Deeds, documents and diaries from the Sharon Historical Society
SHARON — The Sharon Historical Society (SHS) regularly hosts shows that feature historical documents and art that are on loanfrom outside sources. It’s easy to forget the Historical Society maintains its own collection of archives relating to the history of Sharon.
A new exhibit entitled “Deeds, Documents & Diaries” showcases items from the society’s own archives.
These documents provide a powerful look back into the history of Sharon. One of the most important documents in the Historical Society’s archives is a “Catalogue of the Instructors & Students in the Rev. D. Parkers Literary School from 1815-16.” The school was located in the Ellsworth section of town.
This document illustrates the wide geographic diversity of students, and it provides a comprehensive list of scholars studying in Sharon in that time period. It was not just a local school. Students came from as far away as New York City and Germantown, N.Y. — and from relatively nearby towns including Amenia and, in Massachusetts, New Marlborough.
Also on display is a collection of Connecticut Line Army Notes from 1782 issued to Lt. W. Hezekiah Goodwin of Sharon. Goodwin was one of three sons of John P. Goodwin who came to Sharon from Hartford in 1782.
The Connecticut Line was a formation within the Continental Army. The term referred to the quota of numbered infantry regiments assigned to Connecticut at various times by the Continental Congress. The size of the allocation was determined by the size of the population relative to that of other states. These, together with similarly apportioned contingents from the other 12 states, formed the Continental Line.
The army “notes” are currency and are all dated June 1, 1782. Two of the notes are for 9 pounds 9 shillings and the third is for 12 pounds 18 shillings. Marge Smith, assistant director of the Historical Society, said, “These are likely installment payments to Goodwin for what he was owed for being in the infantry.”
The “line” concept was particularly important in relation to the promotion of commissioned officers. Officers of the Continental Army below the rank of brigadier general were ordinarily ineligible for promotion except in the line of their own state.
Another item on display from the archives is what’s believed to be a piece of George Washington’s hair.
“Items that belonged to Washington, especially those of a personal nature, became the prized possessions of their owners,” Smith said.
The Historical Society has not been able to verify that this hair actually came from Washington, she said, but “it is just as likely that it did as it did not. We also don’t know if it was his own hair or a strand from a wig.”
Precursor to Red Cross?
Another archival document on display in the exhibit is an award presented to Sharon’s Soldier Aid Society by the United States Sanitary Commission, Women’s Central Association of Relief, on Jan. 1, 1866.
The award says it was “for the Army and Navy in commemoration of our common labors for the relief of the sick and wounded during the Great Rebellion.”
The United States Sanitary Commission (directed by Frederick Law Olmstead) was a private relief agency created by federal legislation on June 18, 1861, to support sick and wounded soldiers of the U.S. Army during the American Civil War.
It operated across the North, raised its own funds, and enlisted thousands of volunteers. Smith believes it may have been the forerunner of the Red Cross. Louisa May Alcott was an active volunteer.
The exhibit also includes property deeds that shed light on the town’s history. One is the deed of a property owned by a family that came to Sharon in 1761. Daniel St. John moved his family to the Northwest Corner from Norwalk. His descendants owned the same property until 1970. In that year, Ralph St. John Dunbar sold the property to Mabel Cote, who kept it until 1980.
Also in the exhibit are diaries belonging to the late Warren Houghtaling, who lived in one of the large homes on South Main Street which, Smith said, some people call “millionaire’s row.”
Houghtaling had his home in Sharon from the early 1900s until he died in 1922, a period Smith referred to as “Sharon’s Golden Age.”
Two documents concern land that John Cotton Smith owned. He was a governor of Connecticut from 1812 to 1817.
One is a 1799 agreement between Smith and a contractor named Ruben Hamlin, including a scale drawing, of a house to be built in Sharon Valley.
Smith said she is still trying to ascertain the exact location of the property.
The Historical Society is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 860-364-5688 or visit the website at www.sharonhist.org.