Republican Motherhood and Sarah Pierce’s Litchfield Female Academy

Author: Emily McAdam

Before the American Revolution, New Englanders considered learning to be masculine and education for girls unnecessary. However, women’s contributions to the political revolution as protesters, spies, nurses, camp followers, and household and business managers led to a social revolution that not many anticipated. Americans believed that a republic depended on a virtuous and informed citizenry, which gave mothers new importance in the home and justified the existence of educational institutions for girls. Litchfield, Connecticut embodied this revolution for women in the decades following the American Revolution.

Although women were not voters and had no place in the public sphere, they were tasked with developing the nation politically and intellectually from their homes or in comparable domestic institutions, particularly schools. In order to achieve such lofty outcomes, they demonstrated a new kind of social independence. Daughters who witnessed their mothers handling wartime hardships on their own grew up to choose their own spouses, participate in more egalitarian marriages, or never marry. Sarah Pierce of Litchfield built a career for herself instead of marrying, founding the Litchfield Female Academy in 1792 (See Figure 1).

Fig. 1: Sarah Pierce

Tapping Reeve, founder of the first law school in the United States in Litchfield, indicated that men encouraged a kind of independence for women; he wrote a letter to Maria Tallmadge supporting her decision to break off an engagement with one of his law students. Daughters of the Revolution also grew up to believe that their sphere, though different and separate, was equally important to men’s. Two paintings of Litchfield residents Mary Floyd Tallmadge and Benjamin Tallmadge commissioned simultaneously reflect this perfectly. Benjamin is depicted with an older son in one painting with papers and books, suggesting a public career (See Figure 2).

Fig. 2: Benjamin Tallmadge and son

Mary is shown in another with her younger children, bathed in light, with a church steeple seen through the window, indicating her moral significance to their development (See Figure 3).

Fig. 3: Mary Floyd Tallmadge and her other children

Their children were educated at the Litchfield Law School and Litchfield Female Academy. Motherhood took on a political function after the American Revolution. “Republican Mothers” like Mary Floyd Tallmadge were responsible for raising their sons to be full citizens, future voters, and statesmen and for raising their daughters to be self-reliant, virtuous, domestic professionals who would best serve the nation by raising the next competent generation. In order to be the Republican Mothers that the nation needed, an old-fashioned education for women in basic literacy, work habits, needlework, and dancing would not suffice.

Sarah Pierce was one of the new nation’s pioneers in female education. Prior to the American Revolution, the best education that girls might have received typically involved no more than rudimentary literacy and ornamental crafts. After the Revolution, Pierce and others opened schools – actual institutions – that offered much more in order to develop ideal Republican Mothers. The emphasis on domesticity and behavior kept the institutions from being too radical; Pierce advertised the prospects of suitable marriages to law school students, and she did not eliminate the more traditional subjects that upper class women were still expected to master. Many examples of her students’ artwork survive (See Figure 4).

Fig. 4: Student artwork

However, an expanded curriculum reflected Pierce’s goals of self-improvement and intellectual development for the good of the nation. Benjamin Tallmadge promoted the Litchfield Female Academy in a letter in 1823 to an acquaintance who was considering enrolling his daughter. He shared that tuition was $5 per quarter for “art Geography, Grammar, ancient & modern history, Composition, Philosophy, Chemistry, Logic, reading, writing, spelling and needle work.” Pierce was so much on the cutting edge in offering these subjects of study to girls that she could not find a suitable history textbook; therefore, she wrote one herself. The influential author Harriet Beecher Stowe, a native of Litchfield and former student of Pierce, commended her on this textbook years later and asked to purchase a copy to use to instruct her own children (See Figure 5).

Fig. 5: Letter, Harriet Beecher Stowe

Although societal expectations still kept women and girls from the public sphere, expanded educational opportunities like those offered by Sarah Pierce prepared them to make valued contributions to their families and the nation.

As many as two thousand girls from across the nation and abroad attended the Litchfield Female Academy in its forty years. Some went on to raise their children quietly as good Republican Mothers; some married Litchfield Law School students and supported their husbands’ public careers; and some became educators, authors, and leaders of reform movements, pushing the boundaries of the domestic sphere. Litchfield was one of the catalysts of these large and small revolutions.

Recommended for Further Reading:

Kerber, Linda K. Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1980.

Norton, Mary Beth. Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1996.

Vanderpoel, Emily Noyes. Chronicles of a Pioneer School from 1792 to 1833, Being the History of Miss Sarah Pierce and Her Litchfield School. Cambridge, MA: The University Press, 1903.

