Capturing the history of New London in the 1770s was especially challenging for a nineteenth century author, one imagines, for Benedict Arnold burned a large portion of the city in 1781. The public library was not constructed until the 1890s. Local legends sometimes obscure facts.Where could Champney locate primary source documents?
Champney corresponded with William H. Starr, then secretary of the New London Historical Society. She wrote from Deerfield, Massachusetts:
I should like, if possible, to obtain family legends not already given to the public, and anecdotes of a personal character in regard to any of the old time worthies. Is there a public library in New London in which I could rummage over newspapers published at that time? I would gladly pay a visit of a few days to your city if by so doing I could find materials not accessible elsewhere.
If you know of any articles or books on this subject which would be likely to aid one, will you please let me know where they may be found.
At that time, Elizabeth Williams (Lizzie) Champney (1850–1922) was a frequent contributor toHarper’s. Her works of historical fiction first appeared the publication in 1876, less than ten years after her graduation from Vassar College. Yet it appears that this task was one of her first historical articles for this magazine. Edward Baker, Executive Director of the New London County Historical Society, suggests that Starr might have directed the author’s attention to a publication by Frances Caulkins. The resident’s 1852 book, The History of New London, along with the Connecticut Gazette newspaper, was among the primary sources of information cited by Lizzy Champney in her article about eighteenth century privateers, politicians, and polite society in this seaport town.
Champney to Starr (February 12). LWS 2478. Lloyd W. Smith Archival Collection, Morristown National Historical Park, Morristown, New Jersey.
Baker, Edward. e-mail message to author, June 28, 2011.
“Champney, Elizabeth W. (Elizabeth Williams) (1850–1922).” Harper’s Magazine. http://www.harpers.org/subjects/ElizabethWChampney (accessed July 7, 2011).
Champney, Elizabeth W. “Sea-drift from a New England port.” Harper’s Magazine LX (December 1879): 59-71.
“Elizabeth Williams Champney.” Under “Alumnae/i of Distinction.” Vassar College Encyclopedia.http://vcencyclopedia.vassar.edu/alumni/elizabeth-williams-champney.html (accessed June 10, 2011).
Starr, Maria F. “Memoir of Hon. William H. Starr.” Records and Papers of the New London County Historical Society, Part I, Volume I, 82-85. New London, Connecticut: The Day Publishing Company, 1890.
Blog entry by Anne Ricculli, Drew University.