Date of Meeting: 03/27/17
Robert Foley presenting.
Robert Foley is an independent scholar on local Connecticut history. Currently President of the Black Rock Historical Society, he is an advocate for the preservation of primary source historical documents for Fairfield and Bridgeport. Robert uses new digital tools to try to make new observations and interpretations of the past. As recipient of the Bridgeport Mayor’s Neighborhood Arts & Heritage Grant, Robert’s project on Bridgeport’s aviation pioneer, Gustave Whitehead, was able to uncover documents which contributed to the State Governor declaring that Connecticut is ‘First in Flight’ before the Wright Brothers. His online posting of the once-secret contract between the Wright Brothers and the Smithsonian, initially exposed by Fairfield resident William O’Dwyer, was picked up by National Geographic in 2013. Robert was first to break the news nationally on his local access television program. Robert received a grant to document the vaudeville theater performances at the Majestic and Poli’s Theaters. Other projects include one on George Washington’s spy in Fairfield, Caleb Brewster, who as part of our nation’s first intelligence service was key to winning the War of Independence. Robert is one of the Bridgeport History Center’s ‘Grassroots Historians’ and has written on the world’s last surviving packet ship as well as organizing an event at the Fairfield Museum on the topic which featured the museum director from the Falkland Islands where the vessel has been shipwrecked for over a hundred and fifty years.
Robert has started a project to digitize all historic commerce records from this area. The Thomas Bartram Project seeks to tell the story of some of Fairfield’s earliest days, when our newly formed nation was emerging as an independent economy. The story is told through transactions as detailed in the three volumes of merchant account log books. These manuscripts have now been digitized through a fund raising effort and are just now at the stage of transcribing, which will be done according to scholarly best practices. The account books consist of over six hundred pages, over ten thousand lines of script, and include a who’s who of Fairfield’s earliest families who did business with Bartram. Today we still know very little about early 19th century Fairfield and this project will help us gain insight.
March 6, 2017