The Service of Africans from Connecticut in the American Revolution

Author: Kenneth Neal

The American Revolutionary War era is consistently at the forefront of the consciousness of Americans, whether in touting the contributions of the founding fathers, or boldly asserting rights promised by the Constitution. The present day development of American Revolutionary War consciousness has been shaped by a selective use of the historical written record from the American Revolution that has devoted considerable attention to the subjects of the ‘Founding Fathers’ and ‘Rights’.  A recent collaboration of a number of scholars in African American Connecticut Explored provides a local Connecticut focus that expands upon the work of  Lorenzo Johnston Greene, The Negro in Colonial New England, and David O. White, Connecticut’s Black Soldiers 1775 – 1783, and confronts the Consensus consciousness of the American Revolution that neglects the contributions of Africans in the Revolution. African American Connecticut Explored also stands in contrast to the first Connecticut-centered histories that devoted specific attention to the experiences and contributions of Africans in during the Revolutionary War era. In  an age of increased digital access, what is available on the internet often determines popular historical consciousness and not research-based efforts intended to correct the historic record. And, if access influences popular historic consciousness, it is necessary to provide context to historic records with the use of the same medium. The study here will focus on digitized records of Africans serving in the Revolutionary War from Connecticut that have obscured the historic record.

Two digitized works available through the Internet Archive that have misrepresented the service of Africans from Connecticut in the American Revolutionary War are The Historical Status of the Negro in Connecticut by William Chauncey Fowler, and History of Slavery in Connecticut by Bernard C. Steiner. In a paper read before the New Haven Colony Historical Society Fowler noted the “imitative” nature of the “Negro” race that prompted their service in the military during the Revolutionary war along the side of whites, and further along in an anecdote about the service of Africans asserted their willingness to be made a fool of. He praised their skills as musicians. Steiner provides evidence of the service of Africans in the American Revolution in a misleading chapter entitled, “Slaves in the Revolution” and relies solely on a quotation from J.H Trumbull that suggests all Africans that served were slaves and impugns the evidence of service by implying they were motivated by personal gain in applications for pensions. The representations provided by Fowler and Steiner that disregard the service of Africans in the American Revolution are disputed by William C. Nell, The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution.

William C. Nell, The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution, established the historiographical framework in which Fowler and Steiner later considered the actions of Africans in the American Revolution. Yet, Nell’s work cites numerous accounts of courageous and patriotic Africans from Connecticut that served in the American Revolution. Specifically, Nell cites a primary account of two veterans of the Battle of Groton Heights. The veterans provide reference of the bravery of two Africans, Lambert (Sambo) Latham, and Jordan Freeman.

Latham is recognized with avenging the death of Col. Ledyard who was killed after surrendering to the British. The Continental Army soldiers that died at the Battle of Groton Heights including Latham, and Freeman were recognized and memorialized for their patriotic service in 1825 with the dedication of a monument at the battle site. The monument itself lists the names of all those who died
at the battle, along with an inscription that states in part, “In Memory of the Brave Patriots.” The evidenced cited by Nell, and the inscription on the Battle of Groton Heights Monument severely undermines the arguments later presented by Fowler, and Steiner and still each digitized account is cited as documentation of the service of Africans from Connecticut in the Revolutionary War.

Historians and public historians widely acknowledge the impact historical interpretation can have on the public consciousness of a historical event and also recognize their role in providing context to better understand those events. Furthermore historians have also considered and observed the wide influence of digitized history but have yet to consider their ethical role in the mediation of digitized archived material, specifically for Fowler’s The Historical Status of the Negro in Connecticut and Steiner’s History of Slavery in Connecticut. The works of Fowler and Steiner have provided a false foundation to the historiographical record of the service of Africans from Connecticut in the Revolutionary War and has had an impact on our present day consciousness. The initial exclusion of Lena Ferguson, an African American woman from Plainville, Connecticut, from admission as a member into the Daughters of the American Revolution, a non-profit organization devoted to preserving the memory of those who fought in the Revolutionary War, is a worrisome reminder of the impact of a public consciousness that disregards African contributions in the American Revolution.

Hometowns of African Americans Who Served in in Revolutionary War

Recommended for further reading:

Burrows, Edwin G. Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners during the Revolution. New York: Basic Books, 2008.

Greene, Lorenzo J. The Negro in Colonial New England 1620 – 1776. New York: Columbia University Press, 1942.  

Nell, William C. The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution. Boston: Robert F Wallcut, 1855.

Normen, Elizabeth J. African American Connecticut Explored. Wesleyan University Press, 2014.

White, David O. Connecticut’s Black Soldiers. Chester, CT: Pequot Press, 1973.

Other sources:

Caulkins, Frances Manwaring. The Stone Records of Groton,. Norwich, Conn., 1903.

Fowler, William Chauncey. The Historical Status of the Negro in Connecticut. Charleston, S.C., 1901. 

