Inside the CHS

About Barbara

Barbara Austen is the Archivist at CHS and is responsible for all of the incoming manuscripts, which means she gets to read people's diaries or mail. She has a master's Degree in Library and Information Science and has been working in the museum and historical society world for 30 years.


Articles by Barbara:

To the Honorable the Senate and House of Representatives

February 12, 2014 · Collections

Connecticut residents were heavily involved in the settlement and development of the area of Ohio called the Western Reserve. In fact, there is a Western Reserve Historical Society. They look at the area from the Ohio “side” while we look at it from the Connecticut “side”. One family heavily invested in the Western Reserve was…
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The Real Cinque?

February 5, 2014 · Collections

This portrait is of the freed Amistad captive Cinque. Or at least that is what we are told. How do we know that this is what he actually looked like? Cameras were in their infancy, so we cannot look at another image to compare. And the toga-like garment and the scenery, was that all the…
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A little bit of matchmaking

January 29, 2014 · Collections

I took a brief “field trip” to the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center on Monday to look at their collection of John and Isabella Hooker correspondence, focusing on those that mentioned or were written by Charlotte Cowles Hull and her husband Joseph. Of course, anything related to Charlotte is fun in my book. Three of the…
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An Anti-Abolition meeting

January 22, 2014 · Collections

What would one do on a January day in 1836? In Farmington, one might have attended an Anti-Abolition rally. We know from Charlotte Cowles that one was indeed held in that town, and although Charlotte could empathize with slaves and indeed help them to freedom in the north, she was prejudiced against those who did…
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Who is Alvin?

January 15, 2014 · Collections, Manuscripts

One of the things I really like about working with manuscripts is trying to identify the people mentioned in a document. For example, we recently received a letter that was written June 12, 1864 from Willimantic, written by D.F. Johnson to his mother and referring to “our Alvin that was reported wounded”. Okay, it is…
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A Keepsake

January 8, 2014 · Collections

It only measures 3-3/8” tall and 2” wide and has a gold stamp on the front and back cover. It is one of the latest additions to the CHS collection. The title is A Story for the Beautiful and it is inscribed “For Mary from Mary” and Hartford, 1845. The binding may be an example…
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Reflecting on the year 1965

January 1, 2014 · Collections

One of the longest diary runs we have were written by Thomas John Crockett, a Unionville resident and United States diplomat; the diaries date from 1954 to 2009. Following a brief career at the Hartford Times and in the Army, Crockett joined the Department of State where he served for 40 years. Stationed throughout eastern…
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Christmas greetings from Melancthon Woolsey

December 25, 2013 · Collections

One of my favorite Christmas-related manuscripts, aside from the occasional diary entry, is a series of illustrated verses created by Melancthon Woolsey in 1783 for his Grandmother Woolsey. I can understand why it survived; it is beautiful. Each verse is illustrated by a vignette in a circular “frame”, and includes the angels appearing to the…
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A Great Many Jews

December 18, 2013 · Collections

I am often struck by how many men from Connecticut moved south to North or South Carolina to seek their fortune. Daniel Betts of Redding was one such man, and we recently acquired a series of letters he wrote home to his daughter Julia while he was in Charleston, South Carolina. One of his letters…
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Somewhere in France

December 11, 2013 · Collections

Ellsworth A. Hawkes worked for the Aetna Insurance Company in Hartford before joining the army in World War I. On December 7, 1917, he wrote to a co-worker, Ben Meyers, from somewhere in France, where he was with the 101st Machine Gun Battalion. He reported that so far the weather had been seasonable and he…
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Highway robbery!

December 4, 2013 · Collections

Sometimes I think my preferences for new materials for the collection are a bit off-center. When a prison log came up at auction a while ago, I asked if we could bid on it. A prison log? Who would want that? Well, we would, of course. Think of the genealogical and social history enclosed in…
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David Starr, Civil War soldier

November 27, 2013 · Collections

David Allen Starr was the son of David H. and Harriet Rogers Starr of New London, Connecticut. In 1862 he and his brother Elisha enlisted in the 5th Regiment, Connecticut Volunteers. David was captured by the Confederate Army at the battle of Cedar Mountain and taken first to Libby Prison and then to Belle Isle….
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An Archival Trip to Hawaii

November 20, 2013 · Collections

With the weather getting colder, this might be a good time to consider taking An Archival Trip to Hawaii, offered this Saturday from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm, free with admission to the museum. On display will be a number of objects, books and manuscripts documenting the 200-year connection between Hawaii and Connecticut.

