Visiting the New Haven Museum (the local museum that corresponds to the New York Historical Society), I couldn’t resist this book. I really look forward to getting the backstory on Arsenic and Old Lace and of course, Benedict Arnold, who had his druggist, book, and what-not shop on the New Haven Green.
The strange phrase on his shop sign “Sibi Totique” means ‘something for everyone’. Arnold also prospered as a merchant in the West Indies trade, as did New Haven. But you probably know Arnold as the Revolutionary War turncoat.
And you may not know that Nathan Hale, America’s first (failed) spy lived in New Haven and attended Yale. Caught and hung by the British, yet still a model origin spy for the CIA. What a way to make a reputation! New Haven certainly has inauspicious Revolutionary War ties.
Leader of the Amistad Captives
The city redeemed itself with the Amistad trial, where John Quincy Adams defended newly enslaved Africans, who led by Cinque, revolted onboard the slave ship Amistad. Considered the first Civil Rights trial, which went all the way to the Supreme Court, little changed in terms of policy or law as a result. The pitiful rationale was that the slavers were Spanish. Had it been an American ship, the outcome probably would have been very different and not as noted in history.
New Haven had an industrial boom, making clocks, carriages, locks, and my favorite, corsets. In two weeks, I see a play called Freewheelers on that very supportive topic, at the Arts & Ideas Festival. And then there’s the bicycle.
Just for the ladies…
New Haven also was a major trade and working port, as well as a center for oyster harvesting. In the maritime exhibit, I really liked the modernist artist Max Dellfant. Many were like this work, with thick, juicy paint slathered on the surface.
And his depiction of his workspace just charmed me, reminding me of the mess and jumble of my mother’s studio.
From Connecticut’s earlier history, the Jerks of Connecticut book doesn’t include the two early founders who hid out in a West Rock cave. They were hiding because they had signed the death warrant to behead King Charles I in 1649 (note, eleven years after New Haven was founded, which is completely unrelated). With Restoration in 1661, they were hunted by British Royal Agents. Now a street is named after Edward Whaley. How history redesigns us all. The cave is apparently a local tourist site, so I have to go find it.
The evening concluded with a lecture on financial documents from the Revolutionary War period. You know, hand signed currency, stocks, bank notes (which anyone could print, even Delmonico’s Restaurant), and bonds for financing the nation. Bonds were also used to raise the money to fight the war. They could be redeemed in meat, wool, or sheep, as a hedge against inflation.
Early on, silversmiths had the engraving skill to put an identifying mark on the border of stock certificates to try to prevent counterfeiting. Later pictures were incorporated, including portraits, landscapes, and genre scenes. So these documents are actually quite handsome.
This aesthetic didn’t keep the country from going bankrupt. Alexander Hamilton created the US Treasury to take back those (worthless) bonds in exchange for Treasury Bonds. Everyone wanted to buy Treasury Bonds because they loved their new nation. Too many were sold, in fact, causing an early financial panic, which then created the national debt.
Although a seemingly dull subject, the documents opened doors that were wonderfully evocative. Stories about expansion, experimentation, businesses and industrialization, as well as the individuals behind the scene.
Plus in those early days, bonds yielded 6 percent. Those were the days!