Category Archives: Public History

Can you please help up 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!

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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.

The Story Behind the Plaque of Parson’s Tavern

Through some valuable information from Springfield Museums, our class found that Ginny Gay was later named Jennie Gay. Due to this discovery, it made things much easier for us to uncover more. We have sources that provided us with the knowledge that Jennie Gay worked at the Parsons Tavern when she was in her teens. Jennie was born in 1777, and worked for Eleazer Williams at the Parsons Tavern. Jennie worked as a cook here, which was a very uncommon job amongst African-American women. Jennie likely worked that this hotel/tavern for over ten years – until the early 1800’s. Our previous hypothetical ideas of Jennie working at the Massasoit House (A hotel for runaway slaves in Springfield), is lacking evidence. Jennie working at this underground railroad hotel is not impossible, but there is a lack of evidence depicting that she worked here as she was not part of the consensus. Jennie would have been in her mid-sixties by the time the Massasoit House was built in 1843 (after the railroad made its way through Springfield). Jennie passed away at the age of 83 due to “lung fever” one January 16th, 1860. This hotel clearly had great significance with its location as it was on route from New York to Boston; it housed president George Washington for a night whilst he was on his way to Boston; a year later, president James Monroe also stayed the night there. Now, we will be looking more into the Parson’s family and try to uncover more information on them as a whole. Also, I personally will be attempting to make a statement to rewrite the plaque written in commemoration of the tavern. I will need to

This is the current plaque in the spot that commemorates the Parson’s Tavern that I will be attempting to rewrite in order to depict more historical significance.

See Below – This is the Twitter conversation we had with multiple historians in order to find more information on Jennie Gay and the Parson’s Tavern.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

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 Women’s Organizations

Many people have heard of the big international women’s groups like the National Organization for Women. I would like to investigate women’s organizations here in Connecticut. Through my preliminary research I have come upon local chapters of the big women’s organizations. I want to know who started them and if anyone of interest joined any of these organizations. The organizations I would like to look into are: Daughters of the American Revolution, The Women’s Committee of the Council of National Defense, Connecticut Branch of the Housewives League, and Connecticut Women Suffrage Association.

 

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Newspaper article from the Hartford Courant talking about the different Woman’s Organizations meeting and the different women who head them up.

 

Driving Question:

How much did women organizations do to improve the life and rights of women?

Skills Required:

Researching and precise reading of sources.

Source:

“WOMAN ORGANIZE DEFENSE COMMITTEE.” The Hartford Courant (1887-1922), Jun 02, 1917, pp. 8. ProQuest, https://search.proquest.com/docview/556481481?accountid=46995.

Calvin Philleo: Husband to Prudence Crandall

Can you help us with our research? While many Connecticut residents know the story of Prudence Crandall and how she opened a school to educate young African-American girls in the early 1830s, few know the story of her marriage. Our project-based learning class will investigate her husband, Calvin Wheeler Philleo, because he was also a resident of Suffield. We want to know if more history about their relationship can provide more vital information about our state heroine’s historical record. What was significant about their marriage? We can search more information about him in our local archives. Along with checking Suffield Academy’s archives, we will reach out to members of the Suffield Historical Society and check records in the town hall. While conducting a preliminary research using the Hartford Courant Historical newspaper database, I found these records below. Please leave a comment if you have any suggestions regarding researching this figure. 

Basic Information:

Calvin Wheeler Philleo was a free-soiler and the husband of Prudence Crandall (School teacher & Activist) 

Born: 14 June 1822 Vernon, Oneida County, New York, USA

Died: 30 June 1858 (aged 36), Suffield, Hartford County, Connecticut, USA

Buried in the Old Center Cemetery in Suffield, CT | Mem ID: 7976434                                            (discovered on www.findagrave.com)

Hartford Courant: Historical Newspaper References

Further Reading:

https://sparedshared8.wordpress.com/2014/10/14/1841-charles-b-utley-to-calvin-wheeler-philleo/

This link contains some further biographical details of Calvin Philleo and also a transcript of a letter sent from Charles. B. Utley to Calvin in 1841. 

Update – 12/12/18

Suffield. “Celebration of the Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Settlement of Suffield, Connecticut, October 12, 13 and 14, 1920, with Sketches from Its Past and Some Record of Its Last Half Century and of Its Present.” Library of Congress Information Bulletin, Victor, http://www.loc.gov/item/23002816/.In-text CitationCheck for GrammarCheck for Plagiarism

Update 1/5/19

Driving Question

After delving deeper into the affiliations of Calvin Philleo, I am left with a question: What is the history of the free-soiler movement in Suffield, CT?

