Assembly

Elijah Wampey Letter To The Connecticut General Assembly

In 1775, Wampey temporarily lived in Oneida but retained ties to the land in Farmington. He received Native land on the west side of the Pequabuck River in Farmington in 1777. Initially, Wampey supported Johnson but broke off relations with him in 1776. He was a trustee at Brotherton until the residents became upset about the start of the Revolutionary War. He then moved from Oneida land to West Stockbridge.

One of Wampey’s most famous contributions came on October 13, 1780, when former Tunxis tribe members wrote from West Stockbridge, Massachusetts to the Connecticut Assembly in order to fund the spread of Christian education. Elijah Wampey, who once lived in Farmington, was a community leader in West Stockbridge, where he moved to seek a better life. Wampey and the West Stockbridge council asked Daniel Simon of the Narragansett tribe to donate to the continued education of Christian Natives. Samuel Kirkland, a community member in West Stockbridge, endorsed the charity of Christian education for Native tribes. George Wyllys, a Connecticut native, gave thirty pounds to the West Stockbridge public treasury that would be used by Kirkland to promote the spread of Christian education. State support helped fund the West Stockbridge School and indicated that Christian education was important to those from the Tunxis tribe. After Wampey’s time in West Stockbridge, he returned to Brotherton to endorse Native Americans renting land to American settlers. Until his death in 1802, Wampey lived on lot 117 in Brotherton.

Elijah Wampey Letter From West Stockbridge

Elijah Wampey Letter From West Stockbridge

Before Wampey broke ties with Joseph Johnson, his children often interacted with him through school related activities. On December 17, 1772, Johnson disciplined three scholars for acting out inappropriately; the three students were Luke Mossock, Lucy Mossock, and Elijah Wampey Jr. Initially, Johnson threatened the students, which made them behave temporarily. Afterwards, Johnson was informed that the students continued to act out and as a result he “made them a Sad Example of Disobeying the School Orders.” Johnson appeared distraught and hoped it would be the last occurrence of inappropriate student behavior while at Farmington. He expected more from the children of two of the most prominent families in Farmington, the Wampeys and Mossucks. Additionally, a couple of weeks after the school incident, Johnson could not attend the singing meetings he implemented twice per week, due to personal injuries. On December 29, 1772, Johnson hurt his leg and was later advised to go to Hannah Wampey’s house, who nursed him back to health.

Due to Wampey’s leadership qualities, nearly all of the Tunxis Natives respected him. Along with other leaders of the Farmington community, Wampey helped advance English customs like law and individual land ownership to help Christian Natives progress in English society. Wampey was a leader in the Christian Native American movement that Johnson and many Tunxis tribe members embraced. Throughout the move from Oneida to West Stockbridge, Wampey maintained ties in Connecticut and readily supported endeavors to advance Christian Native teachings. Due to Wampey’s status as a community leader at Farmington, his children often interacted with school teacher, Joseph Johnson. Wampey Jr. was a student of Johnson and Hannah helped nurse the schoolteacher back to health. The expectation level associated with the Wampey name, allowed Elijah Sr. to flourish as a community leader in Farmington, Oneida and West Stockbridge. In every community he lived, Wampey played a crucial role in advancing Native Americans awareness of English law, individual land, and Christian education.

Recommended Reading:

Johnson, Joseph. To Do Good to My Indian Brethren the Writings of Joseph Johnson. 1751-1776, ed., Laura J. Murray. Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998.

Love, W. Deloss. Samson Occom and The Christian Indians of New England, Syracuse. NY, Syracuse University Press, 2000.

Occom, Samson. The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan: Literature and Leadership in Eighteenth-Century Native America. ed., Joanna Brooks. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006.

Wampey, Elijah, “Memorial of Connecticut Indians at West Stockbridge.” Yale.edu, findit.library.yale.edu/yipp/catalog/digcoll:2664.

Wampey, Elijah, “Memorial of the Tunxis with regard to Obtaining a Law Book.” Yale.edu, findit.library.yale.edu/catalog/digcoll:2600.

Wampey, Elijah, “Wampey, Elijah, 1734-1802.” Yale.edu, http://yipp.yale.edu/bio/bibliography/wampey-elijah-1734-1802.