December 1, 2011

Biblical Marginalia

Title page of the 1731 New Testament, to which
Job Seamans added his own notation: "I began
to go to school the 12th day of July 1762." He
was by then 14 years old. Ordained as a 
Baptist minister in 1772, he accepted a call
to the New London church in 1788, and his
pastorate spanned the next 40 years.
In 1936, New London's public library hosted an exhibit to mark the 400th anniversary of the Bible's legal, English-language publication. The exhibit probably did not also commemorate the 1536 execution of William Tyndale, judged guilty of having published his own earlier, illegal translation. That pocket-sized edition was a hot commodity, and about a third of the 18,000 printed in Antwerp made their way to England. Before his sentenced strangulation, Tyndale's final words were: "Lord, open the king of England's eyes!" In fact, Henry VIII had already sanctioned the production of an English-language Bible, and in 1535 Miles Coverdale produced the work—relying heavily (estimates range from 60 to 80%) on Tyndale's translation.

The Librarian's Report of 1936 says that "besides many old Bibles there were shown copies of the Bible in twelve different languages." The translation of the texts from Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac and Arabic into vernacular tongues not only spread the scripture without church intermediation, but it also helped standardize spelling, punctuation and grammar as no other work had done—and it introduced entirely new words and phrases now commonplace. Furthermore, the Bible was good business. Printers saw high demand for English-language versions of the Bible, and they vied for publication privileges, often purchasing shares from those granted exclusive rights, while also defending their markets from illegal smuggling and copyright infringement. Some editions became milestones in the history of book publishing, but others were tarnished by printing errors, which led to such infamous editions as the Wicked Bible (1631), the Vinegar Bible (1717), and the Murderers' Bible (1795); some resulted in hefty fines levied against the printers.

Hannah Seamans, mother of Job Seamans, was given
this "Bibble" by her mother. It was given to the town
in 1910 by Job Seamans's great granddaughter—perhaps
the first private donation to the town's archives.
Among the "old Bibles" exhibited in the Tracy Memorial Building in 1936 may have been one passed down through the Seamans family, which included the town's first minister, Rev. Job Seamans. Printed in 1731, this quarto-sized volume was sold by Robert Freebairn & Co. of Edinburgh and large enough for use in churches. (Editions of smaller dimensions were intended for family use and private study.) With pages missing and covers detached, the condition of the Seamans Bible is poor, but it was treasured by generations who added their penmanship to the few available white spaces. The Town Archives holds a collection of Bibles that includes a half-dozen editions of various dates and sizes, but none is more interesting than the Seamans Bible for its marginalia.

All of New London's children were acquainted with the Bible. In 1867, the School Committee reported that "the text books authorized for use in the school are the Bible, Town's Readers and Spellers, Colton and Fitch's Geography, Robinson's Arithmetics, Kerl's Grammar, and Quackenbos' History of the United States." Precisely how the Bible was used in the curriculum isn't specified, but its familiar stories must have provided a convenient text for early readers and perhaps moral instruction for the older ones—as it had always done since its first translation into vernacular. In 1923, the School Committee reported that "our equipment of text-books has been increased by ... adding several supplementary readers for the primary grades, new desk copies of the Bible and several reference books."

No town library exhibit has marked this year's 400th anniversary of the King James Version, though its impact on the English language, literature, and learning has been no less significant than that of the earlier translations from which it was derived. For a brief account, you might read a National Geographic article (December 2011 issue); for more detail, the sources below are worthwhile.

  • Bragg, Melvyn. The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language. (Arcade: 2003, 2011)
  • Campbell, Gordon. Bible: The Story of the King James Version, 1611–2011. (Oxford: 2011)
  • Crystal, David. Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language. (Oxford: 2010)
  • Mann, Alastair. The Scottish Book Trade, 1500–1720: Print Commerce and Print Control in Early Modern Scotland.  (Tuckwell Press, 2000.)
  • McGrath, Alister. In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How it Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture. (Doubleday: 2001)

November 21, 2011

Who's Counting?

