From the current issue: Where three presidents celebrated our natal day.
By Laurie Masciandaro
The national press was flabbergasted. “No remote village of a score of houses was ever so honored before,” the Boston newspaper Zion’s Herald declared on July 14, 1870. The crowd gathering on Woodstock Common grew until it seemed to include not just all of Windham County but, according to the Hartford Daily Courant, “the rest of mankind” as well. For one day—July 4, 1870—this little-known town in the secluded northeast corner of Connecticut commanded the country’s attention. President Ulysses S. Grant, Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, General Benjamin Franklin Butler, and a host of other luminaries, all accompanied by the prominent military musical ensemble Gilmore’s Band, had chosen Woodstock as the place they would celebrate our great natal day. The Hartford Daily Courant reported that as many as 13,000 spectators attended the celebration.
This was the first of many grand Independence Day commemorations held in Woodstock. Those celebrations were marked day and night with speeches, music, and fireworks in a manner and scale not seen in the United States since before the Civil War. Honored guests gathered at Roseland Cottage (now a museum operated by Historic New England) the evening before the festivities for a gala reception and buffet dinner for 400 to 500 invitees. The grounds and common across the road were bedecked with bunting, flags, and pennants and illuminated with Chinese and glass lanterns of red, white, and blue. Roseland Cottage was bedecked in an immense American flag that reached nearly to the highest gable of the salmon pink Gothic Revival villa. The July 4, 1888 Boston Globe likened the scene to a fairyland.
How had this out-of-the-way hamlet managed to attract a gathering of such importance? The answer lies in the influence of Woodstock native son Henry Chandler Bowen, whose 200th birthday the town celebrates this year. He rose from humble beginnings to prominence as a merchant, publisher, and insurance innovator. Bowen used his wealth and his newspaper, The Independent, to carve out an important national role for himself in late 19th-century politics and society and to spread his vision of American society, built on New England values of church and town—what Bowen referred to as “village culture”—to the rest of the country.
Bowen could be moralistic, rigid, and litigious. He was also capable of great charity, loyalty, and sacrifice. He was drawn into the scandal surrounding the 1875 adultery trial of Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, which rocked the country and ultimately resulted in Bowen’s excommunication by the church he had founded and rejection by Beecher, the minister he at one time had counted as pastor and friend.
Still, Bowen remained committed to values rooted in the New England town and its church. His dedication to Congregationalism dates to his conversion in 1829, when he attended a conference of several church leaders in Woodstock and was moved to “consecrate myself to Christian work.” A short time later, as a young man not yet 20 years old, he took part in an intense meeting of temperance supporters and took the pledge; he remained a devoted “temperance man” for the rest of his life. Bowen dated his anti-slavery sentiments to 1833, when Prudence Crandall was persecuted for opening a school for African-American girls in Canterbury, just down the road from Woodstock. These moral commitments would prove powerful elements of Bowen’s self-image and would define him throughout his life.
As a youth working in his father’s general store, Bowen showed signs of the business talent that would make him a successful merchant. His formative experience in Woodstock allowed him to develop the underlying skills and attributes he needed to be successful.
In 1833, the 20-year-old Bowen accompanied his younger brother Edward to Manhattan to help Edward get properly settled in his new position with Arthur Tappan and Company, a leading silk importation and dry goods business. Upon meeting the Bowen brothers, however, the Tappans preferred Henry and offered him the position. Though he had intended to remain in Woodstock, he bowed to his parents’ wishes and accepted the Tappans’ offer. Tough taskmasters, the Tappan brothers demanded long hours and absolute compliance with their strict policies for employees, which included complete abstinence, regular church attendance, and membership in an anti-slavery society.
Bowen was ideally suited for the rigid discipline the Tappans insisted their clerks observe. They had hired a young man cut from the same New England cloth and dedicated to the same causes as they were. That commitment was put to the test when Bowen, a self-proclaimed Conscience Whig, was thrust into the violence surrounding the anti-abolitionist riots of 1834. Mobs attacked Lewis Tappan’s house and the Pearl Street store where Bowen worked; Bowen and other armed employees defended the store against the siege.
Bowen went on to thoroughly master the business. When his five-year clerkship was over, he left, eager to start his own firm. “With a liberality almost without parallel,” he declared, Lewis Tappan used his influence to help Bowen start a silk importation and dry goods firm with another former clerk of Tappan and Company, Theodore McNamee. Within five years, Bowen & McNamee became the most successful firm of its kind in the city, eclipsing even the Tappan brothers’ company, and, according to the Continental Monthly in December 1862, “realized an enormous fortune.”
Bowen infused his business with his moralistic sense. Taking a page from the Tappans, Bowen & McNamee would not hire anyone who used intoxicating drink or sell to those who dealt in it. Bowen’s anti-slavery principles were challenged in 1850, when other New York merchants publicly condemned the firm for failing to attend a rally in support of the Fugitive Slave Law, which had been enacted to make it more difficult for Northerners to assist escaped slaves. In response to those who denounced them in the Journal of Commerce, Bowen and McNamee published a reply in the October 28 edition of the New York Herald, making it clear that they would not compromise their ideals to enhance their business: “Our goods and not our principles are in the market.” By taking a firm position against those merchants who hoped to appease slave-holding customers by supporting the Fugitive Slave Law, Bowen lost half of his existing subscribers, but gained twice as many new ones. Holding fast to one’s beliefs turned out to be good business.
