Category Archives: Connecticut History

Black Codes: 1731 Document from Suffield Town Records

Suffield Academy’s American Studies class learned from Hezekiah Spencer Sheldon’s May 1885 Windsor Locks Journal article that colonial Africans were buried in the northwest corner of Suffield’s first churchyard, which is the Old Center Cemetery. While trying to learn why colonial Africans were buried in the northwest corner, the class found the following vote in Suffield’s Town Record Book.

Many towns in the Connecticut River Valley had similar practices for colonial Africans. Do you know of any other records that shed light on this colonial custom in Suffield? Please connect with the display case’s blog: http://amielpzakdisplay.wordpress.com and create a comment.

In the recently published African American Connecticut Explored, which is a collection of essays, Tamara Verrett’s essay explains the origins of the Talcott Church in Hartford. African Americans in the early nineteenth century were tired of sitting in galleries and began gathering on their own in the conference room of the First Church of Christ, now Center Church in Hartford. From these meetings emerged the Talcott Church, the first African American Church in Hartford.

Below is an image of the Suffield’s Town Record Book entry for May 17th, 1731. This is a transcription of the 12th entry:

12th. Voted, to allow ye [the] masters of negroes, and free negroes, a liberty to, for them to make a seat for s [said] Negroes at ye [the] Norwest corner of ye [the] Meeting House, upon ye beams.

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Can you please help us understand the value of this gift?

Our schools’ two piece high chest left; on the right high chest attributed to Eliphalet Chapin, East Windsor, Connecticut, 1771–1795

The class began wondering about the value of this antique gift that resides in our school’s beautiful Cone Lounge. (See more in our slides here.) Our athletes sign commitment letters to their future schools there. Other students have met there because they are part of clubs who have a special event there or perhaps they observed a special Passover Seder ritual feast there. One of the intriguing goals for the class was to find out more about this piece of antique furniture that stands between the two doors of Cone Lounge. Another dimension of our inquiry became the project to write about the social history fo our community asset that is in plain sight. Some call this hidden history; for project-based learning classes, this type of public history is an authentic way to spread the learning outside the classroom walls, and writing and sharing to our community will help students leave a more meaningful footprint of learning behind. In order to appreciate the value of these high chests in colonial culture, the class read Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s “Furniture as Social History: Gender, Property, and Memory in the Decorative Arts.” We also enjoyed reading (great reading quiz scores) Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains; Chapters 4-5 animate the cultural context of such a high chest. Along with appreciating the value and roles these cultural artifacts played in colonial culture, the opening chapters also answered many great student questions. As we were coming to terms with researching colonial slavery and making new discoveries about the lives of slaves in our historic homes on main street, students pondered deeply the dynamic among slaves and slave owners. What was slavery really like here? How did New England owners keep slaves from running away? What were the conditions of indentured servants? Imagining the fears associated with running away in colonial times did help us imagine a world of colonial paths which when we stripped away highways, railroads, and canals, only had wagon ruts and horse traffic added to the distinctions that served when they were Native American trails. We read chapters in the seminal text for Connecticut History, Complicity, and learned about the violence whims the owners of Venture Smith and his wife’s owners had on their lives. Now as we prepare for our upcoming community presentation on April 23rd, we want to learn who made this piece of furniture and try to explain the context in which Dorothy Fuller Bissell (class of 1916) made this gift. Can you please help? Feel comfortable connecting with us on the class Twitter account: https://twitter.com/caisct_pbl or just by commenting on this post. Thanks!

Comparing Suffield’s Woman Groups to Other.

I have learned a large amount about the history of the Connecticut Woman’s Suffrage Movement and the actions and agendas they pushed. In an article by Jessica D. Jenkins, written in 2016, she gives the history and actions of the CWSA. Connecticut’s start for pushing for woman’s rights began in the late 1860s. Frances Ellen Burr of Hartford collected signatures for a petition for the support of woman’s rights. She was described as the leader of the suffrage movement in Connecticut. Though through her efforts a bill pertaining woman’s suffrage was presented to Connecticut’s General Assembly. The bill was turned down but this caused a stir within the people of Connecticut. A result the Connecticut Woman’s Suffrage Association was formed in Hartford in 1869. The group argued for their cause to legislators and pressed to consider suffrage bills to be addressed at their hearings. Though the group was mostly dominated by woman, the movement contained some important male figures as well. A lawyer named George A. Hickox signed the CWSA constitution and became a member. In 1870, Hickox became the vice president of the group and regularly published stories on the topic of universal suffrage. The CWSA had very few victories and was lagging behind most of the other suffrage movements who have already achieved the adoption of full woman’s suffrage. These states were the Wyoming territory in 1869, Utah in 1870, Colorado in 1893, and Idaho in 1896. This slow development would quickly blossom into a large suffrage movement in the 20th Century.

Long Road to Womens Suffrage 4

In 1910, Hartford’s Katharine Houghton Hepburn became the president of the CWSA and used different tactics to lead the group to success. She focused on advertising and spreading the words of the movement. They got in a car and stopped in 32 different communities handing out flyers and giving speeches. In May 1914, suffrage clubs for men and woman stretched from Putnam to Stanford. Also in 1914, the first suffrage parade was held in Connecticut with over 2000 participants. By 1917, the group reached over 32,000 members.

This article leaves three main driving questions.

  1. What articles did George A. Hickox write?
  2. Did Katharine Houghton Hepburn stop at Suffield during her promotion spree in her car?
  3. Did people from Suffield attend the suffrage parade in 1914?