We first began digitizing our photograph collection a few years ago. We started there because the number of requests for images surpasses all other inquiries—and because images illustrate the power of a digital database. More recently, we have also added texts, in the form of published town histories, booklets, oral history transcripts, and annual town reports.

Here is today's snapshot:
  • Our database of photographs contains 10,231 images.
  • Our database of published histories contains 23 sources, or 2,693 printed pages.
  • Our database of oral history transcripts contains 110 sources, or 2,114 typescript pages.
  • Our database of over one-hundred annual town reports contains 4,699 printed pages.
Over 10,000 images. Nearly 10,000 pages of text. Thanks to photo tagging, optical character recognition and indexing, most of this data is searchable in seconds, and it represents the most comprehensive collection of New London history ever assembled for digital researchers. Yet it still represents a mere fraction of the information held at the Archives.

Such an open-ended project will never be completed, but even in this nascent state the new tools have yielded useful and interesting historical insights. We'll continue to share some of the stories here on the blog, but you are also invited to stop by the Town Archives and see for yourself.

October 27, 2011

An Industrial Imprint

The H.F. Walling map of Merrimack County (1858) contains an inset of Scythe Factory Village, located at the outlet of Pleasant Pond (now Pleasant Lake). Here the Phillips, Messer, & Colby Company began forging scythe blades in 1835. The business operated for over fifty years, and its product line expanded to include hay knives and axes.

Over the period, its small, wooden factories were enlarged or rebuilt, and water-power systems were upgraded. Iron, steel, coal, and grindstones, once delivered by teamsters from Concord, arrived at Potter Place storage facilities on the Northern Railroad. Mechanics Hall and later the Masonic Hall were built. The village merited its own post office. At its peak, the reincorporated New London Scythe Company employed about 75 workers, and the new schoolhouse enrolled forty children, though rarely did so many attend.

The map depicts a compact village, complete with mills and factories, warehouses, company-owned tenements, owner-manager houses, a school, store, and blacksmith shop. Altogether it's a fine example of the industrial landscapes scattered around New England's flowing water courses.

After a long series of building removals and demolitions, that former landscape has nearly faded from view. But by tracing the millponds, sluiceways and tailraces, you might still see the imprint of our 19th century industrial heyday in unexpected places.

To learn more about Scytheville, find a copy of Reflections in a Millpond, published in 1984 for its sesquicentennial celebration, or stop by the Archives to browse the book and see more images, documents, and maps of the area.

September 22, 2011

Street Pageant

Since ancient times historical pageants have provided entertainment, education, and community. Here in New London, even the nation's 1976 bicentennial failed to match the elaborate production of the town's Sesquicentennial Celebration of 1929. Role-players, horses, and oxen dramatized the town's early settlement and later growth. Seven "episodes" were acted out on a hilltop field under the banner of "Hills Against the Sky." The logistics alone were impressive: a first aid tent was erected on the site; exhibits were displayed at Assembly Hall; questions could be directed to the Information Bureau at Post Office Square (i.e. old Four Corners); a Housing Committee lodged visitors at local hotels and guest houses. Altogether, the pageant's organization required the services of nearly one hundred volunteers.

A scene from The Hills Against the Sky (August 1929)

In the same tradition, albeit on a smaller scale, New London's historical society last Saturday presented a walking tour of Main Street—complete with actors portraying a governor's wife, a Grange master, a pair of young entrepreneurs, a long-term resident of the Inn, and a town librarian and photographer's assistant. Each related stories about the earlier life and times of New London.

A group visits Colby Academy's lower campus (now Sargent Common)

Those performances were supplemented by guide-narrators, who imparted local lore on subjects ranging from town halls to pharmacies to college dorms. All of those facts, figures, anecdotes, and images were drawn from published histories and from our collections; much of the research and writing was conducted here at the Archives.

If you attended the sold-out tour and would like to follow up on something you heard along the way, please contact us. You may also review the tour's historic images at our online gallery. And if you missed the tour, watch for another one next year, as the historical society plans to move the pageant stage farther down the street.