In 1844, Bowen married Lucy Maria Tappan, daughter of Lewis Tappan, his former employer. Though Bowen married “the boss’s daughter,” no one would argue that theirs was not a love match. He was her “dearie,” and she was his “little Lucy.” They met while teaching Sunday school and eventually moved to one of the finest homes in Brooklyn Heights. Their marriage lasted 18 years, until Lucy’s death in 1863, shortly after the birth of their 10th child. Bowen would remarry in 1865, to his second cousin Ellen Holt of Pomfret, who was a loving and supportive stepmother to the 10 children she inherited and the one child she and Henry had together.
Financial success allowed Bowen to invest his treasure in support of the causes and institutions he believed in while diversifying his investments in an ever more volatile business environment. Sectional conflict made the mercantile world increasingly difficult to navigate safely, particularly for firms such as Bowen & McNamee that counted many Southerners as clients. In fact, the firm closed in 1861, a casualty of its Southern clients’ unpaid debts.
In 1848, Bowen founded The Independent, an anti-slavery, temperance, and Congregationalist weekly newspaper. A “bread and butter” project, Bowen would later write, the paper was a commercial venture with the added benefit of spreading New England culture, values, and religion to the rest of the country. In more than six decades of publication, it featured the leading literary and public figures of the time, including John Greenleaf Whittier, William Lloyd Garrison, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, William Seward, James Henry Lowell, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and, critical to its success, Stowe’s brother, one of the most influential men in America, Rev. Henry Ward Beecher.
Historian Louis Filler writes that from its inception, The Independent played a role in national affairs due to its influential, if initially small, readership, but it would take years for the paper to achieve financial success. With his characteristic persistence and dedication to mission, Bowen supported the paper through lean years of steady but slow growth until it became the most successful publication in its field, boasting 100,000 subscribers at its peak. Among those subscribers was Abraham Lincoln, who claimed to read it every week.
An eminence grise in Brooklyn politics, Bowen wanted to influence national politics, too. The Independent was a first step. While the paper took strong stands on national issues from its inception, it avoided party politics until 1856, when it endorsed the new Republican Party’s candidate, John Frémont. Bowen was also the force behind the mass meeting in Woodstock in support of Frémont’s presidential candidacy in 1856 and Grant’s of 1868, with more than 15,000 attending the latter. Woodstock would become known for political rallies, which Bowen claimed were the largest in the history of Connecticut. He would also claim that the northeast part of the state was, with his guidance, responsible for the state’s Republican majority.
Bowen and his paper were indeed early and staunch supporters of the Republican Party and its candidates. It was Bowen who recommended to the organizers of the lecture series that Lincoln be invited to deliver the “Cooper Union speech” in New York in February 1860, which historian Harold Holzer refers to as “the speech that made Lincoln president.” It was Bowen’s office that Lincoln first visited upon his arrival in New York, and it was with Bowen that he attended Plymouth Church—a church that Bowen had helped found with other transplanted New Englanders in 1847—to hear Henry Ward Beecher preach.
Lincoln felt Bowen had played a significant enough role in his election to award him a patronage plum: Tax Collector for the Third District for the State of New York. This put Bowen in charge of one of the wealthiest areas in the United States. In an era when tax collectors kept up to three percent of what they collected, the position was a lucrative one.
By the time Bowen & McNamee closed the following year, Bowen’s main source of income was the Continental Insurance Company, which he founded in 1853 with a few business associates who, like him, were unable to find adequate insurance for their Manhattan businesses. Bowen and his associates at the Continental strove to improve firefighting in the city as a matter of public safety and to protect their investment. They petitioned the city for steam-powered fire engines and other improvements to make fire fighting more effectual, and donated $500 towards the establishment of a full time professional fire department.
While Bowen pursued his various business enterprises and political ambitions in New York, he maintained his ties to Woodstock. In 1846, he built a summer home, Roseland Cottage, across from the town common. It was a fitting site for the grand affairs that would be held there in the years to come. Built in the newly fashionable Gothic revival style, Roseland made a powerful statement that the local boy had returned to Woodstock a successful, fashionable, and thoroughly modern man. Its steep gables, decorative bargeboards, and ornamented chimney pots stand out among the more sedate classical and Greek revival homes nearby. But it is noticeable, above all, for its color: One contemporary described it as “crushed strawberry.” The house has always been pink—13 different shades of it, Historic New England’s paint analysis reveals.According to family lore, the house was named for Lucy’s favorite flower, and many have interpreted the color scheme—pink siding, green shutters, and brown trim—as a metaphorical representation of a rose.
It is one of few Gothic revival homes that remain virtually unchanged inside and out, from the days when it echoed with the voices of Henry and Lucy’s children. It survives with its original furnishings, elaborate wall coverings, stained glass, and many “modern” improvements including attic and cellar cisterns and a spider or gravity furnace added in the 1880s, to provide central heating. Bowen’s rare surviving Fourth of July decorations are on display at Roseland from late June through early July each year.
