Arts and Leisure

April 26, 1849: Thomas Robbins Gets a Cannon Ball

Thomas Robbins collected 4,000 books at a time when books were expensive and rare. An antiquarian, he became the first librarian of the Connecticut Historical Society.  He also made a diary entry almost daily for 58 years.

Thomas Robbins

Thomas Robbins

He was born Aug. 11, 1777, in Norfolk, Conn., the son of a Congregationalist minister. He entered Yale College  at 15 and began a diary In January 1796, the year he graduated.

Thomas Robbins spent the next few years after college teaching, preaching and studying theology. Then in 1803 he went to Ohio to organize churches for the Connecticut Missionary Society. Six years later began his permanent library, making a catalogue of his 130 volumes. He determined to add at least 100 volumes a year as long as he lived.

Thomas Robbins, Back in Connecticut

He then returned to Connecticut to preach and in 1831 he replaced his uncle as Congregational minister in Mattapoisett , Mass.

In 1822 he suggested the creation of a historical society for Connecticut. Three years later he was its recording secretary. Then in 1846 he became the historical society’s librarian.

Connecticut Historical Society and Library

He died on Sept. 13, 1856, in Colebrook, Conn., at the home of his niece. He bequeathed his library to the Connecticut Historical Society along with $3,000 to take care of his beloved books. The historical society also has his original shelves.

In April 1849, Thomas Robbins was working as the Connecticut Historical Society’s librarian in Hartford. He had an active social life and kept busy with his books and correspondence. On April 26, 1849, he made the following diary entry:

Yesterday we had a cannon ball brought in here, a thirty-two pounder fired through the house at Stonington from a British ship, in 1814, a donation of Miss Catherine Williams, of Providence. Had my mahogany table, lately purchased, fixed as a centre-table in my room. Read. Wrote.

This story updated in 2022.

Image: Connecticut Historical Society and Library By Sage Ross – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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