August 28, 2011

New England Storm of '38

As Irene's far-reaching wind and rain wash over New London this morning, we naturally think of the "New England" hurricane of 1938. (Storms were unnamed in those days.) That storm left an indelible, first-hand impression on one generation, and it echoed through the next, as stories of its massive destruction became a part of family and town lore.

At the Archives we hold a collection of photographs depicting the damage and the years-long cleanup that followed. The tangled mass of uprooted trees was gradually salvaged, the logs were stored in several local ponds until they could be sawn into lumber—over a million of board feet—and stumps were pulled by the thousands.

One of the many interesting stories to follow the 1938 hurricane was that of a women's lumber camp in 1942/43 on Turkey Pond, just outside Concord, New Hampshire. Check out They Sawed Up a Storm by Sarah Shea Smith to learn more.

And here are a few images from the New London area in 1938 and later.

Cottage at Elkins (September 1938)

Logging in winter.

Logs stored in Otter Pond.
Portable saw mill.

Stacked lumber, for sale.

July 29, 2011

Poor Farm

On occasion, the town of New London needed a coffin. The expense was duly reported in its financial statements.

First published in 1848, the town's annual reports provide a glimpse into the lives of its neediest inhabitants. These included the able-bodied working on its 100-acre Poor Farm, the physically ill boarding with the lowest bidders, and the mentally ill sequestered at Concord's Asylum for the Insane. There were also transfer payments to and from other towns, as paupers shuffled about the region, not always of their own volition, but still the financial responsibility of their native towns.

The March 1853 annual report says that Marcus Sargent built a coffin for the body of Lizzie Kempton sometime during the fiscal year. (The handwritten Selectmen's records say it was for "Mrs. Lizzie Kempton.") Sargent charged $3.50. The same report shows that Ruel Durgee had paid $60 for Lizzie's room and board at the Poor Farm. Both the coffin and the payment are unusual, suggesting that neither Lizzie Kempton nor Ruel Durgee (probably "Durkee") were New London residents. There were no Kemptons or Durkees among New London's 19th-century families, and Lizzie's name did not appear among the 14 town residents who died that year.

From his account books, we learn that Isaac Messer (1785-1861) of New London traded calf and sheep skins to Ruel Durkee of Croydon's East Village. Like his father, Durkee (1805-1885) was a tanner but later became a merchant and influential politician. In Croydon Flat there was another tanner and boot-maker named Silas Kempton, but with no clear relation to Lizzie. And we find another tenuous connection on the genealogy site: Ruel Durkee's mother, Polly Whipple Durkee, was the cousin (once removed) of Dr. Solomon Whipple, the physician caring for those housed at New London's Poor Farm.

So, was Lizzie Kempton sick, widowed, and destitute? Did the Poor Farm function as a regional hospital? And could "Ruel Durgee" be the Ruel Durkee, model for the Jethro Bass character in Winston Churchill's popular 1906 novel, Coniston? All this seems likely but unproven. We'll keep looking for clues to this mystery. Coincidently, in that same year of 1853, according to the town clerk's records, a few residents petitioned to sell the Poor Farm. The motion was quickly tabled at the town meeting and never revived.

Here at the Archives, we are digitizing our town's annual reports to make their search and retrieval a simple task, enabling researchers to make previously unnoticed connections. In the meantime, you might want to learn more about Durkee by meeting the fictional version in Churchill's Coniston, or in what purports to be a more authentic biography, Ruel Durkee: Master of Men by George Waldo Brown (1910).

Note: The town's first Poor Farm (or, properly, the Town Farm) was located on today's Shaker Street, near the Wilmot town line. It was later transferred to a farm County Road.

June 25, 2011

Blood Work

Newspaper advertisements often contain interesting, sometimes amusing, snippets of history.

