14 June 2009

The General David Humphreys House and Connecticut Open House Day

On Saturday, June 13th, it was Connecticut Open House Day which had dozens of arts and cultural institutions all around the state opening their doors (with either free or reduced admission) to encourage residents and non-residents alike to take advantage of all the opportunities that Connecticut offers.

My daughters performed at an open house held by the organization formerly known as The Newington's Children's Theatre, but, while there, I looked at the state-wide schedule and, at the top of the town participant list, was Ansonia and its General David Humphreys House. I headed off shortly thereafter!

Now, any reader of the "Connecticut Wit" blog should at least recognize the name of David Humphreys, who -- along with Joel Barlow, Timothy Dwight, John Trumbull, Lemuel Hopkins, and Elihu Hubbard Smith, et alia -- comprise that band of early American writers known as the "Hartford, Wicked, or Connecticut Wits." The Wits were the first to attempt to write a distinctly American writers. They came to prominence when they authored "The Anarchiad," a series of satires in in the late 1780s that argued for the need for a new constitutional convention. They met at Yale, and Humphreys would go on to become George Washington's aide-de-camp and one of the first industrialists in Connecticut when he would import Merino sheep from Spain and build Humphreysville (now Shelton, CT)...

I was excited to go to the house (and glad I went) but, I must admit, disappointed in the complete absence of any exhibit acknowledging his literary contributions to American history. Even the pamphlet about his life by Leo T. Malloy that the Derby Historical Society (DHS) sells pretty much ignores his authorial dimension. While it quotes briefly from one of his poems and mentions his "outstanding friends" Trumbull, Dwight, and Barlow, it never refers to them as "The Wits" or any of their several their collaborations.

While I commend the DHS for both maintaining the house and their undeniable dedication to keeping Humphreys' name alive, I just wish they'd give him his full due.

I recognize that it's easier (and, to judge by the many young and old who were there, more popular) to display things military (or things more generally colonial/early national), but even a little love for Dave the poet would be nice.

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