“Interchange: The Promise of Digital History.” Journal of American History 95, no. 2 (September 1, 2008): 452–91.

Steiner, Bernard Christian. History of Slavery in Connecticut; Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins press, 1893.


(Dave Pelland, Fort Griswold Battle Monument, 2011, Groton)

(Dave Pelland, Fort Griswold Battle Monument – Plaque, 2011, Groton)

Building Peace after the Revolution: William Spratts and Old Gate Mansion

Author: Teresa Lewis


Figure 1 Cowles House, built 1780-1782. Picture taken 1942, Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute.

Today, many historians are attempting to revise Connecticut’s revolutionary history by presenting a more complete historical picture, including the plight of loyalists and prisoners of war in New England both during and after the conflict. During the war, many loyal Tories were imprisoned in jails located in central Connecticut, including one at Farmington (Gilbert, 287). One such prisoner was William Spratts. Unlike many other loyalists and British soldiers, however, Spratts stayed in the United States following the end of the Revolution. As an architect, he created many of the historic homes in Connecticut still in existence today. His story and architectural contributions reveal what happened to those left in the United States who were not a part of the patriot victory.

William Spratts was a Scottish soldier in the British Royal Artillery.[1]  Serving in General Burgoyne’s army during the Battle of Saratoga, Spratts was imprisoned in Hartford and Farmington after the artillery’s defeat. Following his release in September of 1780, William was contracted to complete the Barnabas Deane House in Hartford. Spratts was commissioned afterward to build an addition on a home on Main Street in Farmington in 1782. The first home on this site was originally built in 1690 by William Hooker, but the origins of the renovations that were finalized in 1782 were disputably commissioned by either Isaac Bidwell or by Solomon Cowles for his son Zenas (“Old Gate,” 8). Either way, Spratt’s architecture was known for its Georgian style, including a “seven bay façade” that is “decorated with an elaborate entry made up of four Ionic columns.” (“Old Gate,” 2). The house features a pedimented pavilion and ornate details, features that had not been widely used prior to this period (Elliot, 39).

Figure 2 The Gate at Old Gate Mansion, Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute.

One significant aspect of Spratts’ work in Farmington is the gate that provided the namesake. On the gate, there is a Buddhist symbol for peace called a Manji, often mistaken as the Nazi swastika symbol. The choice of using the symbol reflects a growing popularity of Asian designs in architecture in the early 19th century. There are no records regarding the choice to add the symbol to the gate. Whether it was the decision of the homeowner or of Spratts himself, the symbol can be interpreted to represent the desire for stability and peace following the Revolutionary War, both between the loyalists and patriots, but also between British soldiers living in the colonies.Connecticut’s traditional revolutionary history highlights the heroic deeds that supported the patriot cause.

In addition to creating one of the best known houses in Farmington, Spratts is credited with having built the house of Julius Deming, a prominent merchant in Litchfield (“Julius Deming,” 1). Similar to Farmington’s Old Gate, “The Linden” features a post-revolutionary Georgian style that attempted to separate itself from the pre-Revolutionary simplistic and functional fashions.  Julius Deming was so impressed by Spratts’ work that his cousin Gen. Epaphroditus Champion hired him to copy Deming’s house in 1794.

In his personal life, William was married in 1782 to Elizabeth Seelye, daughter of Justuce Seelye, and had seven children (Elliot, 40). The architect went on to build several additional houses and public buildings in the years before his death including the Champion house in Colchester, the Litchfield courthouse which burned in 1886, and finally the Town Meeting house of Georgia, Vermont. Spratts subsequently married three times, had thirteen children and moved to Vermont, spending his final days there until he passed in 1810 (Georgia Town History, 260).

Spratts represents an overlooked perspective by contemporary historians. While most loyalists and British soldiers returned to England and other territories, Spratts stayed to create a new life for himself, becoming a successful architect and raising a family following the war. His imprint on American architecture is still present today throughout Connecticut. His story provides a glimpse into the details of what happened to those who did not win the Revolution.

For further reading, see:

“Prisoners in Farmington,” The Farmington Historical Society. Accessed November 12, 2017.

Brandgee, Arthur L. and Eddy N. Smith. Farmington, Connecticut, The Village of Beautiful Homes. Charlottesville: Library of the University of Virginia, 1906.

Georgia Town History, Volumes 8-11. Town History Committee. Madison: University of
Wisconsin, 1974.

Gilbert, G. A. “The Connecticut Loyalists.” The American Historical Review 4, no. 2 (1899):

Warren, William. William Sprates and his Civil and Ecclesiastical Architecture in New England. New York: Columbia University, 1954.

