A Day to Remember

Last Sunday the Mansfield Historical Society celebrated its seasonal museum opening.

As the society's special program guest, local storyteller Carolyn Stearns told riveting stories of historical figures from the Civil War.

Featured at the museum this season include exhibits on the post-Civil War Connecticut Soliders' Orphans' Home; the Civil War, including life on the home front; and the 275th anniversary of the Storrs Congregational Church.

Museum director Ann Galonska researched the little-known Orphans' Home, the property of which later became part of the Storrs Agricultural School (UConn). After exhaustive research, Ann developed an exhibit which narrates the story of the orphan home's rise and fall.

The Storrs Congregational Church is celebrating its 275th year, and Mark Roy and Richard Roberts curated an exhibit highlighting the church's history and stories.

Returning from last year is the historical society's Civil War exhibit, which commemorates the 150th anniversary of the war. The exhibit, which has been modified and expanded since last year, focuses on the Mansfield soldiers (researched and prepared by Keith Wilson) and the soldiers' families (researched and prepared by Cathy Wright).

For those who missed the opening, the museum will be open on Saturdays and Sundays, 1:30-4:30 p.m., until the end of the summer.

We hope to see you soon!


Queen of the May

May Day is one of the lesser-known, lesser-celebrated holidays today, but it has a rich history.

Scholars conflict about how May Day began, but most agree that the holiday is a descendant of the Romans' festival of Floralia, which celebrated Flora, the goddess of flowers. This festival sought to expedite spring's arrival, and it spanned almost a week, from April 28 to May 3. As with many such celebrations, the festival's official elements were often accompanied by licentiousness.

This festival existed in various forms for many centuries. Eventually, the Puritans and others sought to prohibit celebration of May Day because of its pagan and licentious roots. Observance of the festival was gradually abandoned, but it experienced a revival in the 19th century. Even Lord Alfred Tennyson was inspired to write "The May Queen," a poem which begins:

You must wake and call me early, call me early, mother dear;
To-morrow'll be the happiest time of all the glad New-year;
Of all the glad New-year, mother, the maddest, merriest day;
For I'm to be Queen o' the May, mother, I'm to be Queen o' the May.

Historically, May Day celebrations included a Maypole, a tall pole around which ribbons were woven. Flowers and leaves often crowned this pole. Everyone danced around the Maypole, which often was located on the village green.

Also typical of the festival was the crowning of the Queen of the May, or May Queen. As Madeleine Pelner Cosman, author of Medieval Holidays and Festivals, explains, "[The May Queen] may be the prettiest or youngest or tallest or most honored guest. No matter how she is chosen, the queen must represent a particular quality in the superlative" (52). May Queens were often young, fair girls, and they ruled over the day's festivities.

The image above was taken in 1908 at the Mansfield Depot School. Eight-year-old Ella McCollum presides as the crowned May Queen, surrounded by foliage-bearing classmates.

Happy May Day from the Mansfield Historical Society!

If You’d Like to Learn More:
  • Cosman, Madeleine Pelner. Medieval Holidays and Festivals. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1981. Print. 51-56.
  • Douglas, George William. The American Book of Days. New York, NY: H.W. Wilson Co., 1948. Print. 251-54.
  • Dunkling, Leslie. A Dictionary of Days. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1988. Print. 74-75.

Please click here for the Mansfield Historical Society's website, which includes further information about the Society's services, programs, and publications, as well as archived articles and newsletters.


Greetings from Mansfield

Here are a few old postcards from the first couple of decades of the twentieth century. Enjoy!


Please click here for the Mansfield Historical Society's website, which includes further information about the Society's services, programs, and publications, as well as archived articles and newsletters.


What’s In A Name?: New England Naming Practices

"What is your name?" is one of the first questions strangers ask each other when they meet. Why does a name matter? Or, indeed, does it matter?

How much of an effect does one’s name have on one’s personality and experiences? That is not for us at the Mansfield Historical Society to say, but we can say this: names are not what they once were.

