The majority of my research into the history of Cheshire has involved a specific book: Ellen Raynor and Emma Petitclerc’s History of the Town of Cheshire. It’s an interesting book, available online, but to date I have been able to find next to nothing about the authors.
The only things I’ve been able to piece together about them are from their own text. They were presumably married (or wished to be known as such) because they are referred to as “Mrs.” Raynor and “Mrs. Petitclerc.” A Rev. Parry, writing to them about their work of local history, refers to them as “Mesdames.” Moreover, they seem to have grown up in the area. They talk romantically about the old cemeteries, wooded paths and New England frame houses of Cheshire.
Then there’s the Romantic content of their writing as well. Written in 1885, History positively exudes the Romanticism of the time. The Rhode Island Baptists who settled the towns Cheshire, Adams and Lanesborough are hardy pioneers, slogging their way through the muck of the Mohawk Trail in their pursuit of spreading the colonial experiment to the frontier of Western MA. One particular example from the text is the nameless woman, separated with her baby from her husband — and by extension the rest of the pioneers — who, come nightfall, built a bonfire ring around her and her babe to keep the slavering wolves at bay (extra points to any of you who can flag up the symbolism here!)
Other than that, nothing. There’s no information in the local authors database at the Pittsfield Library/Berkshire Atheneum. Calling the Cheshire Town Hall has yielded nothing so far, and my attempts to visit them today ten minutes before closing was, predictably, a nonstarter. The Berkshire Historical Society might be promising, although I anticipate many hours digging through their archives.
A quick word about the Historical Society . . . it is headquartered at Arrowhead, Herman Melville’s homestead in the Berkshires. On the grounds there is an infographic about the Massachusetts 54th regiment, the first all-black volunteer infantry in the North who faught during the Civil War. The movie Glory tells the story of their plight, albeit in a “sympathetic white person helps the poor downtrod African-Americans” sort of way. Stay tuned for my thoughts on the exhibit, as well as Arrowhead as a whole! Because, me being me, you know I’m going to have to take a tour and irritate the docents with my
inane ramblings trenchant research questions.
Until then, here’s a photo of the Cheshire Glass Works, formerly the home of Capt. Daniel Brown, who Mesdames Raynor and Petitclerc blatantly hero worship.
ETA: According to the Cheshire Historic Society Ellen Raynor and Emma Petitclerc were actually sisters, which makes sense given their collaboration. They were also daughters of a Dr. Cole, which means they were likely well-educated. They wrote during a time when many people in the area were “doing” local history. Stay tuned for more!