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Expansion and Reform 1801-1861


Blacksmith Isaac Glasko Challenges the State Constitution

Isaac Glasko was a blacksmith of mixed African American and Native American descent who challenged 19th-century voting rights in Connecticut.

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Navy-Yard, Washington

Colt’s Submarine Battery – Today in History: April 13

On April 13, 1844, Samuel Colt blew up a schooner…

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Litchfield Law School

The Litchfield Law School: Connecticut’s First Law School

The Litchfield Law School, founded in 1784 by Tapping Reeve, became the first professional law school in Connecticut.

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Patent Model for the Manufacture of Rubber Fabrics, Charles Goodyear, 1844

Charles Goodyear’s Machine for Making Rubber Fabrics

Credited with discovering the vulcanization process that fortified rubber against extreme temperature changes, Charles Goodyear received several patents over his lifetime, including one for a machine that made rubber fabrics.

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The Old State House, Hartford

Jackson v. Bulloch and the End of Slavery in Connecticut

Nancy Jackson, a Georgia-born slave living in Hartford, sued for her freedom in 1837. Her victory helped further the abolitionist cause in a state slowly moving toward outlawing slavery.

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National Biscuit Company graham crackers, circa 1915

Sylvester Graham: Progressive Advocate for Healthy Living

Sylvester Graham is known as much for his sermons on morality as his advocacy of a healthy lifestyle and his creation of the graham cracker.

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The Fugitive and the Hero

A runaway slave, evading the legal realities of the Fugitive Slave Law while working aboard the steamship Hero, jumped ship in East Haddam, narrowly avoiding the slave catchers that awaited him in Hartford.

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Advertisement from The Hartford Daily Courant, October 8, 1852

Augustus Washington (1820 – 1875): African American Daguerreotypist

Though his work depicts people of different classes and cultures, ironically, no portraits of African Americans survive from his years in Hartford.

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Plan of the City of New Haven

The Successes and Struggles of New Haven Entrepreneur William Lanson

The life of this savvy businessman illustrates the possibilities—and limits—urban Connecticut presented to African Americans in the early 1800s.

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Reverend James Pennington: A Voice for Freedom

Having escaped from slavery in Maryland, this accomplished pastor, publisher, and freedom fighter challenged racism wherever he found it, even within the ranks of the abolitionist movement and the ministry.

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“Appalling Calamity”: Loss of the Steamboat Lexington – Today in History: January 13, 1840

On January 13, 1840, over 150 people perished on Long Island Sound when the steamboat Lexington caught fire. Only four survived the “Appalling Calamity,” as newspapers across the country described it.

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Portrait of James Williams from his biography

James Williams, More than Trinity College’s Janitor

James Williams was an escaped slave who became a janitor at Trinity College from the institution’s founding in 1823 until his death in 1878.

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Apostle of Peace: Elihu Burritt’s Quest for Universal Brotherhood

Elihu Burritt, a blacksmith by trade, became an advocate for peace around the world throughout the 19th century.

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Bevin Brothers Manufacturing Company

Bevin Brothers Helps Transform East Hampton into Belltown, USA

The town of East Hampton is informally known as “Belltown,…

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Henry Austin, Grove Street Cemetery Entrance, 1845, New Haven

Father of Architects Born – Today in History: December 4

On December 4, 1804, “Father of Architects” Henry Austin was…

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Broadside for Pine Apple cheese patented in 1810

The Story of Pineapple Cheese

On a farm in West Goshen Lewis Norton made one…

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Fayerweather Island Lighthouse, Bridgeport, Connecticut

Kate Moore: Lighthouse Keeper and Coast Guard Heroine

In the 1800s, Kate Moore was pioneering lighthouse keeper in Bridgeport, assuming her responsibilities at age twelve.

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Birthplace of Seth Thomas

Seth Thomas Works Around the Clock in Wolcott

Seth Thomas was a Connecticut native who became a pioneer…

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General Nathaniel Lyon

From the State Historian: The Final Journey of Nathaniel Lyon

The first Union general to die in the Civil War, this soldier from Eastford received national attention as mourners from Missouri to Connecticut gathered to pay tribute.

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Prudence Crandall

State Heroine Prudence Crandall

Prudence Crandall was born in 1803 in Hopkinton, Rhode Island,…

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Silkworms, Cheney Brothers, Manchester

Connecticut’s Mulberry Craze

In pursuit of silk thread, the state went crazy for mulberry trees.

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Halladay’s Revolutionary Windmill – Today in History: August 29

On August 29, 1854, Daniel Halladay a machinist, inventor, and…

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The Amistad

After slaves revolted and took control of the Amistad in 1839, Americans captured the ship off Long Island and imprisoned the slaves in New Haven. A US Supreme Court trial in which Roger Sherman Baldwin and John Quincy Adams defended the slaves, ultimately won them their freedom.

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Eighteen-hundred-and-froze-to-death: 1816, The Year Without a Summer

Sunspots and volcanic eruptions led to cooler than normal temperatures in the summer of 1816. The cold weather decimated harvests and encouraged many residents to head West into the area of modern Ohio.

