The Social Literary Society in North Granby

Print More

The image of Granby in the early 1800s is one of a typical small New England town. Almost everyone was a farmer, even the men who also operated mills. We picture hard-working men struggling to wrest a living from the rocky slopes; and equally hard-working women doing the endless chores necessary to care for home and family. There would seem to be little time left for leisure, culture or recreation. Yet, this picture is not entirely true.

The Salmon Brook Historical Society has the records of the Social Literary Society active from 1812 to 1820, in the area known as the Wedge. The Wedge extended from the incorrect 1711 colony line (near present day East Street) to the present Massachusetts border.

On July 23, 1812, the 23 original members wrote their Constitution. “We the Subscribers having agreed to form ourselves into a Society for our own improvement in usefull knowledge have for the better regulating the same adopted the following Constitution.”

“Article 1st. This Society shall be designated by the name of the Social Literary Society.”

“Article 4th. Every member admitted during the present year shall pay into the treasury of the Society fifty Cents, one third on entering, the remaining two thirds at the close of the year.” The money was used to purchase new books and magazines. The members could also be taxed—but not more than 50 cents per year per member. New members required a three-fourths approval vote from the members. 

“And as Associations of this kind have no other Support than the Laws of honor: We do each of us who have hereunto set our names plight our honor and veracity in the most sincere and sacred manner to each other for a strict and faithfull observance of the foregoing Constitution.”

The members were all men. Their names are familiar in Granby history—Kasson, Colton, Gillet, Lee, Church, Holcomb, Clemons, Godard, Merriman and others. Their society was a library and perhaps also a discussion group. They met the first Tuesday of every month at the schoolhouse in their district. The school was located at 205 Granville Road and is now a private home.

“Mar. 4, 1814 – Any person borrowing a book and not having it recorded shall pay a fine of four cents for each book.”

“Oct. 4, 1814 – Voted that there shall be built a bookcase for the use of this library, at the school house.”

At another meeting they “Voted that no member shall draw more than three books at any meeting on one night.”

“Nov. 1, 1814 – The Society met agreeable to adjournment at the school house and adjourned to the house of Mr. Yale T. Hough.” Perhaps it was too cold in the school.

In January 1815 the members agreed to pay 12 cents each to “defray the expenses now due” plus a tax of six cents each to pay for candles.

In February 1817, they decided to meet quarterly instead of monthly and then allowed members to borrow four books at a time.

Records were kept of books borrowed and returned and of fines paid. Also of dues paid and in arrears. Two new books were purchased in 1814, costing 18 cents and 50 cents.

The Social Literary Society had 81 books on a variety of subjects—religion, history, geography, biography and the classics. Other titles are self-explanatory, On the Use of Ardent Spirits, Address to the Master of a Family, Fables for the Ladies, Letters on Courtship and Marriage and Information to the Afflicted. Some were obviously popular novels of the day, Devil in Love and Forsaken Infant. It would seem that some books were intended for their wives to read, even though they were excluded from the Society.

The most popular book owned by the Society was a story of the French Revolution called Lovers of La Vendee. They owned two copies and both were constantly in circulation. Next most popular in order of usage were Vicar of Wakefield, Sailor Boy, Connecticut Evangelical Magazine and Religious Intelligencer and Bonaparte’s Life.

Not all the members followed the rules. Lemuel Colton was an omnivorous reader who took home four to six books every month, some of them numerous times. He read every issue of the Evangelical Magazine, but also borrowed Vicar of Wakefield and Vendee Wan five times and Gay’s Fables three times.

When the Society dissolved in 1820, several members still had books outstanding. It is not surprising that they included several of the most popular. George N. Field had four books. David Granger had six, including Sailor Boy, Vicar of Wakefield and one copy of Lovers of La Vendee. Orin Godard had three books, one of which was the second copy of Lovers of La Vendee. He also had John Bull and Brother Jonathan and Perigrinum Proteus.

Orin Godard only read about 25 of the Society’s books, but he had eclectic taste, ranging from Life of Washington and Natural History to Seven Wise Mistresses and Penitential Tyrant.

There is no record of the disposition of the library when the Society disbanded. Only one book of the original 81 is known to have survived. It was found in the attic of the Godard home on Granville Road and was given first to the Cossitt Library and later to the historical society. It is book number 16, the very popular Lovers of La Vendee that was borrowed by Orin Godard on March 7, 1820 and never returned.

Perhaps other books from this long ago Literary Society are still undiscovered in some forgotten corner or dusty attic in Granby. Eighty books are still missing.