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:

Auction Angst

March 21, 2013 · Collections

The auction house said they would call before 11:00 am. It was 11:01 and I was in a panic, only to have the call come in at 11:02. We were bidding on an amazing collection of letters written by a young woman, Charlotte Cowles, of Farmington, Connecticut. We have plenty of other collections of letters,…
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March 13, 2013 · Collections

Elihu Burritt of New Britain, Connecticut, was a noted social advocate. Among his causes were temperance, world peace, and the abolition of slavery. It took many years of devoted lobbying before he was able to call for a national emancipation convention, which is what this broadside advertises. The lists are names of men who pledged…
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10 Eggs, a Pint of Brandy

March 6, 2013 · Collections, Manuscripts

One of our current exhibitions is Cooking by the Book: Amelia Simmons to Martha Stewart, an exploration of food in Connecticut from the colonial times to the present. The developers read any number of cookbooks in preparation. In the collections here at CHS we have a large assortment of both printed and manuscript recipes gathered by…
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I do hereby sell

February 27, 2013 · Collections, Manuscripts

No matter how many times I see one, I still get chills. A recent acquisition includes a bill of sale for a slave girl named Dinah. Not only is there the bill of sale, but there is also a certificate of birth attesting that “Dinah a female child born of the body of a female…
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Let it snow

February 11, 2013 · Collections, Manuscripts

Now that almost everyone has been plowed out, shoveled, and used the snow blower, it is time to heave a sigh of relief. This was a huge storm, but not compared to the Blizzard of 1888. You think your snowbanks are high? Take a look at some of the images from our collection of what…
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The threat builds

February 6, 2013 · Collections, Manuscripts

There are times when pictures are indeed worth a thousand words. Today I am going to let the pictures speak for themselves.

Prison reform in Connecticut

January 30, 2013 · Collections, Manuscripts

In 1839 a committee was charged with examining the current Windham County Jail and making recommendations for improvement. We recently acquired a broadside that contains the committee’s report, which is very similar in intent to national efforts at prison reform in the early 19th century.

The Last Will and Testament

January 23, 2013 · Collections, Manuscripts

Can a church have a will? Well, recently we acquired a remarkable document, full of sarcasm, in which the Second Society of Lyme did just that. Or was it, in fact, members of the Society, or was it someone totally disaffected by this particular church or by religion in general?

Society news in Hartford and Springfield

January 16, 2013 · Collections, Manuscripts

The Connecticut Historical Society is pleased to announce the recent launch of a new resource available through its web page. They are scanned images of the pages of 52 scrapbooks kept by Mary F. Morris, the wife of an insurance executive in Hartford. Although many of these articles (ones from the Hartford Courant) are available…
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Changes coming

January 10, 2013 · Collections, Manuscripts

As an institution, we are examining our use of social media to make sure we are reaching the widest possible audience. In the next few months you should see some changes. The title of the blog may become “History Nut” and the style of the blog will definitely change to be more in keeping with…
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George Washington’s Slave

January 2, 2013 · Collections, Manuscripts

Every once in a while I get a reference question that reinforces just how important our manuscript collections are. A woman from Vernon asked if we had the letter to Oliver Wolcott, Jr.  in which George Washington mentioned a runaway slave.  After a bit of searching, and using the finding aid to help guide me,…
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Equipment for soldiers

December 26, 2012 · Collections, Manuscripts

We recently acquired the Connecticut Adjutant General’s records of clothing provided to soldiers serving in the Connecticut Volunteers during the Civil War. The Regiments are 1st Cavalry, 1st Heavy Artillery, 2nd Heavy Artillery, 7th Infantry, 8th Infantry, 10th Infantry, 11th Infantry, 15th Infantry and the 16th Infantry. Not all companies in each regiment are covered…
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Lace patterns from England

December 19, 2012 · Collections, Manuscripts

We recently acquired a small leather-bound book of graph paper in which William Blore of Nottingham, England, drew patterns for the lace he manufactured. In many cases he affixed a sample of the lace for reference. In 1910, Bernard Blore (relationship still unknown) moved to America and by 1930 he was vice president of Connecticut…
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Give us back our cows!

