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A Gift of Light

Back in April, we received an email from a woman in Fairfield requesting our assistance in researching the provenance of a unique artifact that had been handed down though her late husband’s family. According to the family tradition, they had once lived in an old saltbox house somewhere in Monroe. The artifact is an ancient, rusted, punched tin lantern that the family had found when they first moved into the house. Unfortunately, no exact dates of residency were provided, only that they had lived there over a century ago. She did however provide an old blurry photograph of the house and the family surnames Vaughan and Jackson. She also shared that there may have been a connection to a woman named Sara. Could the Society solve this mystery with only these meager clues to guide us? Considering the claimed Monroe provenance, we were certainly willing to give it our best effort.

Turning first to the Federal Census records, we could find no period references to the family surnames provided. Could the blurry photograph offer us clues that may guide us? We did notice a two-story ell built off the back of the house that got our attention. There are fewer than a dozen surviving original saltbox houses throughout Monroe today, and although that certainly narrowed down the search, we still needed to verify the architectural features over the generations. The Society compared and contrasted numerous terrestrial and aerial photographs of our town ranging from the 1930s to present day. We found only one saltbox house which has details matching the photograph, and that house still stands today at 90 Shelton Road. For the new folks in town, that’s Route 110, and for the diehard Monroe historians out there, that’s Leavenworth Road.

Now that we’ve homed in on the most likely saltbox house in Monroe, we returned once again to the Federal Census records and discovered its residents in the early 20th century to be Alexander and Sara Sinclair. Sara, you say? That name matches. Could the Sinclairs be the family connected to this mysterious lantern? What else could we learn now that we had found a possible family connection here in Monroe? Our next area of focus was digital scans of period Bridgeport newspapers, and it is here where the details of the mystery begin to come into focus.

We found an article dated December 29, 1925 which confirmed the Sinclairs spent Christmas Day with a Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Vaughan of Bridgeport. Vaughan? That surname is a match as well. The Vaughans in this article were the paternal grandparents of the inquirer from Fairfield’s late husband. With this solid connection between the Sinclairs and her husband’s family now confirmed, we dove deeper into the Vaughan family genealogy and learned that Joseph’s wife was named Grace and that her maiden name was Jackson. Jackson is the final matching name given!

We presented all of our research and evidence to the inquirer. She was not only impressed with the results, she was ultimately inspired to donate the punched tin lantern and the accompanying photograph of the saltbox house to the Monroe Historical Society. We could not be more honored to accept these important historical artifacts and add them to our collection, especially with their now confirmed provenance to the Sinclair family of Monroe and the Vaughan and Jackson families of Bridgeport.

This lantern is a true Monroe historical gem. The somewhat crude construction of its features indicates that it is very early when compared to more refined contemporary examples - possibly as early as the house’s construction, which dates to c.1750. That’s near three quarters of a century before the Town of Monroe was even incorporated! We’ve included photos of the artifacts and other pertinent details for you to enjoy. We truly appreciated researching this challenging request. The process certainly had its moments of darkness early on, but in the end, there was light!

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