Elliott, Tom. “Master Builders/Planemakers of the Federalist Period Part 1: William Spratts.” The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc. 63, no. 1 (03, 2010): 39-41.

[1] Spratts’ name has been disputed by several scholars. The spelling used in this blog is based on the spelling from Joseph Loring’s letter to Governor Trumbull, where he is mentioned as “William Spratts of the Royal Artillery.”

Tale of Two Trumbulls: The Arts in Connecticut During and After the American Revolution

Author: Chelsea Marti

Connecticut became known as the “Provision State” during the American Revolution because the colony was one of the main providers of supplies, such as guns and food, to the Continental Army. However, other than a surplus of guns and food, there was also a surplus of art coming out of this colony during this time, specifically in the form of paintings and poetry. Coincidentally, the two Connecticut men most commonly associated with the arts during this time share the same name, John Trumbull.

The painter, John Trumbull, is the more nationally recognized of the two. Born in Lebanon, Connecticut, he was the son of Governor Jonathan Trumbull. During the American Revolution, he served a short term of aide-de-camp to General Washington before traveling to London in 1780 where he was imprisoned for what the Americans had did to British Major John André.  Once released, he came back to America, but soon went back to London to study painting. It was after the war ended when his services as an artist began being needed. The new United States wanted a way of commemorating many of the major events that had taken place over the course of the seven years of the American Revolution. Beginning in 1784 and continuing the series throughout his life, John Trumbull created many of the most famous works we see in textbooks and art galleries today, including The Declaration of Independence (pictured below). Rather than simply a creative outlet, art became a new and unique way of documentation, and is a method that is still used today.

The other John Trumbull, a distant cousin of the painter, was a poet from Watertown, Connecticut. However, unlike the previously mentioned Trumbull, this Trumbull’s work became known right at the height of the American Revolution. Though he wrote many essays over the course of his time at Yale in the late 1760s, he slowly began to try his hand at satirical poetry, where he attacked everything from the education system to politics. Having a strong Whig bias, he used his art to depict the events of 1775 to positively portray the actions of the Patriot cause in his epic poem, M’Fingal.

In this work, Great Britain and its assistants (i.e. Hessians, Hanoverians, etc.) were seen as great buffoons who were no match for the heroic Patriots. He specifically mentions the lack of Tory pushback against the Boston Tea Party, stating in verse, “What furies rag’d, when you in sea, In shape of Indians, drown’d the tea’…With wampum’d blankets his their laces, And, like their sweethearts, prim’d their faces: While not a Red-coat dar’d oppose, and scarce a Tory show’d his nose;” (M’Fingal, Canto III, pg. 82). With the first two of four cantos being published just before the Declaration of Independence was signed, this piece of art was meant to give hope to the colonists that independence was possible and to call to action all who wanted to help the cause. Though his writing career slowly decreased after this work, he is still considered one of the great political satirist of the time and was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1791.

These two John Trumbulls were part of a major shift in early American thought that still exists today. Politics and wars no longer were viewed in their own vacuums, rather they were viewed in a more interdisciplinary way with the inclusion of art. Today, this ideology seems to be common sense, however, in the era of the late 1700s, it was (pun intended) Revolutionary.

For further reading:


Murray, Stuart. John Trumbull: Painter of the Revolutionary War. New York:Routledge, 2015.

Angelis, Angelo. “Painting History: John Trumbull and the Battle of Bunker’s Hill.” Prospects 30 (2005): 73-85


Cowie, Alexander. “John Trumbull as Revolutionist.” American Literature 3, no. 3 (1931): 287-295

Grasso, Christopher. “Print, Poetry, and Politics: John Trumbull and the Transformation of Public Discourse in Revolutionary America.” Early American Literature 30, no. 1 (1995): 5-31

Trumbull, John. M’Fingal. Hartford: S. Andrus and Son, 1775.

Lebanon, CT and Watertown, CT


The Farmington Table: A Moveable Feast (October 14, 2017 Set for Popular Fall Fundraising Event)

A lovely autumn evening in a charming village…dinner in a beautiful private home…hors d’oeuvres and desserts in stunning village houses….This year’s elegant progressive dinner fundraising event promises an experience to remember.  Reservation only. Reserve your tickets now, as seats are limited.
$150  person. Tickets available until sold out. Register until October 7 here or call the museum for an invitation and registration reply card (860-677-9222 x 305). 
Stanley-Whitman House is a museum of Early American history in the heart of historic Farmington village.The museum is part of The Farmington Village Green and Library Association. 