December 13, 2012 · Collections, Manuscripts

I recently came across four letters in our catch-all “Miscellaneous Manuscripts” boxes that provided a real aha moment. The letters were written by Amos Laurence of Brookline, Massachusetts, to Abby Smith of Glastonbury, Connecticut. Abby is one of the Smith sisters whose claim to fame is that they refused to pay their town taxes because…
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“The Others”

December 5, 2012 · Collections, Manuscripts

Prejudice is a very difficult topic to discuss without someone getting his or her feelings hurt or emotions stirred. However, that is exactly one reason we recently acquired two rather disturbing (to most modern sensibilities) documents–to tell “the other” side of the story. In 1899 Margaret L. Shepherd advertised four lectures she would give at…
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Thanksgiving Festival and Family Gathering

November 28, 2012 · Collections, Manuscripts

Just when I thought the backlog of manuscripts was nearly gone, something “new” turns up. And I apologize for being one week late with this! I was quite surprised and pleased to find this document in among “Miscellaneous” documents [ask me sometime about the word miscellaneous]. The Battell family of Norfolk, Connecticut, documented their family…
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How do you want me to alphabetize this?

November 21, 2012 · Collections, Manuscripts

Elihu Geer is best known in Connecticut as a printer and publisher, in particular of various city directories. He evidently employed individuals to help extract or transcribe data and then alphabetize the names. Evidently there was a difference of opinion about how one alphabetized names when they were transcribed. Charles W. Bradley of New Haven…
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Dear diary

November 14, 2012 · Collections, Manuscripts

At CHS we have an extensive and constantly growing collection of diaries because of the detail they provide about  daily life of ordinary people, the ones who do not usually appear in the history books. The contrasts between diaries can be striking, as it is between the two that we recently added to the collection….
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Wolfhounds for sale in Simsbury

November 7, 2012 · Collections, Manuscripts

In the early 20th century at Valley Farm Kennels in Simsbury, Connecticut, Joseph B. Thomas raised and sold Russian wolfhounds, also called Borzoi. The farm boasted nearly 4000 square feet of buildings for the dogs surrounded by acres of grounds. As an advertisement claimed: “Visitors are always welcome and trains will be met on request….
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Colchester & Chatham Turnpike

October 31, 2012 · Collections, Manuscripts

In the 19th century, turnpikes were private business corporations with stockholders and directors. They built and maintained roads in particular areas in exchange for the right to collect fees from travelers. In 1809 a group of men from Colchester, Connecticut, gathered to create a turnpike company. The road was geographically divided into 100 shares sold…
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A Diary Beginning January 1st, 1801

October 24, 2012 · Collections, Manuscripts

Shubael Bartlett must have had an inkling that his words would be preserved for future generations. Otherwise, why would he have put so much information on the title page of his diary? In addition to the title, he also added: “The day of my birth was April 2nd, 1778 AD. I entered College Sept. 13th…
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“The Rough Riders and the 10th Cavarly was into the game”

October 17, 2012 · Collections, Manuscripts

First hand accounts of the Spanish American War are hard to come by. So imagine our excitement when we were able to acquire a diary written by a soldier from Connecticut! William E. Jackson of Willimantic, Connecticut, entered the army late, traveling to Philadelphia to enlist in May 1898. He was sent to Cuba andtook…
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Lodge Diana Birger Jarl No. 3, Vasa Order of America

October 10, 2012 · Collections, Manuscripts

On March 17, 1928, the meeting of the Birger Jarl Lodge was called to order at 7:45 pm. Minutes indicate that several individuals were missing. The members who were present approved the minutes of the previous meeting, were read a list of people who were sick, and appointed a committee to sell tickets to their…
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16 pairs of stockings?

October 3, 2012 · Collections, Manuscripts

Charles H. Post ran a well established general store in the center of Hebron, Connecticut. Recently, his fourth day book made its way back to Connecticut from Savannah, Georgia, thanks to a gracious donor. We have a large collection of account books, but it never fails to amaze me what people had available in the…
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Silent Glow does its part for the war effort

September 25, 2012 · Collections, Manuscripts

A very nervous potential donor walked in the door at CHS carrying a treasured scrapbook. He doubted if we would be interested, but took his chances. Well, I must have spent close to an hour with the donor oohing and aahing over this scrapbook. It was created by Rose Chorches Gold, an employee at Silent…
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Clothing the Continental Army

September 19, 2012 · Collections, Manuscripts

Two receipts recently added to the collection indicate how towns in Connecticut supported the Revolutionary War effort. The town of Kent was able to gather 12 pairs of shoes and 14 pairs of stockings, valued at 9 pounds, six shillings. Abel Hines signed for the supplies February 1, 1779. In April 1779 Elijah Hubbard collected…
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A backwards season

September 18, 2012 · Collections, Manuscripts

Is it global warming, or isn’t it? In a new acquisition for our collection, in 1827 Richard Bacon of Simsbury, Connecticut, may have thought so. In May he wrote: “The first part of the month quite warm + pleasant the latter part quite cold + the season backward.” In May, that trend continued:” The spring…
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George Catlin

