On the occasion of Windsor Historical Society’s 100th anniversary, this is the second of a two-part article that attempts to tell the story of the donors whose contributions became the foundation of the Society’s collections in 1921. Part I focused on George Hoadley and his motivations behind making such a large donation to us. Part II turns to his brother Charles and his consideration of his own legacy.

Charles J. Hoadly

Charles J. Hoadly portrait | WHS collections 2021.1.15

After Charles Hoadly died, his successor as State Librarian of Connecticut wrote a report in which he detailed the state of the library:

“As to the number of books and pamphlets contained in the Library I am unable to state. The fact that they are stored in four different rooms with often two or more rows upon a shelf or in heaps, and the fact that no accession numbers have been maintained, makes even an estimate unsatisfactory.”

Having spent countless hours researching Charles, I was initially surprised to learn that the library would have been in such a state of apparent disorder. However, in a memorial text written about ten years after his death, the author describes the only successful vacation that Charles ever took, a trip to London in 1879, which adds some clarity:

“One who was with him in London said that Dr. Hoadly’s memory was better than a guide-book, for it never erred. Every street in the city proper had for him innumerable historical or literary associations.”

Charles possessed the ability to navigate physical, three-dimensional spaces based on his ability to remember written accounts, maps, and images. The same account notes that “to the end of his life he could repeat verbatim long extracts from Latin authors whose pages he had not looked at since his college days.” Charles’ spatial memory combined with this memory of content tells us that, accession numbers or not, he was very much aware of exactly what items were in his library and where they were kept. I am placing this emphasis on the depth and breadth of Charles’ memory because it is safe to suppose that his extensive memory extended to the artifacts in his personal collections; as an archivist/historian/genealogist/collector, he would have been very much aware of what it meant to leave papers behind and how these papers would have been interpreted by future generations.

Some of those future generations have latched onto a collection of letters written to Charles by Griffin Alexander Stedman during the latter’s time as an officer in the Union Army during the Civil War. Stedman was ten years younger than Charles, and though they both had strong ties to Trinity College, neither the letters nor any secondary source narratives reveal whether their tenures there overlapped or how their friendship developed. Nevertheless, by the time Stedman reached his post, he was close enough to Charles to sign every letter “Your attached friend.” The letters are one-sided; Stedman was killed in the war in 1864, and there is no record of Charles’ letters having survived. The handwriting ranges from precise to so illegible that I imagine Stedman writing from the battlefield with a flask of whiskey in his hands.

Where Charles’ biographers and others who wrote about him addressed him with reverence and precision, Stedman was open, honest, and not afraid to poke fun at his friend:

“By this time no doubt you are reveling in your enlarged quarters […] so that more books [can fit].” Sadly because we know the outcome, he frequently tells Charles to visit him. He writes, “I can make you very comfortable now, and surmise that it mite [sic] be better than ‘sleeping naked on ice.’ I have got a little house, and can really offer you hospitality.”

According to the biography, London was Charles’ only successful vacation because, “An attempt at another proved a failure; he was back at his post before the week was out.”

Was Charles’ failed vacation an attempt to visit his “attached friend?” What did Charles want to remember as a result of saving these letters? What story did the letters tell to his brother George who, as executor of Charles’ estate and primary heir, would have undertaken the task of sifting, sorting, and inventorying the contents of Charles’ private collections? What didn’t George save? When building mnemonic bridges to remember ancestors, what was being forgotten?

At this moment in my investigation, I must take my cue from Charles himself and show the Hoadly/Hoadley brothers the conscientiousness he showed his own subjects. As described in a biography by the Acorn Club:

“As scholar and historian he occupied himself with the minute details of severely restricted fields of historical and legal investigation; preferring to work therein with care and accuracy than to treat larger subjects with brilliant inexactness.”

This statement sets up a kind of posthumous challenge to future researchers; we are encouraged to avoid broad generalizations and instead focus on care and accuracy when attempting to reconstruct histories. However, in a manner that is almost capricious, the historical materials left behind by Hoadly, and his brother George, are filled with moments so enigmatic that the temptation to draw massive, and sometimes salacious, conclusions is overwhelming.

Instead, I must avoid the thrall of “brilliant inexactness” and instead focus on what I know: Charles and George were brothers who lived together for most, if not all, of their lives. Charles’ will entrusted George with the bulk of his estate and made the modest request that a “handsome wrought, not cast, iron fence” be built around the family’s plot in Cedar Hill Cemetery. We know that in the years following Charles’ death that George stepped into the role of public historian and shared their collection and resources, the “gifts of Charles and George Hoadley” (per the bookplate), widely and generously. We know that somewhere between 1885 and 1887 Stedman’s family erected a monument in their plot, which was also in Cedar Hill, in the section adjacent to the Hoadley’s.

Courtesy of the Hartford Courant’s “City News in Brief” section, we know that on December 22, 1911, George “at his home on Fern Street yesterday picked a number of blooming dandelions.” In 1921, he gave Windsor Historical Society 320 volumes, 186 pamphlets, and 175 miscellaneous gifts, a huge amount for the Society, but which was only a tiny pittance compared to what he gave to other institutions. And finally, for now at least, we know that in an autobiographical account, Charles chose to conclude the listing of his professional accomplishments and associations with the short sentence, “He never married.”

It really is a lovely bookplate.

letter from Griffin A. Stedman to Charles J. Hoadly, 1863

Excerpt from a letter from Griffin A. Stedman to Charles J. Hoadly, 1863 | Hoadley Fund Autograph Collection, 1788-1929, Ms 52770, the Connecticut Historical Society.

Document written and signed by Oliver Ellsworth

Document written and signed by Oliver Ellsworth, 1784 | WHS collections 1921.1, gift of George Hoadley.

Congressional minutes, signed by Thomas Jefferson

Minutes of the second session of the U.S. Congress, signed by Thomas Jefferson, 1790 | WHS collections 1921.1, gift of George Hoadley

military orders signed by President John Adams

Military orders signed by President John Adams, 1799 | WHS collections 1921.1, gift of George Hoadley.

George Hoadley picks blooming dandelions

Courtesy of the Hartford Courant, December 23, 1911.

Hebrew lexicon with Hoadley bookplate

A copy of Hebrew lexicon, published 1645 | WHS collections 1921.1, gift of George Hoadley.

By Anne C. Wheeler, Associate professor of composition/rhetoric, chair of the Department of Literature, Writing, and Journalism at Springfield College, 2022