Stanley-Whitman House, 37 High Street, Farmington, Connecticut 06032 * 860-677-9222 *

Avon Historical Society asks for help after a fire at the Derrin Farmhouse

Avon Fire, Derrin Farmhouse, May 11, 2016

Avon Fire, Derrin Farmhouse, May 11, 2016

Hello everyone,

As many of you know the c.1810 Derrin Farmhouse at 249 West Avon Road, part of the Avon Historical Society, suffered severe fire damage this past Wednesday, May 11th.  Thanks to the very quick and precise response by the Avon Volunteer Fire Department, with mutual aid from Simsbury, Canton and Farmington, the structure was saved and it is structurally sound.  The cause was deemed to be an accident – spontaneous combustion of oily stain soaked rags left in a plastic garbage pail from some volunteer work done the day before the fire.
We have set up a funding site for donations and I am asking you to consider a donation and to share this site with your contacts who might be interested in donating.  And if you are on Facebook, we would very much appreciate it if posted the site on your Facebook page letting others know of the opportunity to save this over 200 year old structure.
The site is:  Or donations can be made to:  Avon Historical Society, P.O. Box 448, Avon, CT 06001. Note on the memo line: Derrin House.  All contributions are tax deductible.
The past 72 hours since the fire has been a learning process for all of us.  But we have received an overwhelming amount of support from local and state organizations (even the New England Museum Association) all standing ready to help us as we go forward.  Some even arrived on scene yesterday afternoon to tour the damage and provide advice and consultation on next steps.  Those who have been through this before say that lemonade can come from lemons; we are hoping this to be the case.  And we are quickly learning that this is going to be a very long process, so we are moving carefully and deliberately to make sure we achieve our goal.

As part of background, the Society does not own the building. It is leased from the CT Department of the Military because the last family to live in it (not Derrins) were the caretakers of the First Co. Governor’s Horse Guards which is located across the street. We have had the lease since 1996 and there has been a large team of volunteers who have worked tirelessly over the past 20 years restoring the house with grants, private donations and lots and lots of donated materials.  The lease requires the Society to carry insurance, which we do. But, as you can image, no amount of insurance can replace what was lost.  So we are seeking donations to help this process move forward.  We will be updating the Society’s website tomorrow with more details, but the GoFundMe page has photos and explanation of what happened.

We had planned a grand re-opening event on June 12th  to mark the 250th anniversary of the Derrin Family signing a deed taking over the land that this house is on today.  The work being done inside was getting ready for that day of celebration with the opening of a new Visitor Center.  The Derrin family owned three houses and farms on West Avon Road from 1766 until the 1940’s.  Many of you may know the “flower house” on the same road just south of our Derrin House.  That house was also a Derrin Family house and farm.
Thank you for considering a donation, which can be anonymous, on the funding site or via the mail.  Or, if you do not donate, but can pass on this information to others, we would very much appreciate it.
Terri Wilson
Avon Historical Society

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!


Opium Dependency in Early 19th-Century Simsbury

Author: Chelsea Farrell

The history of opium evokes images of wars and imperialism across the globe. This large history often overshadows the prevalence of opium in America. Even before medical morphine was first extracted, opium and its derivatives were used medically and mixed in tonics. Opium, though, causes severe withdrawal, which makes it a highly addictive substance. Early nineteenth-century Simsbury, Connecticut, residents were fully aware of the dangers of opium, especially when the Congregational Church buried Mary Woodbridge, an unmarried woman who committed suicide via laudanum.

Laudanum recipe from "The Compleat Housewife"

Laudanum recipe from “The Compleat Housewife”

From 1806 to 1861, Reverend Allen MClean served as minister of the Congregation Church in Simsbury, Connecticut. In town history, he was remembered fondly for his generosity, benevolence, and temperance advocacy. He left a journal record of all of the people he eulogized while serving in Simsbury. On October 28, 1831 he noted a particularly tragic death. MClean wrote “In a state of derangement [Mary Woodbridge] put an end to her present existence by taking laudanum. She was naturally a very sensible and serious minded woman.” Mary’s laudanum use begged the question: How popular and available was opium?

Laudanum was an opium derivative that was prescribed by doctors but also commonly prepared by laymen. The Compleat Housewife (1742), a woman’s domestic manual, taught the reader how to prepare laudanum and recommended it for a variety of aliments, ranging from stomach inflammation to a child’s insomnia. Medical journals recommended laudanum and other opium derivatives to treat pain. As a popular medication, one can assume that most residents of nineteenth-century Simsbury had access to opium and relied on it regularly, as further evidenced by the early temperance movement in Simsbury.

While there were not any professional studies done of opium addiction in the early nineteenth century,  temperance manuals and societies discussed the effects of opium dependency.  Temperance manuals warned against laudanum abuse alongside spirit abuse. In Simsbury, the first temperance society was the Aquatics Society, formed in 1805 by Benjamin Ely. Temperance societies often formed as a reaction to a problem. A temperance society was not necessary if there was not alcohol or opium dependency. By forming one of Connecticut’s first temperance societies, Simsbury residents exposed addiction and dependency issues. At the same time, the residents identified negative effects of addiction and sought to eradicate it.