The loving care lavished on the estate by three generations of Bowens ensured that the house remained a showplace. Roseland Cottage was acquired from the family in 1968 by Historic New England and became a museum. The estate, now a National Historic Landmark, includes an icehouse, aviary, carriage barn, and, as a reminder that this house was built for healthy recreation, the nation’s oldest surviving indoor bowling alley. Roseland Cottage’s picturesque landscape includes original boxwood-edged parterre gardens planted in the 1850s.
In February 1870 Bowen had lunch with Connecticut’s Senator William Buckingham in Washington, D.C. They discussed inviting President Grant to Bowen’s estate in Woodstock to commemorate Independence Day. As Bowen was a respected and influential member of the Republican Party, owner, publisher, and editor of an influential newspaper, and a steadfast supporter of the president, the notion of his hosting Grant didn’t seem audacious or out of the question. President Grant did come to Woodstock—and thousands of spectators did too.
Woodstock’s Fourth of July events continued to reflect Bowen’s outsized influence. For more than 20 years, until his death in 1896, he enticed prominent figures, including three presidents (Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and William Henry Harrison in 1883 and the soon-to-be-elected William McKinley in 1891) to Woodstock to celebrate the nation’s holiday. Cabinet secretaries, senators, foreign ministers, vice-presidents, military leaders, financiers, university presidents, literary figures, and clergymen also made the journey. Newspapers from around the country covered these events, and Bowen’s reputation stretched from coast to coast. The Los Angeles Times in 1886 suggested that the rest of the country should look to Bowen to learn how to celebrate Independence Day.
Henry Chandler Bowen died in 1896 in Brooklyn and is buried in the cemetery on Woodstock Common next to the Congregational Church and across from Roseland Cottage. The common on Woodstock Hill is little changed from the days when presidents visited and Gilmore’s band entertained the throngs who came to revel at Bowen’s grand celebrations.
Laurie Masciandaro is the site manager for Historic New England’s Roseland Cottage.
Roseland Cottage, 556 Route 169, Woodstock. Open Wednesday to Sunday, June 1 to October 15. Closed July 4th. For more information visit historicnewengland.org/historic-properties/homes/roseland-cottage or call 860-928-4074.
June 26 - July 14. On view: the Bowen’s Fourth of July decorations ornament the interior of the house.
July 5. Independence Day concert featuring the 94th Army Band. 7 p.m. Bring a blanket and picnic supper. Free
July 20. Party Like It’s 1850! Period games and activities for families and tours of the house emphasizing how the Bowens celebrated birthdays. 1 - 3 p.m. Free
September 8. Happy Birthday, Mr. Bowen! Celebrate Henry Bowen’s birthday as he did: By planting a tree on Woodstock Common, with appropriate musical fanfare; tours of Roseland Cottage, and, cake, ice cream, and a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday.” 1 – 5 p.m. Free.
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Connecticut's Old State House and Connecticut Explored present:
Out with the old, in with the new! That's what urban planners thought in the 1960s when they demolished "the crown jewel of Main Street" and other landmark buildings in Hartford. What were they thinking?
Join Tomas Nenortas, Associate Director of the Hartford Preservation Alliance, for an illustrated talk exploring the impact of urban renewal on the city of Hartford, and current efforts to restore historic buildings and adapt them for 21st-century life. Then, ask questions of our distinguished panelists as they discuss the challenges and economic impact of historic preservation in the capital city and beyond. Find out about innovative projects underway across Connecticut that go beyond saving old buildings by bringing them to life.
The Connecticut Network's Diane Smith moderates a panel of Helen Higgins, Executive Director of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, Frank Hagaman, new Executive Director of the Hartford Preservation Alliance, and Deputy Commissioner Kip Bergstrom from the Dept. of Economic and Community Development.
Bring your lunch and enjoy this FREE program!
Registration encouraged but not required:
Bring your parking ticket from Constitution Plaza Garage or State House Square Garage to be validated for $5.00. Go to the website or call to learn more
Connecticut's Old State House
800 Main Street, Hartford
The Summer 2013 issue has mailed and will be on newsstands by June 1. Our cover story is Hartford's short-lived amusement park Luna Park. "For four summers a flamboyant amusement park cavorted on 12 acres of West Hartford just over the Hartford line, like a kid razzing a truant officer..." the story begins. The fun and adventure doesn't stop there. Other stories include Roseland Cottage's famous July 4th celebrations--attended by three standing presidents; New Havener Joel Root's round the world voyage to hunt seals and seek his fortune; Sarah Gray of Lebanon's adventures at sea with her whaling captain husband and three children; and Eliza McCook's life work as a missionary in turn of the 20th century China.
We also celebrate the relaunch of the Charles W. Morgan at Mystic Seaport, Connecticut State Parks' 100th anniversary, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Eugene O'Neill's Monte Cristo cottage in New London, and more!
By Steve Courtney
In 1920, the grand old Clemens home was on the brink of demolition, and citizens of Hartford—including the sensation-minded young editor of The Hartford Courant—mobilized to save it. But they didn’t reckon with Hartford’s steady habit of long-held grudges.
“I wish there was some way to change our manner of living but that seems next to impossible unless we sell our house,” Olivia Langdon Clemens wrote to her mother in 1890. By June the following year the family’s departure from—if not sale of—its beloved home at 351 Farmington Avenue in Hartford, was a financial necessity for Samuel Langhorne Clemens—Mark Twain—and his family.