Advertisement for R. A. Blood, M.D.
 New London Advocate (September 1872)
One of New London’s early surgeons was the aptly-named Dr. Robert A. Blood (1839–1916). He attended the New London Literary and Scientific Institution (formerly Colby Academy) before the Civil War, joined New Hampshire’s 11th Volunteers, Company F, and, badly wounded at Fredericksburg, was finally discharged in May 1863. He next decided to study medicine, training at Harvard’s medical school before establishing a short-lived practice (1871–1873) in New London. [He left to assume the practice of Dr. H.C. Bickford, his uncle and a New London native, in Charlestown, MA. Beginning in 1896, Dr. Blood served for eight years as the surgeon-general of Massachusetts.]

Today, if you have blood drawn and analyzed at New London Hospital, you might thank Colby-Sawyer students and alumnae. After returning from Christmas break in early 1941, Barbara Jane Baker, a third-year med-tech student from Rye, New York, died of meningitis at the old New London hospital on Main Street (near Pressey Court). In those days, blood samples were sent from the hospital to the college’s laboratory, but Baker's illness went undiagnosed. Her twelve classmates thought, as Barbara reportedly did, that the hospital should have its own facilities.

The first lab, just a bench and microscope located in closet-sized room by the cellar stairs, was formally dedicated with hymns, prayer, and a benediction on April 16, 1941. Although money had been raised, additional equipment was unavailable until after World War II. Dr. Clough Jr. analyzed samples and typed test reports until a part-time technician could be hired in 1942. 

Barbara Jane Baker (1920-1941)
By one reckoning from 1956, the third-year students had made annual donations totaling over $10,000—helping purchase equipment like EKG and BMR machines, a centrifuge, constant-temperature oven and water bath, binocular microscope, colorimeter, and a blood bank refrigerator. As the equipment grew, so did the need for work space, and the lab was relocated to a “slightly larger room” in 1955. In the move to the new County Road hospital building in 1958, the lab was allocated two rooms.

By 1972, the cumulative donations had reached $40,000. Contributions to the Baker Memorial Laboratory Fund continued through the 1970s, with Baker’s former classmates often answering the fundraising call to support "Colby's own charity." In 1980, the balance of the memorial fund was legally transferred from the college to the hospital.

So the next time you are waiting for your name to be called at the Drawing Station, peek through the lab’s window and think of the college students and alumnae that made it possible, starting with B.J. Baker. But when those vials appear with your name on them, you might also think of Dr. Blood.


  • New London Archives — Colby-Sawyer, New London Hospital, and newspaper collections.
  • Granite Monthly, "New Hampshire Necrology", Dr. Robert A. Blood.

June 12, 2011

New London's China Trade

Special Crops (July 1924)
As our few remaining local farmers struggle with a short and increasingly erratic growing climate, here's a story about New London's agricultural trade with China. New crops have always held the promise of new markets and profitable business, and over the years mules, merino sheep, apples, pears, and even golf-course grass have been raised for export in New London.

Dried American ginseng root was first shipped to China in the 1700s, quite successfully by John Jacob Astor and Daniel Boone, and the trade continued thereafter. The plant had been favored for centuries as a cure-all medicine, with very popular aphrodisiac side effects. But by the 1880s, America had depleted its ready supply of wild ginseng. New York fur-trading houses still solicited ginseng, especially from Native Americans, who also valued the herb and knew its woodland habitat, while farmers developed cultivated varieties to supplement their incomes.

James F. Hayes (1858-1948) constructed wooden shade frames in which the grow and tend the difficult plants at his farm on Pingree Road. Each fall he harvested roots, requested bids from dealers, and mailed his product to New York, for bundling and shipment to China. Preserved within the family's archives, James Hayes's earliest receipts are dated from 1897 and extend through the late 1940s, weathering all of the fluctuations in between. He generally sold about 8 pounds of low- to medium-grade, cultivated ginseng root, and he sometimes sold the fiber as well. Over a forty-year span, he reportedly grossed $9,000—enough to keep him in the business.

The James F. Hayes farm (c. 1930) — with shaded ginseng crop in right foreground.