One force the Aquatics Society needed to fight was the romantic notions of opiate use in popular literature. Popular literature mentioned opium and even glorified laudanum use. In 1800, Thomas De Quincey published Confessions of an English Opium Eater about his opium and laudanum addiction. While he acknowledged the destructive implications of drug use, De Quincey seductively described the effects of laudanum. His alluring descriptions sparked readers’ curiosities about drug use and how it effected people’s mindset. Opium “with respect to the temper and moral feelings in general, gives simple that sort of vital warmth which is approved by the judgement.” When he used opium, he felt he gained acceptance.

Reverend MClean’s eulogy contrasted the term “derangement” against Mary’s regular “sensible” temperament. This suggested that when Mary consumed laudanum, she acted out of character. But Mary needed “vital warmth” to help herself cope with her own personal tragedies. Mary Woodbridge was descended from one of Simsbury’s first congregational ministers, Dudley Woodbridge. As a girl, she attended Hopmeadow School, and her father Haines Woodbridge was respected and served on the School District Committee. But Mary’s life began to unravel in 1818, when her mother died and ten years later, her father drowned himself in the Farmington River. In letters from her brother in Middletown, he worried about her distraught feelings. With her brother away, her parents dead, and her unmarried status, Mary felt isolated with no one close to confide in.  This led her to rely on laudanum.  Mary lived in a world where she was under strict moral and temperamental limitations. As she consumed laudanum, the pressures of being a virtuous woman and the tragedies of losing her parents disappeared and were replaced with acceptance. The Aquatics Society’s potentially presence in town forced Mary to  “conceal [her] opiate using” to avoid judgement.

Mary Woodbridge’s Grave, Simsbury, CT

Drug use and dependency remain a tremendous problem today. Thinking about the history and patterns of drug use and care can instruct us  and give new perspectives on how to behave towards today’s problems, as there are so many similarities. The Aquatics Society formed to promote temperance in Simsbury but may have further isolated Mary Woodbridge to avoid judgement. But, at the same time,  Mary Woodbridge’s death showed how residents in nineteenth-century Simsbury treated suicide with compassion. Although Mary committed suicide, she was not ostracized. Mary was respectfully given a funeral and buried in the town cemetery.



For further information:

About opium:
Morgan, Howard Wayne. Drugs in America: A Social History, 1800-1980. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1981.

About women in the 19th century:
Kerber, Linda K. Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980.
Norton, Mary Beth. Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996.


Author: Brianna Dunlap

When conjuring the image of a quintessential New England town, the mind’s eye visualizes an ancient town center with colonial homes surrounded by rolling hills and fields peppered with herds of cattle. The town Simsbury, which was developed during the first two hundred years of its existence by the simple necessities of colonial settlers, is the quintessential New England town. The town selectmen required regions for homes to be built, a common center district for shared use, and ample land for farming.

Founding men of colonial settlements wrote and held deeds that eventually created the spaces needed for homes and farmland. Land deeds, covenants and leases were crucial, because for them, “the life of a colonial community was…wrapped up in the ownership of land and where the fruit of the land and wealth of the forest and river and mine was necessary to the prosperity of their generations and their future generations.” The Simsbury forefathers’ mindset  drove them to establish land titles and boundaries that were reflective of their social and legal standards. John Case, among other fellow settlers to the region in 1669, made sure the deeds to his lands were secure and recorded by the General Court.

In the early days of the town’s history the Case family, the descendants of founder and constable John Case, held and purchased land in greater proportions than other families in the town. It is possible that the land covenants by the founders of Simsbury established a legacy of land obsession and therefore created a tradition of land ownership expansion in the Case name that followed descendants. The Case family of colonial Simsbury, and the later surrounding towns of West Simsbury and Canton, kept land in the family from the pre-Revolutionary era through the Jacksonian era by intermarrying and by acquiring more land at regular intervals.

The land purchases made in 1637 by settlers to the region.

The land purchases made in 1637 by settlers to the region.

Simsbury's landscape in 1730.

Simsbury’s landscape in 1730.

An interesting example of the seriousness with which the Case family undertook dealing with land began with an 1840 land lease from a son to his father and witnessed by Justin Case and Newtown Case. In 1842 attorney William Sally wrote a letter, enclosed with a lease, to Jeffery Phelps (Case) in the hope of nullifying a land deal from only a few years prior in which Jesse Case Jr. had deeded land to his father, Jesse Case and his lovely wife Lydia, for use for the rest of their lives. Yet, when Jesse Case passed away leaving behind his widow, the tables turned.