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Engine number 36 in a Hartford station

Steam Railroads Transform Connecticut Travel and Commerce

In 1832, the state chartered its first railroad and ushered in a new age of fast, and sometimes dangerous, regional transportation.

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Workmen in quarry with stone for Bulkeley Bridge, Branford

Branford’s History Is Set in Stone

Benjamin Green opened Branford’s first quarry in 1858. The unusual…

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Sign for the Temperance Hotel, ca. 1826-1842

Hope for the West: The Life and Mission of Lyman Beecher

Lyman Beecher was one of the most influential Protestant preachers of the 19th century, as well as father to some of the nation’s greatest preachers, writers, and social activists.

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Third Annual Report of the Managers of the Colonization Society of the State of Connecticut

Liberian Independence Day

The Colonization Society of Connecticut was part of a national movement that arose before the Civil War to promote emigration of free blacks to Africa.

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The Farmington Canal near Mount Carmel in Hamden

New England’s Grand Ambition: The Farmington Canal

Connecticut took leading role in waterway that transformed the region’s commerce.

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An Eccentric Middletown Polymath and Fossil Collector: Dr. Joseph Barratt

Despite his struggles with mental illness, Joseph Barratt was a significant contributor to the study of natural history in the Connecticut Valley.

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Harriet Beecher Stowe

The Most Famous American in the World

In 1853, in cities and villages across Britain and Europe, throngs of admirers pushed and shoved to catch a glimpse of a barely 5-foot-tall writer from America whose best-selling novel had taken slavery to task.

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Furniture Caster Patented – Today in History: June 30

On June 30, 1838, the US patent No. 821—the first…

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Front view of John Browns birthplace, Torrington

Hidden Nearby: John Brown’s Torrington Birthplace

Ruins are all that remain of the birthplace of this transformative figure in US history.

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Early 19th-Century Immigration in Connecticut

Numerous factors contributed to the growth of Connecticut in the…

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Colt Revolver display case

The Revolving Gun – Today in History: February 25

On February 25, 1836, Samuel Colt received a patent for…

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Karen Mission Compound at Maulmain

Baptist Missionaries at Work in 19th-Century Burma

Justus Vinton was a missionary and humanitarian dedicated to spreading…

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Detail of A Map of the Fortified Country of Man’s Heart

The Open and Fortified Country of the Human Heart: A Victorian Lady’s View of Love

A pair of 19th-century prints provides a virtual road map to the human heart, illustrating contemporary male and female attitudes towards courtship and love.

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North and South: The Legacy of Eli Whitney

After studying to become a lawyer, Eli Whitney actually helped further American industrial production methods through his numerous clever inventions.

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Detail of the W.A. Slater's Jewett City Cotton Mills in the foreground from Jewett City, Conn, bird’s-eye map by Lucien R. Burleigh

The Industrial Revolution Comes to Jewett City

With its abundant waterways, Connecticut, like the rest of New…

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Music Vale Seminary, Salem

Music Vale Seminary in Salem Credited as Being First in US

In the mid-19th century, Orramel Whittlesey founded a music conservatory…

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Panoramic view of Bushnell Park, Hartford

Land Purchase Becomes Bushnell Park – Today in History: January 5

On January 5, 1854, Hartford voters approved spending over $100,000…

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“Tom Thumb” Born – Today in History: January 4

Charles Stratton, born in Bridgeport on January 4, 1838, toured the world with P. T. Barnum under the name, General Tom Thumb.

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Benjamin Silliman

Benjamin Silliman and the Collection That Inspired the Yale Peabody Museum

In early July of 1779, a pregnant Mary Silliman watched…

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Prudence Crandall

Prudence Crandall Fights for Equal Access to Education

A headmistress champions education for African American women and although forced to close her school in 1834, she helped win the battle for generations that followed.

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David Humphreys

David Humphreys, Soldier, Statesman, and Agricultural Innovator

Despite an accomplished political career, this Derby-born gentleman of means is best remembered for introducing Merino sheep to North America.

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Westford Glass Company factory, Ashford

Ashford’s Glass from the Past

In 1857, 13 stockholders invested $18,000 to form the Westford…

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Testing the camping equipment on The Gunnery’s campus in Washington

Reading, Writing, and the Great Outdoors: Frederick Gunn’s School Transforms Victorian-era Education

In 1850, this educator, prominent abolitionist, and outdoorsman founded The Gunnery, a school in Washington, Connecticut.

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Noble Jerome’s Clock Patent Model

Noble Jerome submitted this clock patent model to the US Patent Office along with his patent application in 1839. Providing a working model to the Patent Office was a common requirement for inventors up until the 1880s.

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Detail from an 1863 broadside

Henry Ward Beecher, a Preacher with Political Clout

This skilled orator championed woman suffrage, temperance, and the cause of anti-slavery but scandal nearly derailed his career.