If James Hayes were in the business today, he might receive $10/pound, while the wild Panax Quinquefolius commands $200 or more. (In the 1924 edition of Specialty Crops, cultivated ginseng was quoted at $3 to $14, depending on quality, and wild at $16.) With only 18 clusters of wild ginseng in New Hampshire, its poaching is prohibited by state law, which imposes a $1,000 civil fine for removing specimens of the threatened species. Most other northern states also ban or restrict the digging of ginseng root.

More about this historic plant:

May 18, 2011

Lincoln Logs

Sorting a box of miscellany, we ran across this numbered certificate.

Lincoln Farm Association certificate (1909)

Dated June 17, 1909 and addressed to “Lottie Brown” the text reads, in part:
You have been this day enrolled as an honorary member of the Lincoln Farm Association, a patriotic organization formed by American citizens for the purpose of preserving as a National Park, the farm on which Abraham Lincoln was born.
Here's the story.

Abraham Lincoln was born in a cabin on the Sinking Spring Farm (Kentucky) in 1809. As the centennial of this event approached, a group of citizens felt that his birthplace should be preserved for future generations. In fact, the cabin had been moved many times and was exhibited in 1897 at Nashville, Tennessee, where it was united with another from Kentucky—purportedly the cabin in which Jefferson Davis was born. Both cabins were later dismantled and shipped to New York. After an appearance at the 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, their logs were stored in the basement of a Long Island mansion.

Formed in 1906, the Lincoln Farm Association purchased the Lincoln logs for $1,000 and the Sinking Spring Farm for $3,600. (This was the same year that President Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act, which offered protection for federally-owned sites.) The expensive part of the project was the grand Memorial Building, in which the reconstructed log cabin would be enshrined. Despite donations from over 100,000 people, financial concerns forced the building plans to be scaled down (along with the dimensions of the cabin), but still the cornerstone was not laid by President Roosevelt until 1909. The memorial was dedicated two years later by President Taft, whose signature is printed just above "Mark Twain" on the Lincoln Farm certificate.

Lottie Brown at Low Plain School (c. 1905)
Lottie Brown had just turned twelve years old when she received the certificate, issued to all who donated between 25 cents and $25 to the project. The tenth and youngest child, Lottie attended the Low Plain school at the foot of Seamans Road. Her father was Alston Brown (1847-1938), who joined New Hampshire's First Volunteer Cavalry at the age of 16. He lost his left arm during Wilson's raid on Nottoway Courthouse, Virginia, on June 23, 1864. Six days later he was captured near Stone Creek by Confederate forces and imprisoned for two months. Whether he contributed to the Lincoln Farm project in Lottie’s name, or whether she donated her own money, we cannot know, but we can imagine that the preservation of Lincoln’s memory would have appealed to her family, as it did to the families of so many northern veterans.


May 14, 2011

Mapping Everytown

Imagine a map of New London that identifies the location and occupants of every building. Now expand that image to Merrimack County, to the state of New Hampshire, and finally to all the New England states. The task would require Google-sized resources today, but in the mid-1800s one man undertook that cartographic challenge.

New London Center (1858)
Henry F. Walling (1825-1888) produced around 150 maps, some on such a large scale that building footprints are represented (at a time before fire insurance maps made such views commonplace). A commercial endeavor, Walling’s maps were drawn and embellished in ways that might appeal to the broadest audience, and the fact that every property owner’s name appeared in print may have helped promote sales. While his success attracted competitors in larger markets down in Massachusetts and Connecticut, his wall maps of New Hampshire counties, with their inset engravings of landmarks and details of villages and town centers, were unrivaled.

Trained as a civil engineer, Walling apparently used a combination of earlier town maps, subcontracted surveys, and his own original field work. (On the Walden Pond portion of his Concord, MA, map, for example, he credited “surveys by H.D. Thoreau Civ. Engr.”) For practical reasons, Walling favored a compass and wheel odometer over the more traditional surveyor’s chain to plat town roads; his odometer was fast, accurate, and required just one man rather than a crew of three.