Protest against the constant calms

November 13, 2013 · Collections

Connecticut was known as the Provision State during the Revolutionary War. However the colony (at the time) was also a “provision state” to the West Indies in the 18th century. Connecticut vessels plied the waters between our ports to the islands of Barbados, Antigua, Granada, Tobago and others in the Lesser Antilles. The cargo the…
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Forgotten Wars?

November 6, 2013 · Collections

Almost everyone remembers from history class the names of the major wars fought by the United States—the French and Indian War, the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War,  World War I and World War II. Then there are the “forgotten wars” like the The Mexican-American, Spanish-American and Korean wars and Vietnam.  With Veteran’s Day…
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Phelps family record

October 30, 2013 · Collections

Every once in a while I come across a really poignant document in the midst of deeds and letters and other family papers that can be more mundane. That happened this week when I cataloged a collection of papers related to the Work and Smith families. Tucked in among the numerous deeds and family memorabilia…
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Too many crossroads

October 23, 2013 · Collections

We don’t usually like to acquire a single letter, primarily because it has lost its context. Well, we made an exception this time, because the letter was so interesting (dare I say fun?) and we have lots of other James Hillhouse papers in the Research Center. The letter was written byJames Hillhouse from Washington, DC…
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The true price of slavery

October 16, 2013 · Collections

When the men and children aboard la Amistad decided to take over the ship and return home, they initiated one of the more memorable events in Connecticut’s history. Steven Spielberg even made a movie about it. But some people actually lived it, like Charlotte Cowles of Farmington, Connecticut, and we are fortunate that she wrote…
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A ballad of Captain Kidd

October 9, 2013 · Collections

This coming weekend we have a Behind the Scenes Tour about “creepy” things at CHS. I don’t think anyone thought of this little gem I found, a booklet with two poems copied by Sarah Churchill before 1791 (that is the date of the newspaper used as a cover). The bulk of the text is a…
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Stitches and seams

October 2, 2013 · Collections

Do you remember Home Economics in school when you were younger? They don’t call it that any more, and boys are learning to sew and cook and girls can take shop, so I understand. I wish that had been true in the 1960s and 1970s while I was growing up. I still hammer like a…
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Capital punishment

September 25, 2013 · Collections

It has been debated, defeated, passed, vetoed and in 2012 it was finally signed into law.  I am talking about the repeal of the death penalty in Connecticut. If you thought it was a new debate, I can tell you it is not. It was a hot topic 200 years ago. I know because we…
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To one bureau

September 18, 2013 · Collections

CHS is hosting a furniture series once a month for the next three months. The first program, scheduled for Friday, September 20, from 5:30-7:00 pm, features Christina Keyser Vida, Curator of Collections and Interpretation of the Windsor Historical Society. She will share the history of cabinet-making in Windsor, Connecticut, in its heyday of the late…
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A busy day in 1835

September 11, 2013 · Collections

Back to my favorite young Farmington woman, Charlotte Cowles. We know from her letters that she was well-educated. In a letter to her brother Samuel on June 21, 1835, she mentions several books she is reading– Abbot’s Young Christian, “which is one of the best books I ever read” (and is in our library); Abercrombie’s…
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Clan Gordon

September 4, 2013 · Collections

Anyone who has been at CHS for any length of time knows I enjoy and teach Scottish Country Dancing. I love the bagpipes, kilts (my husband wears one!), Scottish fiddle music, in fact, just about anything related to Scotland. I even like the vegetarian version of haggis. So imagine my delight when we were given…
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Journal of occurances in a journey

August 28, 2013 · Collections

In May of 1800 an as yet anonymous man traveled from New Haven to New York City and on to Philadelphia in the company of Jeremiah Day, a tutor at Yale. They took a boat from New Haven to New York, where the city was in an uproar from recent state elections. From there, the…
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Another Charlotte Cowles (Hull) letter to write about!

August 21, 2013 · Collections

One of our good friends recently purchased and then donated to us a letter written by Isabella Beecher Hooker to Charlotte Cowles Hull. Yes, a letter to “our” Charlotte Cowles after her marriage to Joseph Hull.  Isabella Beecher and her husband John Hooker introduced Charlotte and Joseph and evidently maintained that friendship. The letter was…
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A Hannah surprise reprise

August 7, 2013 · Collections

I could barely contain myself when I realized what I was holding. The collection title was “Lambert Family Papers”, but here was another diary by one of my favorite young women of the 18th century, Hannah Hadassah Hickok Smith! You can read my earlier post about her here. I’ve read her earlier diary, and now,…
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Legation of the United States, St. Petersburg

July 31, 2013 · Collections

I knew Marshall Jewell had been Governor of Connecticut from 1869-1872 but I was surprised to see a letter for sale on eBay that was written by him from St. Petersburg, Russia. He was serving as minister to Russia, a post he held for only seven months. Well, we just had to have it!