Skills Required

To uncover the truth of this question I will need to develop my networking skills and reach out to people that may be more knowledgeable about the topic. I will also need to refine my database searches and online research techniques.

Suffield Academy’s Presentation to Suffield Historical Society

The American Studies class presented highlights from their fifteen week investigation about the history of Suffield’s homefront during WWI at the April meeting of the Suffield Historical Society.The program was also open to the public, and attendees entered the room hearing popular songs of the era, including the 1915 hit, “I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier” as well as the iconic rally cry written just after our entry into the war in 1917, “Over There,” by George M. Cohan. The class presented over 130 slides of information, many of which were archival materials from Suffield Academy and the Suffield Historical Society. While many in the audience knew a good deal about the evening’s topic, many of the seniors wrote in their reflective writing assignments that they “enjoyed presenting to the Historical Society because this was a topic that they were interested in and they were able to learn new things from us.” Working together as teammates in a project-based learning environment, the students engaged well with the community audience and appreciated most the question and answer period and further discussions over refreshments. Please add your reaction to comment section on this post, and the class will get back to you with a response.

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 9.52.40 PMMany in the class play varsity sports, and Myles leveraged that spirit and stepped up to be a captain on the spot by helping everyone focus and leading the introduction gracefully. His contributions about Connecticut culture and the role of Connecticut manufacturing elicited great dialogue after the presentation. His insights about the anti-war movement, in particular about Carl Sandburg’s contribution to the peace movement was appreciated. Later in the presentation while he was elucidating trends in propaganda posters, Ben Sylvester also explained how the two above songs served as cultural markers that showed first the country’s stance for isolationism and then the spirit to enter the war and fight “Wilson fight for democracy.” Each student also conducted family research to how many ancestors were involved in WWI, and Senior Sedley Benitz pursued research similar to her ancestors’ services, such as ambulance driving and nursing. Along with researching espionage, a topic related to his own family research, Rory Tettemer also pursued important Connecticut history topics such as the 1920s census, the 1916 election, and the sinking of the Lusitania; the closest figure to Suffield from the event turned out to be one the heroines, Theodate Pope. Chase Moran adroitly explained how partisan politics polarized Wilson’s neutrality stance throughout the early years of the war against a strident national preparedness movement. While many in town knew that Suffield Academy was called Suffield School during WWI, they learned how Suffield School was one of the first schools in the area to order uniforms for students and have experienced officers conduct military training exercise. After Michael Burch explained how Sgt. Stubby (now a motion picture), was the first war dog in the history of the American Military, he shared the campaign that he, Rory, and Chase helped launched on Twitter (#BringStubbyHome) to request from the Smithsonian that Stubby be installed during this commemoration year in a Connecticut Museum. Michael explained how much the class learned of the request protocol of the Smithsonian Museums from their thoughtful response and how the campaign enhanced our Twitter network among Connecticut historians. He then illuminated how the class discovered an unwritten Connecticut chapter of history regarding the new national history being written about the “Hello Girls,” the untold story about America’s first female soldiers who were telephone operators along the front lines organized by the Signal Corps. While Owen shared narratives regarding the manufacture history of Connecticut and the national economy during the second decade of the twentieth century, he also explained his original research regarding data about an African-American enclave in Suffield from 1900-1930s. Using Stacey Close’s thesis from the seminal work, African-Americans Connecticut Explored, the class followed Rory’s insight to delve into Suffield’s 1920 census records as Professor Close explored Simsbury’s 1920’s census records to illuminate Great Migration trends in Simsbury. Owen reported the significant results when the class tested Professor’s Close’s thesis. Since the presentation, the class hopes to publish more content on this chapter later in the month on the classroom blog. Along with explaining the complex causes of WWI as well as each significant turn at the Battle of Seicheprey, Connecticut’s finest day in WWI, Dylan Chase leveraged his past courses on presentations and digital mediums and communicated some of our most challenging topics with clarity and confidence. On his reflection prose he appreciated the experience to share our learning in an authentic setting with an audience who turned the questions period into an engaging dialogue. Dylan was a great academic ambassador during the subsequent conversations that occurred over refreshments. Dylan’s reflection prose also captured the spirit of the night as the class had not had the time because of our recent schedule to rehearse the whole presentation in one setting. “I really enjoyed the presentation and getting the chance to be a part of a class that worked so well collectively. Everything really came together last night, and I can speak for everyone when I say I’m proud of our work.”