Category Archives: #CTuntold

Join Our Journey to Discover Best Practices for Public History

What public history skills do historians employ to create and celebrate a meaningful sense of place in any community? What part of our past should be showcased today? What are the best practices associated with the process of making effective public history that will best engage community members? Bill Sullivan’s American Studies class will delve into historical topics relevant to the town’s 350th anniversary and share what they learned from this sustained inquiry during the April meeting of the Suffield Historical Society. They will study topics and design public history projects that will hopefully benefit the town’s process of commemorating this significant anniversary year.

#CAISCT students and teachers should establish a line of local history inquiry and join the process of learning these best practices for public history in their own community. #CAISCT students and teachers can share best practices for public history and #PBL on this collaborative blog. #CAISCT teachers should feel comfortable brainstorming topics based on other years of #PBL inquiry on this blog and ask Bill Sullivan further questions about Connecticut history, great historical societies that can assist your student learning, and archival resources that will be beneficial for research. The following driving questions about public history may start great conversations about possible lines of inquiries for the following topics:

  • 1774 Census: who are these enslaved colonials in your community’s census? Could your community curate the time and place of these enslaved Africans lives with help from the Witness Stones project? 1774 is also a remarkable year in American Colonial history as so many were thinking of freedom. Your town records will also animate this discussion of freedom as among so many entries of borders, roads, and prosaic community projects, a history student will observe how suddenly meetings for “resolves” appear. Amidst this landscape, you should also appreciate the narrative of Mum Bett in southwestern Massachusetts. https://caisctpbl.wordpress.com/the-spirit-of-1774/
  • 29th Regiment: who enlisted from your town? What is each story behind every name? https://ct29thcv.wordpress.com/join-this-project-today/
  • Women’s history: Do you have any women who you could nominate for the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame? https://caisctpbl.wordpress.com/womens-history/
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Telling the Story of Dinah, Manumitted Slave

Top line notes Genny, Dinah, and Titus were manumitted in 1812

While many in town know the story of Old Ti, who was a slave for the Gay family and then manumitted with his two sisters in 1812. Legend, lore, and history tell his story well in town including Joseph Pease’s account book that lists the 5 dollar fee for his coffin in Old Center Cemetery. Because this year’s class focussed on women’s history, classmates discovered a great deal of information about Old Ti’s sisters. We discovered great information about Jenny who lived and worked at the Parson’s Tavern in Springfield, MA. Now we just recently discovered potential pieces of her narrative puzzle in documents from the Watkinson family history. Again, our starting source was this blog post from the winter: https://caisctpbl.wordpress.com/2019/01/26/african-slavery-in-suffield/

If anyone knows another angle of this narrative, please share by commenting below or reaching out to us on Twitter. Thx!

Suffield Elm Sign

Researching the Austin Tavern, the class discovered that Mary Austin Seymour was an important and powerful woman here in Suffield; as a widow she owned a tavern in Suffield. Members of the Austin family would later go on to found the city of Austin in the new country of Texas. This member being Stephen F. Austin. Even though Stephen Austin was not from Suffield he was a part of the prominent Austin family. Texas had just fought for their independence from Mexico and became its own country. The Austin family was also a very prominent town here in Suffield with many buildings in the historical part of Suffield being houses that they built in the late 1700s and early 1800s. In colonial times the tavern was an important part of the community. The tavern was usually used as a meeting ground for organizations in and around the town. George Washington visited this tavern in the late 1700s, George Washington hitched his horse on an elm tree directly across the road from the tavern. This elm would be later named Washington’s Elm in tribute to Washington’s horse. But the reason for Washington’s visit was not mentioned in anyway. To commemorate this famous woman and this famous family of Suffield, a sign needs to be erected in the spot of the Washington Elm. This sign would describe the impact that Mary Austin made on the community of Suffield and the impact the Austin family in general had on Suffield and the whole of the United States.