The author’s business fortunes had crashed, and he had contracted to write letters from Europe for publication as a way of digging himself out. For a prominent American writer, life in hotels in Paris or Vienna could be more economical than maintaining a mansion such as the one in which the family had lived since 1874.
Before the family sailed, daughters Susy, 19, Clara, 16, and Jean, 11, walked the rooms of the house, recalling the scenes of childhood games, adventures, and misadventures. “We had to leave so much treasured beauty behind,” Clara wrote 40 years later. “…We had showered love on the home itself—the library; the conservatory sweet with the perfume of flowers; the bright bedrooms; and, outside, the trees, the tender eyebrights, the river reflecting clouds and sky.” She remembered snowstorms and crackling fires, Shakespeare’s plays performed in the schoolroom, concerts on the baby upright piano, and popcorn and roasted chestnuts. “We passed from room to room with leaden hearts, looked back and lingered—lingered. An inner voice whispered we should never return, and we never did.”
Initially, the plan was to return when they’d regained their financial footing. When Samuel Clemens came back for a visit alone in 1895 he was overcome with nostalgia, writing to his wife “Livy”: “As soon as I entered the front door I was seized with a furious desire to have us all in this house again and right away, and never go outside the grounds any more forever…. It seemed as if I had burst awake out of a hellish dream, and had never been away, and that you would come drifting down out of those dainty upper regions with the little children tagging after you.”
Tragedy struck the following year, however, when Susy, on a visit to friends in Hartford, was stricken with spinal meningitis and died a horrible death in the house. Clemens wrote his friend and Asylum Hill Congregational Church minister Joseph Twichell thereafter: “It is not the city of Hartford, it is the city of Heartbreak.” The family sold the house in 1903. From that point, the future of this rambling old structure, its chimneys, balconies, and turrets looking down on a rapidly changing city, was tenuous. Clemens’s own actions during the full flower of the family’s Hartford tenancy helped place the house in peril.
By 1884, the author of The Innocents Abroad, The Prince and the Pauper, and the soon-to-be-released Adventures of Huckleberry Finn had shown himself to be a staunch Hartford Republican. After a Missouri youth during which he briefly joined a regiment formed to oppose Northern tyranny, he became devoted to the cause of Lincoln and Grant, married a staunch abolitionist, and cast his vote with the party of progress.
In the early 1880s he stood with the city’s Republican newspaper, The Hartford Daily Courant, in its crusade against the nefarious dealings of Senator James G. Blaine of Maine. Blaine—like the corrupt characters in Twain’s political novel The Gilded Age, co-written with Courant co-owner and editor Charles Dudley Warner in 1873—had taken money from railroads in return for legislative favors.
In his Autobiography, Clemens describes the smoky scene around the billiards table at 351 Farmington Avenue on June 6, 1884, as he and his friends waited in suspense over the appalling possibility that Blaine would be their party’s nominee. “All these men were Republicans, but they had no affection for Blaine,” he wrote. “For two years, the Hartford Courant had been holding Blaine up to scorn and contumely.” When news arrived that Blaine had been chosen, Clemens said, “the butts of the billiard cues came down on the floor with a bump.”
As the Hartford Republicans recovered from their confusion and got their bearings, they overwhelmingly switched from excoriating Blaine to backing him. The Courant, too, swirled around 180 degrees to throw Blaine its support. Clemens, Twichell, and a few others in town wouldn’t sell out, and instead joined the “mugwumps”—the Independent Republicans who backed other candidates. Clemens favored the Democrat Grover Cleveland that year. But despite having previously reported on nearly everything Mark Twain said or did, The Courant didn’t cover the mugwumps’ local activities or Twain’s participation. The whole affair rankled in one Courant editor’s mind and would burst forth nearly four decades later, and nearly doomed Mark Twain’s home to demolition.
The Clemenses sold the house in the literary Nook Farm neighborhood in 1903 for $28,800 to Richard M. Bissell, an executive who was being transferred from the Western Department of The Hartford Fire Insurance Company to the home office. Bissell, who began a 28-year tenure as president of The Hartford around this time, was “tall, distinguished looking, quietly confident and able,” according to a company history. He was, however, later described by a grown son in a memoir as “a somewhat distant figure at home.” His wife Marie Bissell was another matter: She was “a midwesterner who found Hartford society stuffy,” says historian Eugene R.Gaddis. “Even during Prohibition, champagne flowed liberally at her soirées, and on the morning after at least one party, a grand piano was spotted on her front lawn.”
The Bissells’ son, Richard Bissell, Jr., remembered that his brother kept a pet alligator in the conservatory and that his mother “updated the interior [of the house] to eliminate its Victorian darkness.” The Tiffany stenciling in the drawing room, considered woefully out of date, was covered with fashionable, light-colored grass-cloth paper; other stenciled walls were painted over, and chandeliers were taken down.
When the Bissells moved to suburban Farmington in 1917, they leased the house to Kingswood School, a private school for boys aged 10 to 18. The Clemenses’ elegant first-floor guest room became the headmaster’s residence; the library became an assembly hall, the drawing room a library, and the carriage house a gymnasium. A photograph from that time shows a baseball team posed on the hillside below the house, its characteristic decorated brick and conservatory clearly visible in the background.
