A story of sunshine and shadow: Elizabeth H. Colt and the crafting of the Colt legacy in Hartford

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University of Delaware
Elizabeth H. Colt’s life and legacy has been largely overshadowed by that of her husband, Colonel Samuel Colt. Although recent scholarship has retrieved her name from obscurity, the full extent of her legacy has not been fully considered. This thesis aims to further understanding of Elizabeth Colt who, following the tragic losses of her husband and children, used material objects to memorialize their lives. Working with some of the most talented artists and architects of her time, Mrs. Colt crafted a material legacy in Hartford ensuring that the memory of her deceased family members would live on indefinitely. Using primary sources such as personal correspondence, journals, and architectural renderings, and drawing from period newspaper articles, the meaning and symbolism behind these memorials themselves becomes far more evident. Examination of the art and architectural works she commissioned provides a more comprehensive understanding of Elizabeth Colt’s desires, emotions, and personal life. Situating her within the context of nineteenth-century mourning culture, it is clear that Elizabeth Colt was at once the every woman in her strong sentimentality and desire to to memorialize her loved ones but, with seemingly unlimited financial resources, was completely unique in the memorial objects she crafted. The buildings and works of art that Elizabeth commissioned remain integral to the Colt legacy in Hartford today, and preserve the names of her husband and children. By understanding their design, and the events that led to their creation, however, these objects also speak volumes about the life and legacy of Elizabeth Colt.