Dear Sir, Enclosed I forward a lease from Jesse G. (Jr.) Case to Jesse Case. You will perceive that the lease is to Jesse Case and not to his wife. She consequently cannot hold any more than his support. I also learn that the deed of Jesse G. to Jesse deters the widow from holding her thirds on the same if Jesse G. neglects his support of the property…”

The attorney explained that Jesse Jr. claimed that the lease was only to his father for the rest of his natural life but not for the widow. Although the widow previously had been described in the deed with glowing terms, she was being removed from the property by her step-son. The letter went on to call for discretion from one professional to another as they work out what action to take. The author even mentioned that attention should be given to the additional counter claim that the widow’s daughter, Fanny Church, should receive eighteen dollars to settle account books debts that her late step-father left. The discretion was needed since Mrs. Fanny had been visited by the local Commissioner who was pretending to want further information on the situation from her.

The dramatic ejection of the widow and her daughter was not settled in the letter, but it surely opened the subject of land control in the Case family. What was it that triggered the claim and counterclaim? Perhaps there were poor sentiments between Jesse Jr. and his father’s second wife. One possibility was that the family feared the widow or her daughter would marry outside the Case family and take the land with them. Jesse Case Senior was a Case with a bloodline of descent from Joseph Case and lived out his final years in West Simsbury, where the claim centered around, but Jesse Jr. had remained on the paternal homestead in the “Farms District” until his death. For over a century, Cases had married Cases, keeping land in the family.

Map of Connecticut 1797 showing the border with Simsbury.

Map of Connecticut 1797 showing the border with Simsbury.

The land spat between Jesse Case Jr. and his father’s widow may have been deeply personal, but it is realistic that hindering a woman’s power of control over land ownership was not uncommon in in the Case family. The nineteenth-century land dispute was not the first; since before the Revolution, Cases had been vigorous in fighting for their land.

Joel Case, who lived on Case farm from 1746 until his death in 1780, gave to his wife, Chloe, half of his entire land and homestead in his will. The stipulation for such land control was that she had to remain as Joel’s widow for the rest of her life and never remarry. Such a requirement varies from the complete removal of land from Lydia Case, but indicates land ownership was taken so seriously that measure were taken to keep the line of ownership directly in the Case family.

Legal means were certainly not the only way that the Case family held on to the founder’s concept of land and power. While the land deed records do not exist for Amos Case, who moved to West Simsbury in 1740, it is known that he lived on East Hill and the house he built belonged to a direct descendant of his, Myron Case, by 1856. The only two daughters of Amos Case went on to each marry two brothers, the sons of Richard Case. This mattered because Richard Case was a grandson of the family progenitor, the original John Case.

The legacy of land ownership stayed with the Case family because of the colonial founder’s legacy. By no means was the family working as one unit in all decisions to acquire or hoard property, but the various related branches certainly had similar goals of land acquisition. More likely, this was due to a tradition carried on based on a pattern of marriage and behavior handed down through two hundred years of collective memory and practice.

The districts of Simsbury in 1869 reflected the regions established during the settlement of the town.

The districts of Simsbury in 1869 reflected the regions established during the settlement of the town.



To explore the Case family or the colonial era of Simsbury, Connecticut learn more here:

Genealogical history, with short sketches and family records, of the early settlers of West Simsbury, now Canton, Connecticut by Abiel Brown.

Simsbury; being a brief historical sketch of ancient and modern Simsbury, 1642-1935 by John Ellsworth.

And, certainly visit the Simsbury Historical Society’s archive where they have entire boxes set aside for the Case family documents.

Charlotte Cowles: Writing Herself into History

Author: Regan Miner

Charlotte Cowles (1821-1866) lived in Farmington, Connecticut during an extremely polarizing time. During the 1830s, Farmington was grappling with the divisive issue of abolitionism; many people in town were either indifferent to or opposed to changes to the current gradual emancipation legislation. There was a significant minority of influential and wealthy citizens who favored abolitionism. Many abolitionists in Farmington were members of the same social and familial networks. Numerous members of Charlotte’s extended family were abolitionists, such as her cousin-in-law, Austin F. Williams, her uncle Timothy Cowles, her cousin Chauncey Cowles and her brother, Samuel S. Cowles, who opened an abolitionist newspaper in Hartford. Charlotte was a staunch abolitionist and the modern day researcher can delve into her thoughts thanks to the numerous letters she wrote to her brother, Samuel S. Cowles, currently housed at the Connecticut Historical Society. Charlotte’s letters reveal a strong willed woman who discussed everyday life in Farmington, abolitionist activities and her true feelings on slavery.