Walling also saw the artistry of his profession. In 1886, he concluded an address on topographical mapping with these remarks:
As the success of the portrait painter is measured by his skill in reproducing not only the more striking and familiar features of his subject, but a certain subtle, undefinable expression of individual character, so the topographer is a true artist who brings out upon his map not only the salient contours of the country, but the less apparent though real markings which reveal to experienced eyes the conflicts of the past between the great sculpturing forces of nature and the rugged resistances which have opposed them, the effective touches in either work of art being applied in the presence of the subject portrayed, with a true artistic sense of form and proportion.
Today you can find his large (5' x 5') 1858 map of New Hampshire’s Merrimack County at the Archives and displayed at several local businesses.


April 22, 2011

Catholic Heritage

Voters in the Kearsarge Regional School District recently approved funds for the demolition of the former SAU 65 offices on Main Street. Unfortunately, the building has perhaps even more historical significance than its also-vacant neighbor, the New London Central School (1941).

The Green Maple (1931-1936)
From its construction in the fall of 1930, the building provided area Catholics with a year-round worship space—first in the rear meeting hall and later in the main section of the building. Its gambrel frame was raised by two French Canadian storekeepers from Blodgett's Landing, Joseph and Philip Bourgeau. Joe's ice cream and novelty shop was called The Green Maple, but he closed the shop and tea room after five years and sold the building to Bishop Peterson, Diocese of Manchester, in 1936. 

By then about 30% of New Hampshire's population was Catholic. Most were immigrants from Quebec, Ireland, Germany, Lithuania, and Poland, and highly concentrated around the textile cities. In the Lake Sunapee area, the Catholic population was small, and Father John McCarthy traveled from St. Helena's in Enfield to celebrate mass. After the summer of 1936, the novelty shop closed and was converted into worship space. The second floor became a parsonage for Father Walter Blankenship after the parish was officially established on October 31, 1952. Sometime after the new Our Lady of Fatima building was dedicated in 1967, the old church was turned over to the newly-formed school district, which used the space for a classroom and later for administrative offices until 2010.

Catholic Chapel (1931-1952); Our Lady of Fatima (1952-1967)
As the site of the earliest Catholic worship in New London and the product of two French Canadian immigrants, this building reflects an interesting point in our history and society. Not too long before its construction, non-Protestants had been actively discouraged from vacationing at many of our hotels and boarding houses. In 1928, the Democratic party nominated a Catholic as its presidential candidate, Alfred E. Smith of New York. His religion reportedly contributed to his sound defeat by Herbert Hoover. In 1936, however, New Hampshire elected its first Catholic governor, Francis P. Murphy, who served two terms.

This modest commercial/religious building, built in the popular Dutch Colonial style, will soon be destroyed, but at the Archives you can still see its mark on New London's cultural landscape through photographs, newspaper articles, and oral histories.

Further reading: Upon This Granite: Catholicism in New Hampshire: 1647-1997 by Wilfrid H. Paradis (Peter E. Randall Press, 1998).

April 5, 2011

A Rosetta Stone

Taylor's Memorandum of Weather

Sometimes one document unlocks another—a Rosetta Stone, of sorts. Recently we were reviewing a teacher’s journal from the summer of 1880. The journal entries showed the days of the week but not their calendar dates. Fortunately, she noted the weather on rainy days, creating a pattern (e.g. rain all day Friday, evening rain on Monday, rain all day on Wednesday). By itself, this would be meaningless, but with a daily history of local weather we might be able to place the journal entries on the 1880 calendar.

Among the unusual items in our collection is just such a set of local weather observations between 1876 and 1886. By matching rainfall patterns from the two sources, we could see that there was only one period of frequent rains during that summer, and we found that the first rainy day noted in the journal probably fell on Friday, July 2, 1880. Using that as a calibration point, all the other days in the journal slid into place.

