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Adele Raverot Clerc's Sterling Flatware

Throughout my work on the history of Laurent Clerc, my 4x great grandfather, I have made many serendipitous connections and met scores of fascinating people. This story is especially interesting and it is testament to good luck and the power of the internet. 

In 2023, at the Wilton Historical Society, there was an exhibition connecting Laurent Clerc with his great grandson, Francis Clerc Ogden. Mr. Ogden was a town legend and founder of the Wilton Historical Society. The exhibit examined the relationships these two men had to the respective communities and their service to others.

In November 2023, I received an email from a Canadian email address. It was from the same internet provider as myself here in Montreal. Having never seen the address before I became suspicious of their motives and was hesitant to respond. The email asked that I get in touch with a person by the name of Beth. After consultation with my Laurent Clerc friends it was decided that I would take the chance and reach out to this person. 

What follows is a lovely dialogue and the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Beth is a 92 year old resident of a retirement home in Pointe-Claire, Quebec, 15 miles west of the center of metropolitan Montreal and still on the island. 

Beth was born in New York City in 1933, of parents that enjoyed the urban life of Greenwich Village. Beth’s father was a designer in a famous furniture and interior design company in Manhattan, NYC. In 1935, Beth’s parents, like many New Yorkers, decided that the summer heat of the city necessitated finding a country cottage retreat to connect with New England nature. Beth’s father answered an advertisement for a cottage in the town of Wilton, CT. A brief telephone call resulted in Beth’s father traveling the 54 miles by train to meet with his future landlord, none other than Francis Clerc Ogden. 

The two gentlemen appeared to hit it off immediately and an agreement for a summer rental on the Ogden property was complete. 

Beth was only two (2) years old and her brother Frank was (8) when they headed to Wilton for the summer. 

The year 1935 remained a difficult time for many in New England. Being midway through the Great Depression (1929-1939) economic conditions were harsh and mass unemployment affected many families. Beth’s parents did not escape the hard times when her father, commuting back and forth from Manhattan to Wilton, lost his job. Having to give up their Greenwich Village apartment, Beth’s father moved to Wilton to be with his family. 

But summer had to end and Beth’s family had to survive. While her father sought design and modeling jobs, the family integrated themselves into the Wilton community. Winter was approaching and Beth was living in a summer cottage, with only a small wood stove meant to take the chill out of the autumn nights. With the help of Francis Clerc Ogden, they installed a functioning gas heater which made it possible to reside there for the winter. Fast friends,  the Ogdens helped Beth's parents make it through these especially lean times. She recounts when Mrs. Ogden, a member of the Wilton Republican party, brought her family sandwiches left over from a fundraising tea party. Beth recounts that they actually spent two (2) winters in that cottage before moving into another home. Her father eventually got his old job back and chose to raise his family in Wilton, commuting by train to work in Manhattan. 

So it was with great surprise to learn that Beth had been following the Wilton Historical Facebook page and the events highlighting Laurent Clerc and “her Clerc” Francis. Beth had attempted to contact the Wilton Historical Society in order to make contact with me. She had emailed them stating that she lived on the island of Montreal and noticed that I had an affinity for the Montreal Canadiens hockey team, the winningest franchise in NHL history. Beth hoped that she could contact me on one of my trips to see the Canadiens play, not knowing that I lived only thirteen (13) miles east of her. 

After a few emails, arrangements were made to meet in a cafe in Pointe-Claire. Three hours, one (1) cafe au lait and one (1) raspberry scone later we seemed to be fast friends. Both excited to have met each other and astonished that this connection had been made. 

But it gets better. While chatting about her life in Wilton, where she would live there for twenty (20) years , Beth  mentioned that she had several items related to Francis Clerc Ogden that she wished to give to me. Other items she wished for me to transport back to the Wilton Historical Society. Beth produced from her bag original poems written to her and her family during the many years of their friendship. She had a copy of Francis Clerc Ogden’s book of poetry and a bag of sterling flatware. 

At this point things are getting more exciting and I am anticipating something special. Indeed it was so very special. Francis Clerc Ogden was married but childless. At some time during his relationship with Beth’s parents, Francis gave them his mother’s silverware. Adele Raverot Clerc was the daughter of Francis Clerc, Laurent Clerc’s oldest son. Initially we assumed it was her wedding silverware. But we learned later that it was common at that time for young unmarried women to receive sterling flatware, often piecemeal, from someone in her family. Therefore this sterling flatware was monogrammed with her initials, ARC. 

Jean Linderman of the Cogswell Heritage House at the American school for the Deaf provided these further details: Adele Raverot Clerc’s silver flatware shows it to be made in Gorham (Providence R.I), dated during the last quarter of the 19 th century. Our search revealed that young women often collected individual pieces of flatware (usually silver) as part of their dowry. Since they were not permitted to

own property or much else of value at the time, their dowry was considered their contribution to a future marriage. Hence, the initials “ARC” instead of an initial for “Ogden.” It’s also interesting to note that the monogram is printed on the back of the pieces vs. the front. This is because, in more formal table settings, flatware was placed face-down. These lovely pieces will be polished and displayed among the Clerc collection in our Museum, and will be preserved and enjoyed for many more generations to come."

Beth stated that she wanted to return the sterling flatware to the Clerc family. Since the Clerc family has been coordinating a reclamation project aimed at returning as many items of Laurent Clerc and his family to the American School for the Deaf, it made sense to reunite Adele’s sterling flatware with Laurent’s other memorabilia. Beth heartily agreed the sterling flatware would be donated to the Cogswell Heritage House and I transported it on my next visit. There, Jean Linderman, curator of the Laurent Clerc collection took possession.  

What makes this donation so special is that the museum does not have many items of memorabilia related to Laurent Clerc’s family. The museum has lovely items owned by Laurent himself and documents but until Beth’s donation there have not been items of Laurent’s family members. With this donation the museum begins to expand its collection and further document the family Laurent and Eliza Clerc cherished. 

Jean’s next task is to use her museum contacts to discover where the sterling flatware was made and by whom. Knowing this may help us understand if it was given by Adele’s parents or even better, by Laurent and Eliza themselves?

Excited by my new friendship with Beth and her desire to be involved with our Laurent Clerc historical projects, we decided to explore further contacts. In addition, Beth had further historical insights and items to donate to the Wilton Historical Society. Beth even wished to support our Laurent Clerc Stamp Project and our Flat Laurent Initiative by giving a financial donation. As important was her agreement to show her support by giving us a Selfie of Support (SOS). 

Thank you Beth for our new friendship, your Flat Laurent support and your contributions to the ongoing legacy for our favorite hero, Laurent Clerc. 


December 16, 2023

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