A Digital Journey Through Local History

William T. Peters and Voter Fraud circa 1871

Today was another one of those days that I found a little nugget in the course of my day job. I was working with an autograph book from 1861 from our General Assembly Portraits collection (PG540) and found a prominent Cheshire citizen, William T. Peters.

Autograph BookCollecting autographs was a popular activity in the 19th century. These books were just like the autograph books Disney sells, except you didn’t have to wait in long lines to get an autograph and they weren’t filled with Buzz Lightyear or Cinderella’s signatures. Civil War heroes were a particularly popular subject. This particular autograph book was filled with photographs and signatures of the members of the Connecticut General Assembly!

The book was owned by a gentleman in Granby who scrawled his name across the first page. The following pages were full of well known names and faces. There was Governor Buckingham, Secretary of State and former State Librarian James Hammond Trumbull and then State Librarian Charles Jeremy Hoadley. There were pages upon pages of the men who represented every little town in Connecticut. And there on page 46 was William T. Peters, who was first elected to the Senate as a Unionist (Republican) in 1857, and to the House in 1861 and again in 1873.

William T. PetersPeters, it appears was also elected Probate Judge in 1871. This election was a lot like modern ones it seems – there were allegations of voter fraud that ended up before the Supreme Court. The election was between Edward A. Cornwall, the Democratic candidate and Peters, the Republican. Cornwall had his returns certified by the Secretary of State after the Democratic moderator threw 23 votes out believing them to have no right to vote.  Judge Carpenter of the Supreme Court found that “all of said persons passed all the constitutional and legal qualifications for electors.” Carpenter called into question the manner in which nine of the electors made their applications, but ultimately found for Peters.

Peters graduated from Yale in 1825 and was one of the many doctors in Cheshire. Yet he seems to be curiously absent from the 1850, 1860 and 1870 census records. In 1880 there is a William T. Peters, age 75, living in Cheshire with his daughter-in-law and grandchildren, but his occupation is listed as farmer, not physician. There are no death records, though there is a burial, at St. Peters, for a William T. Peters who died in 1898 and had been a soldier in Co. H, 36th Regiment, N.Y. Volunteers. Doesn’t seem likely.

It was a neat little find, and I may do a little more digging, but not for a while. So if you know anything more about Dr. Peters, let me know.

Update from a reader:

Re: William Peters

william T Peters can be found on page 8 of the 1860 Cheshire Census along with his wife Etha and Children.

In 1850 they lived in New Haven – Page 296/Census

Etha, his wife was Born the illegitimate child of Ithiel Town – Died 1871

William T Peters Sr. – graduated as a Physician from Yale Degrees BA 1825 / MD 1830 – Linonian Society

Son – Hugh Florien Peters – practiced Law in Cheshire 1851/52 – law professor in Duxbury, Mass. and died in Cheshire 10/4/1856 from “Consumption” i.e. Alchohol

Son – William Jr – Was an Engraver / Artist Born 1828

Son – Ithiel T Peters died 12/2/1855 – Buried in Cheshire St. Peters

A photo of Etha is here http://wnpr.org/post/unlikely-pair-portraits

– There are other children listed to research – but to your original thought based on all the dates – The Physician became the “Farmer”

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