In 1920 the Bissells sold the property to a real estate investor, J.J. Wall, and two brothers in the undertaking business, John and Francis Ahern, for $55,000. Two months later, a notice appeared in The Hartford Courant announcing that the new owners proposed to raze it and build an apartment building.
Reaction was swift. A group called the Artist’s club of Hartford protested, meeting in the studio of a local landscape painter named Nunzio Vayana to plot a strategy to preserve the building. They planned “a campaign which will embrace all parts of the country where there resides one admirer of Mark Twain” and rounded up support from celebrities including President Woodrow Wilson and the tenor Enrico Caruso.
Emile Gauvreau, the energetic and ambitious young editor of The Courant, thought this would be a terrific crusade for his newspaper to take on. But he didn’t reckon on Hartford’s capacity for grudges. “I made my first diplomatic blunder on the paper by starting a crusade to save Mark Twain’s old Hartford home from destruction,” Gauvreau wrote years later. He started a drive for children nationwide to donate their pennies and got Governor Marcus H. Holcomb to throw his weight behind the effort. Gauvreau’s boss, 72-year-old Charles Hopkins Clark, publisher and a figure from Hartford’s Gilded Age, thought otherwise.
Clark had been editor of The Courant back in Charles Dudley Warner’s day. When Warner decided to pursue writing travel books, novels, and belles lettres, the younger man took over most of the newspaper’s editorial functions. He was a booster for his city—it was in a Scribner’s magazine article in 1876 that he put forth the myth that Hartford was the wealthiest city in the country—and he was a booster for the Republican Party. He had even collaborated with Clemens on a collection called Mark Twain’s Library of Humor. In dictating his Autobiography in 1907, Clemens praised Clark’s editorship of The Courant. But none of that mattered to Clark. “I knew Mark Twain,” he said, as Gavreau reported in his memoir. “…When he came to Hartford he gave everybody the idea that he was a Republican. I think he must have been a Democrat all the time. He and his crony, Holy Joe Twichell, voted for Cleveland after we had come out for Blaine. …What in the world possessed you to stir up all this mess about his house? Do you think Hartford will ever forget that he voted for Cleveland?”
The Artists’s Club pressed on. Wall offered to sell the house to the group for $300,000, almost six times what he and the Aherns had paid for it. If they didn’t want to buy, he said, he would “take off that ugly roof” and add three stories to the house. Even Clark, nursing his 1884 Blaine resentments, couldn’t resist the tide of protest this statement raised. The Courant condemned the heavy-handed and obvious extortion. The Artist’s Club organized a fund-raising tea dance, and a young woman dressed as Joan of Arc was to appear on horseback, the whole to be filmed by Vayana. (Clemens’s biography of St. Joan, though little read now, was popular back then then.) The Mark Twain Memorial Association was incorporated.
The crusade, though, slowly fizzled, perhaps because the owners became a little more public relations-conscious. The funds were not raised, and the owners neither tore down the house nor destroyed the elaborately patterned roof of multicolored slate. They simply converted the interior into 11 apartments “with composition board partitions in the larger rooms,” The Courant reported, that could be easily removed “in the event of its being desired to restore the interior to its original condition or as a memorial to Mark Twain.”
Gauvreau left The Courant to become a pioneer of sensational tabloid journalism with the New York Evening Graphic. (“I Killed My Wife Because She Cooked Fish Balls for Dinner” was a typical headline.) In 1925, Wall and the Aherns sold the house to new owners Grant U. Kirstead and D.W. Murphy for $82,500. As these owners owned a coal company, an idea was born that the house was once used to store coal. But in fact it remained an apartment building.
The Mark Twain House’s salvation was close at hand. That same year, Katharine Seymour Day, a woman with impeccable Nook Farm lineage, on vacation in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, laid out her own vision for the Mark Twain House—and for the Harriet Beecher Stowe house next door—to fellow vacationers. Day was the grandniece of Harriet Beecher Stowe. She had lived her life in a perpetual state of education, studying painting in Paris and New York and in her forties studying psychology, philosophy, and anthropology at Radcliffe, Columbia, and Berkeley. She told her friends of her vision for a literary center that would take advantage of the two houses’ proximity to one another. Day wrote her mother that the friends approved “my plan for the Stowe house,” but in the same letter expressed her concern for “the state of the Clemens one.”
Back in Hartford, Day pitched into Farmington Avenue zoning battles, challenging the increasing commercialization of the neighborhood, and formed a group called the Friends of Hartford to lobby the city government—“the local Tammany,” as she called them. The Stowe house was fairly safe, as it had remained in the family, but the acquisition of the Clemens house “is the key,” she said. She had bigger ideas, and better connections, than the Artist’s Club. She, too, had a Joan of Arc to present —in the form of Clara Clemens herself, appearing in a stage production at Parson’s Theater downtown. The Friends of Hartford mounted a campaign to raise money to purchase and refurbish the house. Mayor Walter Batterson stepped in, issuing a proclamation that the people of Hartford should consider it a “duty” to contribute to the effort. On April 29, 1929, the General Assembly of the State of Connecticut issued a charter to the Mark Twain Memorial and Library Commission.