Suffield Donators

After looking at the origin of how Suffield, Connecticut, in 1832, was able to acquire many donations by the people in the town, we found out how Suffield won a competition to have an institution placed in their town. Martin Sheldon, a top donor during the time, donated $350.00 to the town. This would be the highest paid donation by anyone during the competition. Luther Loomis, who was the second highest donor, donated $300.00 to the town as well. These large donations along with many smaller donations were able to give Suffield the money it needed to win. I think it would be interesting to find out more about this and the process of the school being created. In fact, our class now realizes how the town of Suffield prioritized education in the early 1800’s. To obtain this information I must research more about the town of Suffield, CT and when the Suffield Literary Institute was created. We have contacted local libraries for the towns of Suffield and Bristol, who were competing for the prize, to see if any new information could be discovered.   As the libraries look into this matter after viewing our tweets, we try to piece together as much information as we have available. We are also investigating the donors in the town of Suffield who were responsible for giving the town enough money to win. Donators in the town were the people who believed an institution would be a good addition to their town. Finding new information can be difficult considering the amount of time that has passed since the creation of the school. Nearly two centuries of history about the school is a large amount, some information may have been forgotten or lost. It is my job to try and recover this as best as possible.

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

African Slavery in Suffield

This xerox copy (click here for the pdf copy of this source) of this article from the Windsor Locks Journal was given seven years ago to our teacher, Mr. Bill Sullivan, by a member of the Suffield Historical Society. We know that H. S. Sheldon’s notes of the article are located in the archives of the Kent Memorial Library, but we have to wait some more months before the library restoration project is complete. The notes are essentially a handwritten draft of the article. The Windsor Locks Journal archival copies of 1885 at the Windsor Locks Historical Society are missing. Therefore, we have done our best of transcribing all of the text of the original article. We also learned from some librarians that the 1885 editions for this newspaper are also not online. Perhaps they have been added to some digital collection, yet we have not seen that resource online.

This year’s #PBL American Studies class is focusing on Women’s History in Suffield, and we want to learn more about the female slaves listed in the article. We are intrigued about Rose and her claim to be a native-born African Princess. The evidence for her claim was the fact that her back was tattooed the whole length, which was tradition for African Princesses. This part of her story reaching back to Africa resembles Venture Smith’s tale, and that loose comparison has made us more curious to find out more information on her story. We also hope that we can find more information on Dinah and Ginny because they may be found somewhere in the 19th-century records. The story of Tamar’s life piques our interest as she experienced three different owners; two in Suffield and finally sold to Solomon Smith of Haddam, Connecticut in 1798.

So we now begin our research in different locations online as well as asking historical societies and libraries about their resources and documents that are not online. Please comment on this blog thread if you have any suggestions or advice for our work ahead.

Update 1/30/19

Could Comfort Smith possibly be a woman? An article titled “The Smith Family Remains” in the historical Hartford Courant leads us to ask the question:

Written for the CourantJ, R. B. (1876, Jul 04). The smith family remains. Hartford Daily Courant (1840-1887) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/553926457?accountid=46995


Death notice in Hartford Courant of the daughter of Comfort Smith, 17, reads:

Late Thursday afternoon the dwelling-house of Mr. Daniel Leonard, of Feedinghills was struck with lightning. A daughter of Capt. Comfort Smith, of Suffield, 17 years of age, who was on a visit at Mr. Leonard’s, was almost instantaneously killed by the shock.


Article 7 — no title. (1795, Aug 31). Connecticut Courant (1791-1837) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/548488239?accountid=46995

Venture Smith family tree including the marriage of Tamar Loomis (sold by Comfort Smith) & Solomon Smith:

Connecticut Literary Institution

Connecticut Literary Institution, Suffield Academy, artist rendering, 1878 https://suffield-library.org/lookingback/education/education02.htm

In May of 1820, the Connecticut Baptist Education Society was established in Suffield, Connecticut (1). This society was geared to educate young men for the ministry.  The society secured funds twelve years later for a Literary Institution. Suffield and Bristol competed for a sum prize of five thousand dollars. The prize was to be awarded to the town that presents the best inducements. This award promised better education for the town who won. Martin Sheldon was the active leader of the Suffield committee and was able to secure five thousand dollars from the people of Suffield. The prize money was awarded to Suffield the following year and with the funds were able to build the Suffield Literary Institution. The place for this new institution was at one time the home to a settler in 1676, Sergeant Samuel Kent. I will investigate sources in Bristol to see if there is any more information to add to our school’s opening chapters of history.

  1. Source: Suffield Academy Archives

Skills required: This research requires looking at an old pamphlet documented and stored in the archives during the time the Suffield Literary Institution was built. An old book about the history of Suffield was discovered as well that reveals information about the origins of this event. Researching this requires patience and a keen eye for details.

Driving question: Why did Suffield win the competition against all the towns in Connecticut for a new institution?