Mrs. Mehitabel, wife of Capt. Elijah McCall (Mansfield Center Cemetery)
According to Babycenter.com, the top ten baby girl names for 2011 are as follows: Sophia, Emma, Isabella, Olivia, Ava, Lily, Chloe, Madison, Emily, Abigail. The top ten boy names for 2011 are: Aiden, Jackson, Mason, Liam, Jacob, Jayden, Ethan, Noah, Lucas, Logan.

Unfortunately, there are no such lists to be found from New England’s early years. However, scholars can examine census records and gravestones, birth and death records and diaries, to compile a collection of popular names.

Scholar and author Diana Ross McCain wrote an article entitled “What to Name the Baby” for the April 1989 edition of Early American Life. In this piece, McCain highlights a few Puritan naming trends, giving examples of each.

According to McCain, the Puritans’ practice of naming their children after Biblical characters and Christian values was, in part, a response to Roman Catholic practices. Even in the Middle Ages, if not before, parents were naming their children after Scriptural figures, but they also named them after non-Biblical saints. During the 16th-century Protestant Reformation, the Puritans and others sought to return to a purely Biblical naming tradition. Meanwhile, many names associated with “popery” were shunned, and anything not from the Bible was considered “pagan.”

The Puritans loved to name their children after characters from the Old Testament, including Noah, Moses, Rachel, and Esther. Names might also include more obscure characters such as Epaphroditus or Mahershalalhashbaz.

Barzillai Swift (Mansfield Center Cemetery)
The Biblical figures for whom the children were named served as reminders of noble qualities, but sometimes they were also reminders of the temptation of sin. For example, girls were sometimes named after the scandalous Bathsheba or Vashti.

Famously, the Puritans also named their children after values. This practice was especially common for baby girls, who might be named Obedience, Mindwell, Silence, Faith, Submit, Wealthy, Desire, or even Freelove. Certain names might be applied to both genders, even within the same family. According to McCain, Nehemiah and Abigail Esterbrook of Mansfield gave the name “Experience” to first a daughter (b. 1747), and then, when she died,  a son (b. 1751).

Fearing Swift (Mansfield Center Cemetery)
Submit T. Southworth (Mansfield Center Cemetery)
Comfort Newbury (Mansfield Center Cemetery)
Mary, wife of Origin Cummings (Mansfield Center Cemetery)
 The oldest gravestone in the Mansfield Center Cemetery memorializes a certain man thus: “Here lieth the body of Mistar Exercise Conant who died Aprell the 28 1722 aged 85 years.” To that man’s parents, then, “Exercise” seemed a suitable name.

As Puritanism gave way to the secularism of the post-American Revolution nation, naming practices followed suit. Popular heroes such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and Andrew Jackson inspired several generations of parents, who gave their children names such as George Washington Tyler (b. 1798) and Andrew Jackson Gurley (b. 1834).

Accompanying the turn toward secularism was a revival of interest in ancient Greece and Rome. Names such as Horatio, Narcissus, Socrates, and Lucretia began to appear.

Phileomilla Palmer (Mansfield Center Cemetery)
Meanwhile, the population had been growing dramatically, and middle names became increasingly common as a way to distinguish between people with the same first and last names.

And then of course there were the outliers, such as the eighth child of East Hartford Methodist preacher Reverend Timothy Dewey, who was named Encyclopedia Britannica Dewey (a girl, b. 1814).

As we look back today, these naming practices, and indeed, names in general, prove thought-provoking.

To the Puritans, a name was considered a vital part of one’s identity and morality. Today, parents name their children Sophia, Aiden, Emma, and Jackson. These names have their own meanings as given in baby name dictionaries, though the meanings are not so explicit as, say, Temperance or Rejoice.

Today, we invite you to walk through a historic cemetery in town. Look at the names and the dates, and think about what you can or cannot learn about the named individuals from the information given. Then consider your own name. What is it? Does it matter?

Egbert Storrs and Egbert Storrs (Mansfield Center Cemetery)
Juba Storrs (Mansfield Center Cemetery)
Nabby Bingham (Mansfield Center Cemetery)


If You’d Like to Learn More:

  • McCain, Diana Ross. "What to Name the Baby." Early American Life. April 1989. Print.
  • Visit a local historic graveyard. 