A final push for funds, and a donation from the sellers that effectively reduced the price of the house to $150,000, along with a mortgage of $55,000, sealed the deal. To help pay the mortgage, the Memorial would continue to rent apartments on the upper floors, and the Hartford Public Library proposed to rent the ground floor.
A reception at the house in 1930 was attended by Clara (Clemens) and her husband, concert pianist Ossip Gabrilowitsch. a joint recital the night before helped to raise additional funds. The house, Clara said rather charitably, “now really looks like my own former home, the scene of my childhood days.” As if to bolster that sentiment, one of Clara’s childhood friends took up residence in the house: A Miss Helen Forrest moved into what Clara and Susy had considered the “spooky” guest room on the third floor and used the former billiards room as her living room. An official of the Memorial reported to Clara that Forrest was “just as happy as she can be to live in the home where so many of her happiest days of childhood were spent as guests of the family she adored and still does for that matter.”
The house had been saved, but its true restoration remained out of reach. It was not until the 1950s that a new generation determined to transform the building into a museum, marking the start of the building’s return to its former glory. Clara, now in her 80s, was able to sketch out where various objects and features of the house had been located when she was a girl, including such key details as where the sideboard stood in the dining room, the position of her father’s writing table in the billiards room, and the room in which she and Susy kept their pet squirrels. The work continues today: The kitchen wing was restored in 2003, and the elegant guestroom on the first floor is currently being examined with an eye toward more accurate restoration.
“Instinctively, we felt that life would never be more vivid and bright than it had been during those years of childhood,” Clara wrote as she and her sisters sadly parted from their home. That home lives on, conveying to visitors that vividness, despite having come perilously close to destruction in part because of Twain’s political integrity.
Steve Courtney is publicist and publication manager at The Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford and the author of ‘The Loveliest Home That Ever Was’: The Story of the Mark Twain House in Hartford.
Connecticut Explored gets a great endorsement from CCSU Professor and CT Explored editorial board chair Matt Warshauer and Stowe Center executive director Katherine Kane on Where We Live, 2/11/13. Here's a link to listen to the show on Lincoln, in honor of his birthday. Matt also serves as co-chair of the Connecticut Civil War Commemoration Commission and is author of Connecticut in the American Civil War. Both Matt and Katherine wrote for our Winter 2012/2013 issue commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Student registrations are UP for this year's History Day in Connecticut contests. Students across the state prepare projects on topics in History and volunteers like you help judge the best ones. Winners of district contests move on to the state contest; winners at the state level go on to compete at the national contest! If you're interested in being a judge, dates and locations are:
Fairfield University, March 2
Torrington High School, March 9
Wilbur Cross High School, New Haven, March 16
Mansfield Middle School, March 23
Classical Magnet School, Hartford, March 23
Connecticut Explored provides a free one-year subscription to state winners and their teachers.
Winter 2012/2013 Issue
By Katherine Kane
President Abraham Lincoln, in office for less than two years and leader of a fractured and war-torn nation, picked up his pen and signed his Emancipation Proclamation New Year’s Day 1863. From Boston to Beaufort, South Carolina, crowds that had been waiting all day erupted excitedly as the news finally came from Washington, D.C. over the telegraph wires. At the Music Hall in Boston, where the program included Longfellow and Emerson, crowds chanted “Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Beecher Stowe” for the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, until the “little lady who started this great war” came forward and was recognized.
Stowe is often credited with influencing the country to think differently about slavery. But what do we know about how Stowe influenced Lincoln?
A decade earlier, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) had been a publishing and propaganda phenomenon. Using stories to illustrate the human impact of slavery, Stowe’s blistering pen lit the world on fire. The statistics remain record-breaking: 10,000 copies sold in the first week; a million and a half British copies in a year. The book was so successful it was immediately dramatized for the stage, where it became a theatrical icon. Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, leader of the radical Republicans, said, “Had there been no Uncle Tom’s Cabin, there would have been no Lincoln in the White House.”
In an 1853 letter, Stowe explained what drove her. “I wrote what I did because as a woman, as a mother, I was oppressed and broken-hearted with the sorrows and injustice I saw, because as a Christian I felt the dishonor to Christianity—because as a lover of my country, I trembled at the coming day of wrath.”
But pro-slavery critics charged that Stowe had made it all up and that slavery was a humane system. So Stowe wrote a nonfiction retort, The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1853), compiling the real-life evidence that had informed her fictional stories.
Stowe’s sentiments touched millions. But did she have Lincoln’s ear?
The question of slavery had been part of the American dialogue since the country’s founding. By the 1850 census, of the 20 million people in the U.S., four million were enslaved. This “system” that treated people as property and used their uncompensated labor to support the economy finally split the country. When the anti-slavery Lincoln was elected in 1860, the country fractured: 10 Southern states seceded, while 4 slave-holding border states stayed in the Union but protected their right to retain human property. Lincoln spent his entire time in office as a war president.
Stowe had joined abolition and anti-slavery forces, using her influence in publicly pressuring Lincoln to do something about slavery. (Of course, he was pressured by the pro-slavery side as well. The Union was far from united against slavery.) Advocates used all available means: newspaper articles, letters to the editor, petitions, private letters and conversations, and public address.