Jennette Cowles Williams and Austin F. Williams' grave in Riverside Cemetery in Farmington

Jennette Cowles Williams and Austin F. Williams’ grave in Riverside Cemetery in Farmington

Samuel and Charlotte’s parents were Horace and Mary Anne Cowles; of 10 children, only Samuel, Charlotte and another sister, Mary Ann, survived to adulthood. Their father, Horace Cowles, was a merchant active in the temperance and abolitionist movements. Charlotte and Samuel Cowles’ 94 letter correspondence, 91 letters from Charlotte and 3 letters from Samuel, spans from 1833 to 1841, and a single letter was penned in 1846. Charlotte’s letters are historically significant, because it is very rare to have a women’s first person perspective on a significant issue such as abolition. In addition, Charlotte wrote these letters between the ages of 13 and 25, which shows her intelligence and maturity about controversial issues at such a young age. Many of Charlotte’s letters detail the activities of various members of the Cowles family and she provides amusing updates about her life, such as her dinner plans and she described an episode where she went “sleighing.” Furthermore, Charlotte discussed births, marriages and deaths of family members and bemoaned the unpleasant winter weather. She constantly asked her brother when he would visit and if he could pick up certain items for her in Hartford. Charlotte’s charming prose and detailed descriptions offer a remarkable glance into everyday life in Farmington in the 1830s.

Charlotte’s letters give unique insight into the lives of the Amistad Africans, while they stayed in Farmington for roughly nine months before they returned to Africa. She described the Mendi as “beautiful” and “elegant” and even admitted that she was embarrassed by her lavish praise of one of the Mendi named Banyeh. Charlotte befriended many of the Mendi and listened to stories of their “adventure” from Africa to Farmington. The Mendi helped Charlotte understand the true horrors of slavery; she stated, “we read and we talk about these things [slavery], but as long as we do not see the victims, we know nothing of them.” The Cowles’ family housed one of the Mendi girls, Ka-me or Kagne, and she seemed  “very contented, so far as we can judge from her happy looks and cheerful words.” Charlotte goes into detail about the Mendi’s appearance, impressive work ethic and their adaptation of white culture; “they looked very neat and orderly, and behaved as if they had been to church all their lives.

Charlotte Cowles' grave in Riverside Cemetery in Farmington

Charlotte Cowles’ grave in Riverside Cemetery in Farmington

Charlotte Cowles referenced many nationally known abolitionists such as Alvan Stewart, John Anthony Copeland, Jr. and a “Mr. Burt” who lectured about abolitionism in Farmington. Charlotte’s depth of knowledge about scholarly literature and abolitionist newspapers was quite impressive as was her command of different political ideologies and politicians. For example, Charlotte discussed a speech given by past Governor of Liberia, Rev. John Pinney, who advocated for colonization, or the transportation of African Americans back to Africa, which was a concept Charlotte thoroughly refuted. In addition, she highlighted the fierce anti-abolition sentiment in town who held their own anti-abolition meetings in protest; “it was a high day for the rioters…who came in throngs.”  In her letters, Charlotte described activities of Farmington’s abolitionists such as attending anti-slavery lectures, writing the constitution for the Anti-Slavery Society and hiding fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad.  Charlotte told her brother about a fugitive slave hiding in their family home; “I think the man who is with us now, (we call him Thomas) is the noblest specimen of the ‘Southerners’ I have ever seen. We are all very much attached to him indeed.”  Charlotte revealed her intimate feelings of slavery in her letters; “I hardly know when slavery seems most accursed; when we see a man reduced by it almost to a brute, — or when we think that there among its victims such men as Thomas, who are still noble, dignified and unsubdued, notwithstanding all they have suffered.”  Charlotte’s views on slavery reflects the opinions of a national group of individuals who endeavored to end slavery in the United States.

Charlotte Cowles’ letters are a fascinating insight into an abolitionist’s mind and daily life in Farmington during the 1830s. Her letters are an incredible repository of information about Farmington’s abolitionist activity and her first hand observations of the Mendi are instrumental for understanding the ramifications the Amistad had on the abolitionist movement. Thanks to the Connecticut Historical Society, Charlotte’s delightful prose and historic points of view will be preserved for future generations of scholars.

For further reading:

“List of Sites.” Connecticut Freedom Trail. 2016.

Bickford, Christopher. Farmington in Connecticut. Canaan, NH: Phoenix Publishing,1982.

Cowles, Charlotte. Charlotte Cowles to Samuel S. Cowles. Cowles and Samuel Cowles correspondence, 1833-1841, 1846. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, Connecticut.


Cowles, Charlotte. Charlotte Cowles and Samuel Cowles correspondence, 1833-1841, 1846. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, Connecticut.