Please click here for the Mansfield Historical Society's website, which includes further information about the Society's services, programs, and publications, as well as archived articles and newsletters.


Mansfield Pageant for the Wartime Cause

On the evening of Tuesday, August 27, 1918, Mansfield residents held a pageant. It was wartime—the Great War would not end for another two and a half months—and the event was held to benefit the Red Cross. The pageant was divided into ten segments, each featuring a different moment from or aspect of Mansfield’s history.

Looking at the event’s program today, we can supplement the information provided in the flyer (not all of which is true) with information from the Mansfield Historical Society’s comprehensive Chronology of Mansfield, Connecticut: 1702-2002. Here, then, are our elaborations on a few of the pageant’s themes.

Second Episode

Joshua was the third son of Native American Sachem Uncas. In February 1675, Joshua signed his will bequeathing a certain parcel to 16 legatees. (This parcel would later compose the major parts of today’s Windham, Mansfield, Chaplin, Ashford, Hampton, and Scotland.) Joshua died the following year, and in May 1678, the General Court of Connecticut officially granted the legatees rights to the tract.

At a meeting in February 1685, the legatees agreed to settle in three places: Hither Place (today, Windham Center), Ponde Place at Naubesatuck (today, Mansfield Center), and the Valley of Willimantic or Willimantic Falls. Between Hither Place and Ponde Place there would be a “highway.”

Fourth Episode

The town of Windham, which at the time included Hither Place and Ponde Place, was incorporated on May 12, 1692. However, a controversy began to build over town and ecclesiastical meetings. Where should town meetings be held? Was it sensible for Ponde Place residents to travel to the Windham church for each service?

At the request of the townspeople, on March 16, 1699, a committee from the General Court decided that the town should split into two ecclesiastical societies, each with its own meeting house. Three years later, the General Court accepted a request that the Windham territory be divided into two townships. Thus, the following year, in May of 1703, Ponde Place was incorporated as the town of Mansfield.

Fifth Episode

In 1706, proprietors voted to hire a schoolmaster for a period of two months. The schoolmaster would be sustained by and under the direction of the ecclesiastical society. The town divided itself into districts, and the schoolmaster traveled from district to district to teach.

Sixth Episode

On October 18, 1710, Eleazer Williams was ordained pastor of the First Church of Christ in Mansfield (which was established earlier the same year). Among the terms of his employment were the following provisions: a monetary settlement of 160 pounds, a 1,000-acre deed of land with a promise of home-building assistance, and a 40 pound annual salary.

Seventh Episode

As the colonies moved toward war with Britain, Mansfield grew energized for the cause. At a town meeting on September 13, 1774, three delegates were elected to attend a meeting in Hartford “on the interesting Concerns of the present Day.”

At the same meeting, a committee of 13 men was established for the collection of donations to “our Suffering Brethren” in Boston, and a decision was made that money could be taken from the town treasury to gather ammunition for the town.

The next month, on October 10, another town meeting was held at which the “Mansfield Declaration of Freedom” was adopted. This document re-affirmed the townspeople’s allegiance to King George III while vowing to defend “our natural and Constitutional Rights” with “our Lives and Fortunes.”

On April 20, 1775, over 90 Mansfield men marched toward Boston under Lt. Col. Experience Storrs.

Eighth Episode

The pageant’s program mentions several exciting moments in Mansfield’s industrial history.

Benjamin Hanks apprenticed with the famous Norwich clockmaker Thomas Harland. In 1776, he made a tall clock that could play six different melodies. He presented the clock to his father Uriah. The clock stayed in the family for 187 years, after which it was presented to the U.S. State Department for use in the diplomatic reception room.

In 1785, Hanks established a bell and cannon foundry on Hanks Hill. He was among the first in the country to cast church bells and bronze cannon.

In 1810, Horatio and Rodney Hanks erected a 12’ by 12’ building, using their own crude water-powered machinery to run the first silk mill in the country.