Opinion leaders such as Stowe used the popular press to pressure the president and Congress. Over the course of 1861 and 1862, she published frequently in the New York paper The Independent. Historian Lyde Cullen Sizer, in her book The Political Work of Northern Women Writers and the Civil War, 1850-1872 (University of North Carolina Press, 2000), notes that “Lydia Maria Child in the Standard and Harriet Beecher Stowe in the Independent were two of the most prolific and consistent anti-slavery writers in the early years of the war. Both used letters to the editor as their primary method of persuasion and both, through counseling idealistic action, were well informed and incisive governmental critics. The harder edge to their writings demonstrated the strength of their conviction that a war for any purpose other than social justice would not be worth fighting.”
Daughter, wife, sister, and mother of ministers, Stowe used in her advocacy writing scriptural phrasing and references. In her August 1861 “Letter to Lord Shaftesbury” in The Independent she wrote, “we consider this war is a great Anti-Slavery War, not in form, but in fact: not in proclamation, but in the intense conviction and purpose of each of the contending parties, and still more in the inevitable overruling indications of divine Providence.” On July 31, 1862 Stowe wrote, “the time has come when the nation has a RIGHT to demand, and the President of the United States a right to decree, their freedom; and there should go up petitions from all the land that he should do it. How many plagues must come on us before we will hear the evident voice, ‘Let this people go, that they may serve me.’”
Lincoln had long deliberated over the issue of slavery, but it took him a year into the war to see his way. Beyond any moral imperative, as he considered emancipation, Lincoln was balancing public opinion (for and against slavery), the racist attitudes of the day, his responsibilities to the Constitution, military needs, and diplomatic pressure. And he was keeping his eye on his own reelection. By early summer of 1862, though, he determined his course of action.
As a war president, Lincoln’s goal was a united country. But he was also struggling to decide the best course for emancipation. By the fall of 1861 through the next summer, Lincoln promoted various versions of compensated emancipation even as he considered alternatives.
As the war proceeded, though, people took things into their own hands. Human “property” crossed Union military lines; two commanding officers declared emancipation: General John C. Fremont freeing slaves in Missouri the summer of 1861 and in May 1862, General David Hunter doing so in areas of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. President Lincoln overrode both actions on the grounds that the president was the only one who could take such action.
The 37th Congress—freed from years of legislative deadlock by the departure of seceding Southern legislators—had also acted. In April 1862, Congress emancipated people enslaved in Washington, D.C., compensating the owners. And they passed a Confiscation Act freeing the human property of Confederate officials in areas occupied by the Union Army. Slaves reaching Union territory were “captives of war” and would be set free.
Lincoln may be the most-studied American, and many details of his life are well known. Others, though, are not. Robert Bray, in his 2007 article in the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association “What Abraham Lincoln Read—An Evaluative and Annotated List,” evaluated what this pivotal president read—and what he did not read, testing the theory that what one reads reflects one’s interests and influences what one thinks. Bray concluded that it is “somewhat unlikely” that Lincoln read Uncle Tom’s Cabin and “very unlikely” he read The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Bray acknowledged that “Lincoln might have at least looked at the Key without having read Stowe's novel, since the former contained…documentation supporting the author’s representation of slavery—plausibly quite interesting to Lincoln.” Bray downplays Library of Congress circulation records: “…in addition to Lincoln himself, the books in question may have been borrowed from the Library by or for Mary Todd Lincoln, the Lincoln children, or any of the president’s secretaries. Who borrowed what is hard to determine.” Was Bray right about that? Could Lincoln, in this moment in history, have possibly not read the most popular book in America?
In Lincoln’s day, the Library of Congress collection was only available to members of Congress, justices of the Supreme Court, diplomatic corps, and the cabinet. Lincoln used the Library regularly. Today the Library’s collections are accessible to everyone, so one chilly February a couple of years ago, I traveled to the Library and investigated for myself. After passing through security screening and registering as a reader, I handed a call slip for the 1862 circulation records to a manuscripts reference librarian. Soon I was presented with a quarto-sized ledger book, rebound with brown pasteboard covers. Skimming the handwritten columns in the section documenting Lincoln’s transactions for 1861-1863, I found that on June 16, 1862, President Lincoln had checked out “Stowe’s Key to Uncle Tom” which he returned on July 29. This corresponds with time during which he drafted the Emancipation Proclamation.
Two days after Lincoln checked out The Key, on June 18, he and Vice President Hannibal Hamlin rode to the Lincolns’ summer cottage at the Soldiers’ Home in Washington, D.C. Hamlin reported that after dinner they retired to the library and locked the doors. Then Lincoln read Hamlin the draft of Emancipation Proclamation he had been writing.
A few weeks later, on July 13, 1862, President Lincoln, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, and Secretary of State William Seward shared a carriage for the funeral of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s child. Welles recalled in his diary, “It was on this occasion and on this ride that [Lincoln] first mentioned . . . the subject of emancipating the slaves by proclamation . . . He dwelt earnestly on the gravity, importance, and delicacy of the movement, said he had given it much thought and had about come to the conclusion that it was a military necessity absolutely essential for the salvation of the Union, that we must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued.”
On July 22, Lincoln read the Proclamation to his cabinet. Cabinet members knew it was bold, and they worried it would encourage insurrection north and south. Lincoln argued the Proclamation would unite the Republicans for the fall elections, reduce the “free” slave labor supporting the Southern war effort, and help keep Europe on the North’s side. At Secretary Seward’s suggestion, Lincoln decided to publicly release the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation after a military victory; that took until September 22, after the battle of Antietam.