August 24, 2012 · Collections, Manuscripts

*This blog post was written by Archives volunteer Marie Jarry. My time in the CHS “junk drawer” is wrapping up. 90% of the collection has found its way into the catalog and is ready for perusal by the general public. That still leaves 10% sorted into folders marked miscellaneous correspondence, promissory notes, recipes, penmanship, etc….
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Decorated furniture

August 15, 2012 · Collections, Manuscripts

I have looked through all sorts of account books kept by furniture makers, but I have yet to find an entry that indicates anything like inlay. Maybe they used a different term? What a shame I couldn’t find anything, since the last in our summer furniture series will include a demonstration of inlay by Steve…
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Due to Aaron Chapin & Son

July 17, 2012 · Collections, Manuscripts

Documenting the work of furniture makers through the archival record can be a challenge. The descriptions often are very cursory. How exciting, then, when we come across a bill like one from Aaron Chapin & Son to Mr. Thomas Burnham, dated 1820. Chapin made 1 cherry dining table 3 ft. 6 inches, and a curled…
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Colt’s sold hay forks?

May 9, 2012 · Collections, Manuscripts

I know it is a good day when I learn something new. Imagine my surprise when I learned that Colts Patent Fire Arms Company made and sold hay forks! We recently acquired two documents, one giving exclusive rights to C.E. Warner to sell horse hay forks throughout the United States, with the exception of New…
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Transcribing Hannah’s Diary

March 27, 2012 · Collections, Manuscripts

This entry was written by Student Intern Mike Ericson whose assignment was to complete the transcription of an 18th century young woman’s diary.        Hannah Hadassah Hickock was born in 1767 in Southbury, Connecticut. Her diary spans the years 1784 to 1786 and gives a glimpse into what life was like in the late eighteenth…
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Alexander Carrington

March 19, 2012 · Collections, Manuscripts

Alexander Carrington was the patriarch of an African American family in Norwich, Connecticut. By profession Carrington was a cook, and his services were often used for events at halls in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. A scrapbook he created between 1882 and 1886 recently came to the Connecticut Historical Society. The scrapbook contains advertisements, tickets,…
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President Garfield shot!

February 29, 2012 · Collections, Manuscripts

Little bits of history keep popping up as we continue to catalog the manuscript backlog. Last week I  happened upon a folder that simply stated, “telegram, E.K. Winship to J.R. Hawley, 1881”. What I had found was a message concerning the assassination attempt on the President! On July 2, 1881, Charles Guiteau took two shots…
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Breakfast with Napoleon

November 30, 2011 · Collections, Manuscripts

*This post was written by Archives volunteer Marie Jarry. In my ongoing expedition through the miscellaneous boxes here at CHS, I continue to come across many an anonymous letter. Many are addressed “Dear Friend” or “Loving Mother” or not addressed at all. If they are signed, it’s usually with just a first name or something…
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Touching History

November 1, 2011 · Collections, Manuscripts

Even after too many years to count being an archivist, I can still get a chill up my spine when I encounter certain documents. That happened this past month when I came across an admission of guilt by two men, Daniel Young and John Elderkin of Norwich, Connecticut. They admitted in June 1776 to the…
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A letter from Lewis

October 4, 2011 · Collections, Manuscripts

With much of the U.S.  focused on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, it seems letters and diaries from soldiers are being discovered in attics on an almost daily basis. Obviously, however, not all letters are alike. That is why we were particularly excited when we learned that a letter written by a soldier…
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Historical Surgeries

August 25, 2011 · Collections, Manuscripts

Dr. Howard Franklin Smith, assistant house surgeon at Hartford Hospital, kept a  notebook from April to June of 1897 recording his patient’s ailments and treatments. Many of these cases are a little unusual! Dr. Smith noted his patients’ professions and countries of origin. He saw people from all walks of life, from saddlemakers to school…
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The CHS “Junk Drawer”

July 20, 2011 · Collections, Manuscripts

This post was written by Archives volunteer Marie Jarry. All of us have that drawer at home for items we don’t know what else to do with–the junk drawer, the miscellaneous drawer. Perhaps you have a shoebox designated as such or even an entire closet. Well the Connecticut Historical Society has their own version of…
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Dear Miss

July 14, 2011 · Collections, Manuscripts

I know that if I had received a letter like this from my intended husband, I would have canceled the engagement immediately! Sometime before 1767, John Talcott wrote a letter (or a treatise?) to his future wife Abigail Ledyard. The letter was ten pages long and filled with sage advice, or what he termed “my…
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