History Unbundled: A Long Forgotten Trunk Yields A Trove Of Early Documents At Gaudreau’s

DAYVILLE, CONN. — As reported in our July 4 issue, a clean-out of an old farmhouse occupied for generations by members of the Danielson family, after whom the town of Danielson, Conn., is named, yielded, in its first session on June 7, two important treasures — a folk art fireboard thought to be by Winthrop Chandler, $54,050, and a Jonathan Burt of Boston silver tankard, $14,375. Kevin Gaudreau and his staff returned with part two of the farmhouse contents on June 28, hosting a 56-lot auction at Gaudreau’s Auction Company’s headquarters in northeastern Connecticut.

“I won’t need help loading,” quipped the day’s most active buyer, who would only say that he was a local picker bidding on behalf of “a gentleman on the West Coast.”

In fact, Gaudreau unpacked most of the auction’s contents from one small, brassbound leather case, the repository for a cache of Seventeenth through early Nineteenth Century records and recollections, many of them handwritten. Though from the Danielson estate, most of the documents descended in a collateral line, the Billings family of Stonington and North Stonington, Conn.

The time capsule shed light on social, political and military affairs in the Colonial and early Federal eras in Connecticut and Rhode Island and attracted scores of phone, Internet and absentee bidders. According to Gaudreau’s, Mystic Seaport and the Connecticut Historical Society were among the buyers.

Bidders chased documents pertaining to Sanford Billings. Of note was a journal that Billings kept aboard the privateer sloop Dolphin between 1762 and 1763. Gaudreau’s knocked the nautical record down for $3,680 to an absent bidder, said to be Mystic Seaport, a leading repository of American marine history.

The versatile Sanford Billings also wrote an account of his service with the 8th Connecticut Militia during the New York Campaign, describing his unit’s departure from New London, Conn., on September 8, 1776, and its return in November 1776. At least five phones battled for document, which crossed the block at $3,163. Dated 1776 and signed by John Trumbull, first governor of the State of Connecticut, and George Wyllys, Billings’ 1776 military appointment crossed the block at $1,150. Billings’ 1769 appointment, as ensign in the Second Company of Stonington, went for $1,035.

Ebenezer Billings was remembered by a company roster and 1757 indenture relating to a military action at Crown Point, N.Y., sold for $805. The roster, marked “Fort Edward, Sept. 11, 1756,” lists the 75 men who served in Captain Billings’ company. Sealed with red wax and framed under glass, a particularly handsome certificate noting Ebenezer Billings’ 1755 military appointment went for $1,495 to the phone. It dated from the French and Indian War and was signed by Thomas Fitch, the 29th Colonial Governor of Connecticut, and Secretary of State George Wyllys. The appointment references Captain Denison and Phineas Lyman, Esq, surnames familiar to modern-day residents of New London County.

Drafted in 1732, a copy of a 1684 survey of Mohegan Indian land claims together with the 1683 commission asking for the same survey went to the phone for $2,415. “This document is very significant to the later saga of Mohegan and Pequot land controversies,” noted Cesolino.

The sale stirred passion and indignation. Addressed to “Lovers of Liberty,” a 1754 document signed by John Avery and Robert Parke made $1,553. It sought funds to send Ebenezer Frothingham to England to petition the King for greater freedom for the Colonies.

Most poignant was a bill of sale for a 19-year-old slave named Mingo, $1,840, sold by John Richards of New London to Timothy Herrick of Preston, Conn., for 120 pounds. A 1749 indenture of an Indian boy, the son of Margaret and John Quiamps of Preston, to Joseph Billings fetched $920.

The earliest document, a 1703 deed from Samuel Fish, noted the award of about 100 acres to William Billings, Ebenezer’s uncle. It sold for only $115.

There were enticements for collectors of Rhode Island fare, as well. Described as a “sweetheart lot,” six documents signed by Governors Fenner, Wilbour and Jones as well as Rhode Island state appointments to Benjamin Tillinghast crossed the block at $1,955.

Gaudreau’s trunk sale was good pickings for those who made it out on Saturday night, as Wayne V. Hardenberg of The Copper Penny can attest. The Wethersfield, Conn., dealer claimed several desirable Eighteenth Century military appointments, a Civil War era quartermaster’s log for the 18th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry and a large pen and ink drawing, $1,610, of the brig George Washington, dated 1799.

Jonathan Cesolini, the local attorney who doubles as Gaudreau’s historian and cataloger, said he put roughly 100 hours into sorting, reading and describing the documents, which were then placed in sleeves or framed to facilitate viewing and handling. Cesolini performed a real service, both for Gaudreau’s and for historians, amateur and professional, lucky enough to happen upon this rare cache of early Americana.

Prices include buyer’s premium.

Gaudreau’s is at 21 Williamsville Road; for information, 860-933-6055.

 

 

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