Meanwhile, public pressure was building. Though the president had set his course, the public was unaware of it. On August 20, 1862 he responded to “The Prayer of 20 Millions” published in Horace Greeley’s influential New York Tribune. “My paramount object,” Lincoln wrote, “in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy Slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it…What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union and what I forbear I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”
Stowe responded with her own “prayer” September 11 in The Independent. Borrowing Lincoln’s phrasing, she wrote, “my paramount object in this struggle is to set at liberty them that are bruised, and not either to save or destroy the Union. What I do in favor of the Union, I do because it helps to free the oppressed; what I forbear, I forbear because it does not help to free the oppressed. I shall do less for the Union whenever it would hurt the cause of the slave, and more when I believe it would help the cause of the slave.”
On September 22, 1862 Lincoln released the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. It included steps for “owner” compensation and colonization, or export, of emancipated people, provisions that were dropped from the final Proclamation. It did not provide for adding emancipated people to military units; such provisions were added to the final Proclamation. Lincoln announced that he would sign it on January 1, one hundred days later. Yet abolitionists had no confidence he would fulfill that promise.
Their skepticism was reasonable. Deeply controversial and radical, the Emancipation Proclamation made Lincoln a hero to many but villain to others. Doris Kearns Goodwin writes in her 2005 Team of Rivals that the Emancipation Proclamation was “shocking in scope. In a single stroke, it superseded legislation on slavery and property rights that had guided policy in eleven states for nearly three quarters of a century. Three and a half million blacks who had lived enslaved for generations were promised freedom.”
Stowe was among the skeptics, and she determined to publish a response to the Stafford House petition presented to her in London in 1853 in which the women of Great Britain asked the women of the U.S. to abolish slavery. The petition, now in the Center’s collection, a recent gift of the Connecticut Historical Society, contains 563,000 signatures in 26 volumes.
Stowe also decided to personally influence the president. She wrote her publisher James T. Fields on November 13, 1862, “I am going to Washington to see the heads of department myself and to satisfy myself that I may refer to the Emancipation Proclamation as a reality and a substance not to fizzle out at the little end of the hour… I start for Washington tomorrow morning—and mean to have a talk with ‘Father Abraham’ himself.” On November 19 she wrote, again to Fields, expressing some optimism:
There is most cheering news ahead in the way of assurance that our war is to be put right through and that the Proclamation is to go with vigor. We shall see a great first and I think I am doing as well as for my testimony to it as I could ask.
Her optimism continued as she wrote to Fields again on the 27th: “It seems to be the opinion here not only that the president will stand up to his Proclamation but that the Boarder states will accede to his proposition for Emancipation—I have noted the thing as a glorious expectancy!” Her outlook was tempered by her brother Henry’s skepticism, as she notes in a December 13 letter to Senator Sumner:
Every body I meet in New England says to me with anxious earnestness—[Will] the President stand firm to his Proclamation? —I tell them your saying—that nobody ever could put out the labor and perseverance to make him back down that you have to induce him to go up. —Brother Henry says—not so sure after all—it’s far easier to slide down on the bannisters than to go up the stairs. —Dont let Mr. Sumner be too sure they say—Such unsleeping tremendous forces are at work to shake his resolution—such long fingered intrigue reaches even from Richmond to Washington that you all should be like knights that watch an enchanted shield past some fateful crisis—If you sleep a moment all may be gone—
Well—if the First of January sees the sacred shield yet unstolen from our temple—if the President even tho it be with An Aroon and Hur [Biblical heroes] each side to upstay his hands speaks those tremendous words of power—then—you will all draw a long breath and shake hands with each other. I remember just after Uncle Tom was published you were telling me some of the incidents of your conflict with slavery in Washington—and that then you arose and walked across the room very alertly and said—I expect to live to see this thing all down under foot yet—I wondered then to hear you say it—[Can] it be true that the time is so near—
For Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, emancipation in any form had been a long time coming.
The degree to which Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or Stowe herself influenced Lincoln’s thinking as he crafted the Emancipation Proclamation may never be known. But it is clear that Stowe contributed mightily to the body of public thought and the flavor of public opinion upon which Lincoln inevitably drew as he formulated his thoughts regarding emancipation.
Stowe’s position as author of the attitude-changing Uncle Tom’s Cabin gave her a solid platform for shaping public opinion. She wrote frequently about emancipation during 1861 and 1862. And in the critical period of June and July 1862, when Lincoln was drafting the Proclamation and then sharing it privately, he had The Key to Stowe’s Uncle Tom close at hand.
Katherine Kane is executive director of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. She last wrote “The Most Famous American” for the Summer 2011 issue.
The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center presents:
Symposium: Seizing Liberty
April 20, 2013, 8:30 a.m.- 4 p.m., at Hartford Public High School
This symposium will link historic and contemporary abolition and emancipation. Keynote address by Debby Applegate, author of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher, followed by panels, dramatic readings, abolitionist workshop, and tour of the Stowe House.
For more information visit HarrietBeecherStowe.org or call 860-522-9258, ext. 317.
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