American fascination with British royalty

July 17, 2013 · Collections

Standing in the checkout line at the grocery store on Saturday, I heard a brief news clip about the impending birth of the new royal—Kate Middleton’s baby. It struck me as just one more example of American fascination with the Royal Family. However, this is not a recent phenomenon. In a letter dated June 18,…
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Anti-slavery meetings in Farmington

July 10, 2013 · Collections

On July 21, 1834, Charlotte Cowles wrote to her brother Samuel what she called a “very mean letter.” Evidently it was not as well composed as she would have liked. What I find fascinating is that at the age of 14, Charlotte was already attending anti-slavery meetings. And first, I will give you an account…
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A dreadful accident

July 3, 2013 · Collections

On October 7, 1833, the boilers on the Steamer New England exploded while the vessel was unloading passengers at Essex, Connecticut. It was on a voyage from New York to Hartford. Six days later, Charlotte Cowles writes a letter to her brother about acquaintances of theirs who were on the vessel. Charlotte writes:

Fearless Charlotte Cowles

June 26, 2013 · Collections

Charlotte was only thirteen when Caleb Wright gave a demonstration of his electrical machine in Farmington on September 9, 1832, an event probably held at Union Hall in Farmington Academy. She was fascinated by the technology, and like many young people, thought she was invincible. Her reaction reminds me of a cat that does something…
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Charlotte Cowles Letters, an introduction

June 19, 2013 · Collections

At last, I can write about my favorite young woman of the 19th century! Her name was Charlotte Cowles, and we recently acquired a number of letters she wrote between the ages of 13 and 21 while living in Farmington, Connecticut. I don’t know if she meant to be humorous, (it may be my modern…
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What was the weather like . . .?

May 22, 2013 · Collections

One of the more intriguing questions I get from researchers and writers is “what was the weather like on May 12, 1835”, or some equally distant date. Amazingly, I can often find the answer using regular diaries and what we refer to as “weather diaries.”

Henry Ward Beecher

May 15, 2013 · Collections, Manuscripts

In 1872 Henry Ward Beecher, a noted and popular, although often controversial, minister in Brooklyn, New York, was accused of having an affair with one of his parishioners, Mrs. Tilton. She alternately confessed and retracted her confession while Beecher consistently stated his innocence. To clear his name, he appointed an investigative committee composed of friends…
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The Plane!

May 8, 2013 · Collections

The newspaper was yellowed, but the image looked hauntingly familiar. Did you know that there was an earlier plane crash into a tall building in New York City than in 2001? I certainly did not until Mavis Davis brought in a small collection of newspapers, a short memoir, and a letter related to the event.

Has spring finally arrived?

May 2, 2013 · Collections

It is May, and thoughts turn to spring. Samuel Pease of Enfield kept regular diaries between 1833 and 1851. He used an almanac within which he inserted blank pages so he could record his activities. With the beginning of a new month, I decided to take a look at what Samuel deemed important to record…
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Weaving 101

April 24, 2013 · Collections

The latest exhibition to open at CHS is a selection of items woven by members of the Handweavers’ Guild of Connecticut entitled Time Warps: Textiles from Today’s Weavers.

My first New York Antiquarian Book Fair

April 17, 2013 · Collections

This past Saturday, April 14, was the New York Antiquarian Book Fair. I had never been before, and one of the dealers we work with sent me a free pass. Such a deal! So, I hopped on the train in New Haven to spend the afternoon in New York City. The Fair is held in…
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To all to Whom these presents shall come…

April 10, 2013 · Collections

We have lots and lots of deeds in the collections at CHS that do not regularly inspire great interest. Last week, however, we acquired two very important deeds that were signed by Native Americans in Branford. In 1686, Wampum, Nawatockis, Sibbon Jonson, Geoffry and Manapollet all made their mark on this deed that provided clarification…
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Please note, CHS will be undergoing renovations from Aug 28 – Sept 6. During this time, we will not be wheelchair accessible. We apologize for the inconvenience.