Digging into Thaddeus Leavitt’s Historical Records

Working in a project-based learning environment, our class was challenged to investigate colonial times in Suffied. In 1773, The Boston Tea Party split the colonies into factions. The year after the Tea Party, 1774, was called America’s “Pivotal Year.” Judging from our research so far, our local town of Suffield participated in this national pivot as well. Mum Bett, a Massachusetts slave gained her independence that year, which was a turning point for slaves in gaining their independence in Connecticut. Our class is researching

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Thaddeus Leavitt’s house built in 1800s

if Suffield’s population supported the patriots. Also, what did these effects have on Suffield’s four individual slaves, what was their lives like? Our class collaborates and comes up with different evidence and stories to support our claims. So far, I have looked into Mum Bett’s Massachusetts’s case and how she gained her independence by using the argument that her freedom was a “constitutional right.” I then decided that Connecticut slaves heard about her independence by the word of mouth, and it must have been a trend. I then took a jump and started researching Thaddeus Leavitt’s connection to the New London Port. Reading his diaries, I found out he was an extremely wealthy man who had a boat that transported goods from the New London Port from here to the West Indies. This meant that he was part of the triangle trading system, which is very prominent. Now, I want to start researching what types of goods he transported, and what distributor he had. I also would like to know what slaves he owned, if any. Digging into Leavitt’s life would potentially open a lot of doors for our research. Researching in depth about Leavitt’s life I did not find exactly what I thought I would. I was researching whether or not Leavitt owned slaves, which was a lot more difficult then I assumed it was. I still did not find any evidence that he did own slaves, but I found this claim from an article,

“Slavery was common throughout the Connecticut River Valley during the eighteenth century, and the 1774 Census for the Colony of Connecticut listed 37 slaves in Suffield. Throughout the Connecticut valley, wealthy merchants, tavern owners and town ministers owned slaves.” (1)

Considering that Thaddeus was a wealthy merchant, it is assumed that Thaddeus owned a family slave, yet our research showed that he did not own slaves according to the 1790s census. Another interesting thing that I found was that Thaddeus was also an inventor. He invented an early improved version of a “Cotton Gin.” By definition, a cotton gin is “a machine that quickly and easily separates cotton fibers from their seeds, allowing for much greater productivity than manual cotton separation.” (2)

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Thaddeus Leavitt’s drawing of an early improved version of a cotton gin.

This makes me realize that in fact, Leavitt was a very successful businessman and was very intelligent. He helped invented a machine to make his business ahead of everyone else, and was smart enough to write in a diary for everyone else to hear. Later down the road, this machine made Leavitt become a familiar man to people across seas, which made trade a lot easier for him. The last thing was his diary. Although I have read his diaries before, I never realized that he wrote down different receipts, or instructions for things. This gives me a better idea of how what he was learning he probably learned it through trade or networking with people outside of his town. Receipts for “taking film off a horses eyes” or “a cure for a Cancer” told me that Thaddeus Leavitt was not alone; he had a whole network behind him. To further my research, I will start to research his family and their settlements in Ohio and how the family position’s Suffield’s wealth in the early 19th century, which involved real estate venture in the west. In an article I was reading, it read that “Thaddeus Leavitt and Suffield businessmen Oliver Phelps (then the largest landowner in America), Gideon Grander, Luther Loomis and Asahel Hatheway owned between them one quarter of all the lands assigned to Connecticut in the Western Reserve.” (4+5) This combined wealth encourages our class to look into these families more. On my next HOT Log, that is what I will be digging into!

Sources:

  1. “WikiVisually.com.” WikiVisually. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2017. <http://wikivisually.com/wiki/Thaddeus_Leavitt>.
  2. WikiVisually.com.” WikiVisually. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2017. <http://wikivisually.com/wiki/Cotton_gin>.
  3. “Leavitt Diary Page 21.” Leavitt Diary Page 21. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2017. <http://www.suffield-library.org/history/leavitt/page21.htm&gt;.
  4. American Journal of Education (1855–1882), Vol. VI, Henry Barnard (ed.), Printed by F. C. Brownell, Hartford, Ct., 1859
  5. Jump up 
^ J. Hammond Trumbull (1886). The Memorial History of Hartford County, Connecticut, 1633-1884. BiblioLife LLC.
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2 thoughts on “Digging into Thaddeus Leavitt’s Historical Records

  1. harryhildreth

    Great Read Riley! It interesting to see how these famous men of Suffield helped shape the town. I hope to see more of this and his business adventures

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  2. tannerm1516

    Your research on Thaddeus Leavitt is very interesting as you have obviously discovered a lot about him and all he has accomplished. It would be really cool if any of the archives we looked over had information regarding any slaves he may have owned. This would be a great way to connect him even more to our project.

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