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View of the Colt Factory from Dutch Point

The Colt Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company

Samuel Colt, the man who revolutionized firearms manufacturing in the…

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Diagram of SS Savannah

Steaming Across the Atlantic

New London‘s advantageous location on Long Island Sound made it…

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The Wheeler & Wilson Ruffler

Wheeler & Wilson: A Stitchy Situation in Watertown

The Watertown firm of Wheeler & Wilson Manufacturing produced one…

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Lisbon Tunnel Completed – Today in History: August 28

The Norwich and Worcester Railroad built the first railroad tunnel in Connecticut, and one of the first tunnels in the nation, in the town of Lisbon in the 1830s.

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Pins made by Howe Manufacturing Co., Birmingham

John Howe Makes a Better Pin – Today in History: June 22

On June 22, 1832, John Ireland Howe invented the first…

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Benjamin Dutton Beecher had a Penchant for Invention

Benjamin Dutton Beecher was a millwright and machinist with a…

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An Orderly & Decent Government: A Society in Ferment, 1819-1865

Industry, immigration, and urbanization characterized Connecticut in the 19th century.

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An Orderly & Decent Government: Significant Events & Developments, 1819-1865

Connecticut in the 1830s was characterized by a move from agriculture to industry, and the loss of residents to westward migration.

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Norwich Free Academy, School Architecture: Pt. II. Plans for Graded Schools by Henry Barnard

Henry Barnard Advances State and National Education Initiatives

This 19th-century reformer sought to promote harmonious social and civic behavior by revamping the US school system.

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Emma Hart Willard: Leader in Women’s Education

Berlin-born Emma Hart Willard used her passion for learning to create new educational opportunities for women and foster the growth of the co-ed system.

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Colt's Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company

Samuel Colt: From Yankee Peddler to American Tycoon

Hartford native Samuel Colt built a financial empire on his design and automated production of the revolver.

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Lattice Truss Bridge, Ithiel Town

Town Patents the Lattice Truss Bridge – Today in History: January 28

On January 28, 1820, architect Ithiel Town was granted a…

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Nathan Starr Cutlass

Nathan Starr’s Cutlass Fought the War of 1812

On May 18, 1808, the Navy Agent Joseph Hull of New London negotiated a contract with Nathan Starr of Middletown for 2,000 cutlasses.

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A Different Look at the Amistad Trial: The Teenager Who Helped Save the Mende Captives

James Benajmin Covey, a former slave, was only 14 years old when asked to serve in one of the most publicized trials in American history.

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Billhead and bill from John Olmsted.

An Inconvenient Season: Charlotte Cowles’s Letters from December 1839

Letters between a sister in Farmington and a brother in Hartford reveal details about daily life at a time when the distance between the two communities wasn’t so easily travelled.

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Detail from a Map of the survey for a canal route for manufacturing purposes from the head of Enfield Falls to Hartford

Windsor Engineers Success

In the early 19th century the Connecticut River was an…

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James Lindsey Smith Takes the Underground Railroad to Connecticut

James Lindsey Smith was one of many slaves who found freedom through the Underground Railroad network that included many stops in Connecticut, including New Haven, Hartford, and Norwich.

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John Brown: A Portrait of Violent Abolitionism

John Brown of Torrington used violence to oppose the spread of slavery prior to the Civil War, ultimately leading a bloody raid on the armory in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia.

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Miniature Boots, Wales Goodyear Shoe Company, Naugatuck

Charles Goodyear and the Vulcanization of Rubber

Obsessive dedication transformed rubber into a viable commercial material and made the town of Naugatuck one of its leading manufacturing sites in the 1800s.

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Detail from Map of the Farmington Canal

Farmington Canal Designed to Give Connecticut Commerce a Competitive Edge

Commerce for the United States of America in the early…

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Merino Sheep

Textile Mills in Oxford Dominated Early Industry

Domestic wool production is one of the oldest industries in…

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Windsor brickmakers

Building a Nation Brick by Brick

Brick making was an important industry in Windsor even in…

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Benjamin Silliman and Soda Water – Who Knew?

…that Yale’s first professor of chemistry, Benjamin Silliman, was also…

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The Danbury Hatters

The origins of Danbury’s hat-making industry date back to the…

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Hotchkiss House, Prospect

The Legacy of David Miles Hotchkiss

David Miles Hotchkiss was an educator, abolitionist, and public servant…

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Nathaniel Lyon. Lithograph by E.B. & E.C. Kellogg

Nathaniel Lyon: Colorful Commander from Connecticut

The military exploits of this passionate abolitionist include an attack on pro-secessionist forces that may have assured Missouri remained part of the Union.

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The Collins Company Dry Grinding Department, Collinsville

World-renowned Maker of Axes: The Collins Company of Canton

The New England factory town of Collinsville, which can still be toured today, once supplied the world with axes, machetes, and other edge tools.

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Elisha K Root, President of Colt's Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company

Elisha Root Changes Industry – Who Knew?

…that  Elisha Root invented die casting that revolutionized the mechanization…

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Ad for Goodyear's patented Hay & Manure forks

Amasa Goodyear and Son Re-Invent Naugatuck

Amasa Goodyear was an inventor, manufacturer, merchant, and farmer. Born…

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