Ninth Episode

On September 11, 1862, the 21st Regiment of Connecticut Volunteers left the state to go fight in the Civil War. Out of this regiment, 41 men were from Mansfield.

Altogether, 153 Mansfield men served in the Civil War. According to the Chronology, there were 6 killed; 13 died; 22 wounded; 12 captured; 25 deserted; 48 discharged (for disability or dishonor); and 64 mustered out.

Tenth Episode

The last segment of the Mansfield history pageant was entitled “The Spirit of 1918,” and it concluded with a rendition of the national anthem. This would have been an especially poignant close to the evening, because the Great War was still raging. 81 men from Mansfield served in the war.

Although the war was not fought on American soil, it permeated everyday life for many Americans, including those in Mansfield.

In 1917, for example, more than 500 women attended summer courses on canning and food preservation at the Connecticut Agricultural College. These classes were part of the broader war effort.

The Mansfield history pageant was among other benefits for the Red Cross. Earlier in 1918, on March 21, an Old Folks concert was held at the First Congregational Church featuring about 25 costumed singers and an orchestra. A few months later, on June 22, a strawberry fete was held at Houston’s Hunting Lodge. Both events were for the benefit of the Red Cross.

As the pageant closed with the “Star-Spangled Banner” that late August evening, pageant-goers could not know that the war would end on November 11. What they did know was that dozens of their own men were in danger, and that the country itself might be at stake.

They had gathered to remember the glories of their town; then, the pageant done, they departed to their homes, donning again the familiar darkness of their present.


If You’d Like to Learn More:
  • Chronology of Mansfield, Connecticut: 1702-2002. Mansfield, Conn.: Mansfield Historical   Society, 2003. 
  • Mansfield Historical Society Archives.

Please click here for the Mansfield Historical Society's website, which includes further information about the Society's services, programs, and publications, as well as archived articles and newsletters.


Women's Basketball in 1905

Rooting for the UConn basketball teams is a deep-seated Mansfield tradition.

The Connecticut Agricultural College’s men’s team played its first game in 1901 versus Willimantic High School. The following year, the first women’s team won against Willimantic High School—twice.

Back then, one rooted for the “Aggies.” It wasn’t until 1933, when the CAC became the Connecticut State College, that the mascot was changed. In 1944, the Connecticut Campus student newspaper ran a survey, and the resulting mascot was the husky dog.

Here is a photograph of the women’s team, taken on March 13, 1905.

Here are the names of those depicted, exactly as written on the back of the photograph:
“BACK ROW: Mr. Chapman, coach, Esther Tooky, Olive ?, Annie Clark, Roxana Wilbur, Lena
Hurlbut, Bob Griswald
MIDDLE ROW: Mrs. Helen Stimson, wife of Pres. Stimson, sponsor, Bessie Donovan, Grace
Sage, Emma Smith
FRONT ROW: Cara Grant (Garrigus), Nora Iola Shurtliff, Daisy Masan (Marrisan)”


If You’d Like to Learn More:
  • Chronology of Mansfield, Connecticut: 1702-2002. Mansfield, Conn.: Mansfield Historical   Society, 2003. 
  • "Timeline." The UConn Story. University of Connecticut. 2006. Web. 5 Mar. 2012.
  • "Traditions." The UConn Story. University of Connecticut. Web. 5 Mar. 2012.

Please click here for the Mansfield Historical Society's website, which includes further information about the Society's services, programs, and publications, as well as archived articles and newsletters.


A History of Penmanship


If You'd Like To Learn More:

  • "The Art of the Written Word." Exhibit Labels. MHS Archives.
  • Hill, Thos. E. Hill's Manual of Social and Business Forms: A Guide to Correct Writing. Chicago: Moses Warren & Co., 1880.
  • Palmer, A.N. The Palmer Method of Business Writing. New York: A.N. Palmer Co., 1915.
  • Spencer, H.C. Spencerian Key to Practical Penmanship. New York: Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor & Co., 1873.
  • Also, please visit the Mansfield Historical Society's archives at our museum.


Please click here for the Mansfield Historical Society's website, which includes further information about the Society's services, programs, and publications, as well as archived articles and newsletters.