But who would keep a decade’s worth of weather observations? In early September 1880, the unidentified observer mentions that he took “Abbie” into town for school. The Colby Academy catalog for 1880/81 lists a student named Abbie Frances Taylor. Lord’s History of New London identifies her as the daughter of John W. Taylor, by then a widower and owner of a cloth-dressing and wool-carding mill in the village of Otterville. Why he kept the weather observations in the first place we may never know, but his record has certainly proven useful today.

On a related note… The British National Archives is supporting an ambitious project to cull handwritten weather observations and other data from almost 1,000,000 pages of Royal Navy logbooks—adding them to a database of climatic and naval history. More interesting, perhaps, is the way volunteers from around the globe are providing the digitization workforce.

Check out or for more about this project.

March 14, 2011

Sugaring Time

"Sap House" at Low Plain

Maybe next year... Here it looks like an early spring, with no snow on the ground at sugaring time. Taken on April 1, 1892, the Sap House was photographed at the end of a winter in which just 20.8 inches of snow fell at Dartmouth's Shattuck Observatory in Hanover—lowest on the record from 1866 through 1958.

The two men gathering sap are identified, perhaps tentatively, as Ellie Farwell and Jesse Melendy. Reo Ellsworth Farwell, born in Springfield (NH) in 1862, resided on the Penuel Everett farm at Low Plain, taught school several terms, and served as town clerk. In 1897, he moved to Lynn, Massachusetts. The younger Jesse Melendy, also a Low Plain resident, graduated from Colby Academy in 1897 and entered Brown University. Both are listed in Myra Lord's History of New London, New Hampshire (1899).

The photographer, William A. Farren, was settled as minister of New London's Baptist Church in 1889. He preached "truth without fear or favor" for the next decade, according to the History of New London. Reverend Farren brought a keen interest in photography and took images of the town throughout his tenure. The archives holds a collection of over fifty of his New London prints.

Right now there's well over a foot of snow on the ground, but today was the best yet for collecting sap—clear, cool, and sweet.

March 8, 2011

A letter from Andersonville.

Israel Roach letter
The Town Archives holds thousands of letters—some business, some government, some personal. Nearly all have a clear connection to the town of New London, but here's a rare and fascinating exception.

Israel Roach of Danvers, Massachusetts, was 38 years old when he volunteered for the 35th Massachusetts Regiment in 1862. Most of his comrades were more than a dozen years younger. On May 24, 1864, he and eight others from the same regiment were captured at the battle of the North Anna River, Virginia.

They were taken first to Libby Prison in Richmond for processing, but after four days they were moved along with a thousand other prisoners (sixty-five men packed into each boxcar) to Camp Sumter in Andersonville, Georgia. They arrived at noon on June 7, 1864 and struggled to find open ground on which to settle in the over-crowded prison.

One month later, Israel wrote this brief letter to his wife, Almira. Dated July 9, 1864, it begins:

...through the mercy of God I am well enough to write to you to day.... I have a strong hope to see you once more on the Earth, although the mortality is fearful here daily. If the government delay[s] paroling those men, there will be few... to transport in a few weeks.

The regimental history of the 35th Massachusetts Volunteers includes the following diary entry of Sgt. Henry Tinsdale on August 21, 1864:

Reverse, with death notice
The weather has been warm and very trying to sick and well. The death rate holds its own; three out of the ninety have died. Among them Israel Roach, of Company F, of our regiment. It was with tearful eyes we of the Thirty-Fifth bore his remains to the gate, pinned the scrap of paper denoting his name and regiment upon his breast, and delivered them to the stolid rebel guard. I have had many pleasant chats with him during our prison days. He had, I think, typhoid fever, and was delirious in his last hours. 
Two or three times a day now can be seen the "dead-wagon"—an old army wagon rigged with staves and railing, into which are piled our dead comrades, as a farmer would pile a load of wood — drawn by four mules around the south-west corner of the stockade to the final resting place. 

Israel Roach's letter was found among the papers of Oren D. Crockett, a New London resident with a keen interest in local and national history—but no known relation to the soldier.