Discovering the Old Well While #DoingHistory

When I was researching and writing about my blog post “First Female Graduate of the Connecticut Literary institution, Today’s Suffield Academy,” I tweeted the archivist at the University of Connecticut Library and asked if they had any sources that would help me write the history of women in the early days at CLI. I was learning the story about how the women’s department began in the first building at CLI that later burned down. The women lived on the first floor; female teachers and pupils occupied 20 private rooms according the Sheldon’s history. When the women’s department opened on February 25th, 1846, there are 41 females who started the first term. I also researched about population of Connecticut and found the percentage of how many females came to Suffield Academy. Then I tweeted UConn Archives and asked them for help with any sources on the Connecticut Literary Institution. They reply the next day; they found out the book call “Suffield Academy Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow, 1945.” This source did not help but they were helpful in giving us the information they had about Suffield Academy. They also looked up information about Suffield Academy on the Connecticut Historical Society webpage and tweeted back historic images of Suffield Academy. Interestingly, an important one they found was the picture of old Fuller Hall that included in the corner of the image the well that is now established in front of Memorial Building. I enjoy #doinghistory because I love working by myself and discovering new stuff.

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Image from University of Connecticut Historical Society

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Cropped image highlighting the well now in front of Memorial Building

(here is the well in the olden days- This fall it is seen again due to the new construction)

Interview Planning and Oral History Methods

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Interview Planning

In the future to help create history and gain more insight into women’s history and Suffield history, I would like to interview Elaine Sarsynski and keep a record of our interview. I have made a list of questions which I will double check with Mr. Yuan again to make sure they are all ok. I plan on asking her about many questions related Suffield, Women’s history, and maybe a bit of her personal life to shed some further detail on the whole topic. I will make a detailed list of questions and go through them with Mr. Sullivan, the class, and Mr. Yuan before the interview. The main question that I want to answer is what hardships did she encounter on her journey to the top. First, I want to know what hardships she faced because she was a woman when she was young, and in high school and college. Then I want to know if it was harder for her to make her way in the workforce because she was a woman. Then if being a mother complicated her career path more. Then, I want to know why she made the decision to leave the corporate life to make her attempt at politics, did this have anything to do with promoting women’s rights? When she was running for First Selectwoman, what challenges did she face. What challenges did she face just because she was a woman? After winning the position of First Selectperson, what initiatives did she implement were any of them aimed at promoting women’s rights? Are the political parties in local politics much different than the political parties in national politics?

Oral History Methods

Oral history is not folklore, gossip, hearsay, or rumor. Oral historians attempt to verify their findings, analyze them, and place them in an accurate historical context.

Process:

  1. Formulate a central question or issue.
  2. Plan the project. Consider such things as end products, budget, publicity, evaluation, personnel, equipment, and time frames.
  3. Conduct background research.
  4. Prepare questions for interviews
  5. Review questions with classmates and teacher
  6. Interview.
  7. Process interviews.
  8. Evaluate research and interviews and cycle back to
    step 1 or go on to step 7.
  9. Organize and present results.
  10. Store materials archivally.

Jennie Gay & The Parson’s Tavern

After some crucial weeks of research and networking, twitter provided us with very important and necessary information on Jennie Gay, who we formerly thought was named Ginney. She was an African American cook in a hotel/tavern during the 1800s, which was very rare during that time period. I have been searching for information online and on twitter and finally received an informative response from the Springfield Museums twitter account. The Curator of Library and Archives discovered that Jennie Gay was born in 1777 and worked at the Parsons Tavern, beginning in the 1790s. Owned by Eleazer Williams, the tavern was a well-known establishment in Springfield, Massachusetts, which accommodated George Washington in 1789. It was very rare during this time period to have an African American woman employed as a chef in a tavern, which leads me to the question, who was Eleazer Williams? He had high profile clients staying at the tavern, such as James Monroe and George Washington, and he employed an African American woman to cook for them. Through the Springfield Museums twitter response, I learned that Williams was a very outgoing and energetic man, who was ahead of his time. Everyone who stayed in the tavern loved him because of his humor and kindness. This is most likely the reason why he did not mind hiring Jennie Gay, he was comfortable with his clients and felt that it was acceptable to hire an African American woman. I would, however, like to find out how he met Jennie and what made him choose her over the many other cooks available at the time. I will look deeper into this subject and I hope to receive a response at some point.396_1800sc-2Bocaip.jpg

History of Women’s Athletics

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When searching the archives for information on women in sports at Suffield Academy, I came across a 1974 issue of The Bell. Dennis Kinne, the athletic director at the time, reached out to the female students, offering them opportunities to participate in male teams such as track & field and cross country.  This is very interesting, especially when comparing this historical moment to Suffield Academy’s athletics today. With women very integrated in our culture today, both athletically and academically. I am interested in finding out more about how women integrated into the athletic aspects of life at Suffield Academy. There must have been certain issues and challenges that Suffield Academy had to overcome involving athletic integration that would be very cool to discover and bring to light. Researching this topic will also bring to light the issues of gender equality present during the 1970’s, and I am very interested in comparing that to Suffield today. Another aspect of Suffield Academy’s history that I am interested in learning about is title IX and how it affected the athletics teams. Did Suffield lose any teams or gain any teams after title IX was enacted? This is an aspect I am hoping to learn about along with co-educational teams becoming competitive on campus.