Let's Talk About Trees

Welcome to the latest issue of CTExplored/Inbox, a bi-weekly newsletter from Connecticut Explored. Every other week, we share that latest stories, the newest Grating the Nutmeg podcast, programs and exhibitions from our partners to see/watch this month, and more! Share it with friends and encourage them to sign up!  

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Trees as Witnesses to History

CCSU history professor Leah Glaser returns (she chaired our fascinating Winter 2016-2017 issue, Connecticans in theAmerican West) with a surprising story about trees as memorials. I never thought about the role trees have played as historical markers before.

The “Constitution Oak” featured above, from her Spring 2021 story “Trees as Memorials and Witnesses to History,” can be found on Litchfield’s town green. Glaser notes that in 1902 Connecticut held a long-overdue constitutional convention to consider updating the state constitution. Following a tradition started after the Revolutionary War, to commemorate the occasion Joseph R. Hawley, one of Connecticut's U.S. senators, arranged for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide Pin Oak seedlings, which he distributed to each of the 168 town delegates at the close of the convention. The delegates planted the seedlings on town greens, in school yards and churchyards and, in many cases, on the delegate’s own property. The measure to revise the constitution had failed, she reminds us (that’s another story!), but many of the trees still survive.

Trees mark important Native American sites, too. Glaser writes, “Mohegan tribal historian Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel notes in Medicine Trail: The Life and Lessons of Gladys Tantaquidgeon (University of Arizona Press, 2000) that a giant chestnut tree, called a ‘Fair Tree,’ marked the site of an annual gathering of Mohegan and other area tribes. At this place in 1831, Mohegan women permanently claimed that sacred land by building a church that for years marked the Mohegan’s only communally-owned property. In the 1860s they revived the Green Corn Festival there.

Sadly, the fair tree was destroyed by chestnut tree blight in the early 20th century. The annual event of cultural remembrance and tribal resilience continues nearby, where a cluster of red cedars and crushed shells marks the site of Fort Shantok, a former Mohegan village. The Bolleswood Hemlocks were identified by Matthies and a 1938 U.S. Department of Agriculture publication about famous trees as another historical tribal council site for the Mohegan. It is now part of the Connecticut College Arboretum.”

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The Latest from Grating the Nutmeg 

State Historian Walt Woodward continues his conversation with State Archaeologist Emeritus Nick Bellantoni in

Episode 114: Part II — Archaeologist Nick Bellantoni: When Tombs Are Also Crime Scenes
37 minutes. Release date: March 15, 2021

Sometimes tombs become crime scenes. State Archaeologist Emeritus Nick Bellantoni talks with Walt Woodward about two such cases in which he was called in to do forensic archaeology, and the process of doing historic detective work in pursuit of justice. He also provides the latest developments concerning the discovery of revolutionary war skeletons in a basement in Ridgefield in December 2019. Go to episode 112 for part I.

Read more!
“Nick Bellantoni: 30 Years of Great Finds,” Summer 2014
Rediscovering Albert Afraid of Hawk,” Summer 2014

Programs and Exhibitions to Enjoy This Month

From Swamp to Greenspace

More than 300 years ago the land that would become the Lebanon Green was a rock-filled alder swamp that English settlers designated as the “broad street.” Town records, individual recollections, maps, and photographs document its gradual evolution from rugged and nearly useless land to the bucolic hayfields and public space of today.

The Lebanon Historical Society Museum is open to visitors by appointment. Please call 860-642-6579 or e-mail museum@historyoflebanon.org to schedule a gallery visit or request research assistance.

Lebanon Historical Society Museum, 856 Trumbull Highway, Lebanon. 860-642-6579; historyofLebanon.org

Meet Adam Jackson

Connecticut Landmarks’s Hempsted Houses in New London introduce visitors to Adam Jackson, one of the most well-documented enslaved people in Connecticut history, and his family’s quest for freedom. Through a collection of virtual conversations, Site Administrator Olivia Sayah has been working hard to put current issues into historical context with the help of historians and activists. 

Their AskAnActivist series features conversations with members of local activist groups to inspire learning about current issues in the community, explore initiatives that seek to solve them, and share ways for people to get involved. To access the virtual programming follow the Hempsted Houses on Facebook at facebook.com/HempstedHouses or visit ctlandmarks.org

Connecticut History Review

Membership in the Association for the Study of Connecticut History (ASCH) includes a subscription to the Connecticut History Review, published twice annually. The Review is the only academic, peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the history of Connecticut. For more information visit asch-cthistory.org.

For Your Special Day

Roseland Cottage in Woodstock offers a unique and beautiful setting for weddings and other private parties. From May through October, the grounds and perennial gardens are lovely for events held outside or in the Carriage House. For more information contact RoselandFunctions@HistoricNewEngland.org.

Editors’ Picks

Stories we love from back issues to read now. 

Exploiting the Legend of the Charter Oak,” by David Corrigan, Winter 2007-2008

The Influence of Connecticut on the American West,” by Leah Glaser, Winter 2016-2017

Connecticut’s Forest & Park Pioneers,” by Leah Glaser, Winter 2016-2017

Kids’ Page

Connecticut Explored stories for elementary school students. 

Hats Off to Birds and Beavers,” Spring 2021

Find all of our resource for students at CTHistoryforKids.org and for teachers at ctexplored.org/teach.

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