The Wilton Papers
In November 2022, while researching a distant Holt family member from Wilton, Connecticut we made a magnificent discovery of original Laurent Clerc documents at the Wilton History Room in the Wilton Library. "Now referred to as the Wilton Papers" these provide us with more nuance into the life and times of Laurent Clerc. Now permanently on loan from the Wilton Historical Society to the American School for The Deaf, these papers can now be seen and cherished for generations to come.
The story of the “Wilton Papers” is both a routine and an exciting event in our search for Laurent Clerc.
On November 17, 2021, I was traveling through Wilton, Connecticut visiting my daughter, son-in-law and grandsons. My grandsons actually attended the Seven Acres Montessori School in Wilton. This gave me an opportunity to swing by the Wilton Library to do some research on a distant relative.
On this day I was in search of Francis Clerc Ogden, who was the great great grandson of Laurent and Eliza Clerc. Francis lived in Wilton for most of his life and was well known in his community. He was the registrar of voters for something like many decades. He wrote for the Wilton Bulletin under the name of the “Original Old Timer” for almost that long. And it turns out he was a poet, author and local historian whose specialty was Native American artifacts, which he generously contributed to Wilton Historical Society.
He seemed such an interesting person and now having lived so close to my family, the Wilton Library https://www.wiltonlibrary.org/ and Historical Society https://wiltonhistorical.org/. seemed a good place to start.
I believe that the Historical Society was closed the day of my visit to Wilton and somehow I found myself going to the library to inquire about Francis instead. The reference librarian directed me to the second floor where the Wilton Historical Society and the Wilton Library have collaborated in chronicling Wilton’s exciting history.
On my arrival I met the archivist, Julie Hughes, to whom I explained about Francis Clerc Ogden. I also mentioned his connection to Laurent Clerc but Julie did not appear to be familiar with Laurent’s story and legacy. Julie kindly directed me to their material about Francis Ogden Clerc and disappeared.
Several minutes later Julie returned and said that Laurent Clerc’s name was somehow familiar to her from earlier explorations in the archives in the room. She produced several file folders with the heading of Laurent Clerc and the Reverend Francis Clerc (eldest son). While new to historical research, I began to understand what a discovery of these papers, squirreled away in a filing cabinet for approximately fifty (50) years, might mean to our efforts to canonize Laurent Clerc. As well, Julie discovered there were photographs of Laurent Clerc in the History Room collection including ones that were entirely unique.
Somehow it never occurred to me that Francis Clerc Ogden might possess any material related to Laurent Clerc. However, before me on the table were now several file folders of original Clerc documents.
My first thought when thinking of Laurent Clerc is always to seek out Jean Linderman, curator at the History & Cogswell Heritage House, located at the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford, CT. https://www.asd-1817.org/about/history--cogswell-heritage-house
Jean is my partner in crime and research, being a huge fan of Laurent Clerc. I immediately called Jean from the history room and said that I had a surprise for her. My news left her breathless and wondering if she should jump in the car and make a quick road trip. Cooler heads prevailed and we agreed that she would come to see the papers as soon as she was able. Of course in her mind she was already scheming how she could get a hold of them and to reunite them with Laurent’s other works housed in West Hartford.
While Jean was not able to make that sudden road trip to Wilton, her excitement did not wane when she finally was able to make it down to meet with me and visit with Julie. Jean was able to make the trip on January 26, 2022 and she was wowed by the content of the collection. She examined the documents, took notes and sat with a Wilton Historical Society staff member, Nick (Director of the Wilton Historical Society) at length.
Jean began probing for information about how she might come to possess these documents and return them to their home at the American School for the Deaf. Nick indicated that he would have to consult the board of the Wilton Historical Society for permission to give or permanently loan these treasures. Jean left optimistic and sure that she would prevail.
Jean, being a curator of a museum, has developed the skill of waiting patiently. I do not have that strength and I was restless to see what the Wilton Historical Society was going to do about loaning the papers to The American School for the Deaf. It is important that his papers are reunited into one place and his alma mater seemed to make the most sense.
In May of 2022, the news from the Wilton Historical Society finally arrived. The board had decided that they would permanently loan the “Wilton Papers” to the American School for the Deaf. Jean and I were ecstatic.
On May 13, 2022, Jean and Laurent Clerc Holt sat with Nick Foster and signed the agreements for the loan. There was only one hitch to us walking away with the “Wilton Papers” that day with Jean. The historical society wished to make high quality copies for their archives. This was of course not too much to ask. Jean, ever the professional, contained her emotions and plans were made for me to pick up the originals on my next trip down to see my family.
On July 28, 2022, despite a bad hair day, I stopped by to meet with Nick and get the “Wilton Papers’ on my way to the American School for the Deaf. It was a great day and the excitement of getting them and delivering them made me feel that I had done Laurent a big favor.
Even better was taking them to Jean at the museum at ASD. She was like a little kid receiving the gift she had been waiting for all her life. The “Wilton Papers” are now in their rightful place alongside all the other Laurent memorabilia and historical documents.
Thank you Julie, Jean and Nick for all your work on Laurent's legacy.
Stay tuned for the “Wilton Papers” debut in 2023! Laurent
With diversity being so front and center in North American societies it might be a good time to post this information about Francis Clerc Ogden's struggle with racism? We know that Francis was a regular contributor to the Wilton Bulletin but we are not yet knowledgeable about his writings. This appeared in an article on July 23, 2020, "Examining Wilton’s History: Racial Justice, Inequality and Activism–Part 4: Housing" by Lily Kepner. If Francis had some forward thinking ideas about race then he might not have uttered these insensitive words.
"In terms of culture, the events and voices of the Civil Rights Movement did not ring true with everyone. In 1971, F. Clerc Ogden voiced his opinion that minstrel shows should return. In an October 20, 1971 letter to the editor to the Bulletin, Ogden reminisced about the old days. “The old drugstore was well decorated and the minstrel show crowded. Those were the days of real fun and if anyone took himself too seriously the fireman lampooned him and cut him down to size. ‘Doc’ Stivers was one of the leaders in this worthy plan, and the town could do with a lot of it today.” Ogden, according to a 1938 Bulletin article, had written verses of minstrel shows in the past." -Francis Clerc Ogden-