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COLT: LEGEND & LEGACY

LEFT TO DIE

THE MARK OF UNCAS

SCHEMITZUN!

USS NAUTILUS

CONNECTICUT

AS WE TELL OUR STORIES

BETWEEN BOSTON & NY

CONNECTICUT  & THE SEA

CRUSADERS & CRIMINALS

EAST OF THE RIVER

FROM HERE TO THERE

THE GREEN

THE NEW PEQUOT

SUBURBIA

SAM & ELIZABETH

HOSLEY: Colt was by 1852 a international celebrity. He’d made it. And he began summering, spending the height of the summer season in Newport, Rhode Island, partly for leisure - mostly for business. Newport became the meeting ground of the international "glitterati" of the 1850’s and especially large concentrations of military, southern and political figures.

NARRATOR: In the summer of 1852, Sam Colt met 25-year-old Elizabeth Hart. the daughter of a very prominent and affluent socially connected Newport family.

HOSLEY: They were utterly devoted to each other. There was a real sense of partnership there. And she didn’t need the money. The Jarvis family had plenty of money in their own right, but I think to a daughter of an Episcopal Minister Sam Colt was exciting. And she brought instant social credibility and respectability to a guy who’d been controversial. Sam Colt was married at the age of 41, which is certainly late in life by the standards of the period.

BLANCHFIELD: They were married in 1856. On their honeymoon they travel all over Russia, they travel all over Germany, they go to England and they've been more places than most people of their time. And at that time, in the 1850's, travel was a pretty exotic thing to do and, of course, when the Colts traveled, they traveled well. They traveled on the nicest steamer that existed at the time. And so they're traveling around, they're bringing back reminders and souvenirs but, also, examples of the arts and the culture of these places that they're visiting and they're bringing all this back to Hartford.

HOSLEY: The period between 1856 and 1862 is the most settled period and the most domestic period in his life. I mean, he really is already successful. And he loves his children. He absolutely loved family life. He loved Armsmear, this mansion. He loved his gardens. And he wanted to smell the roses.

NARRATOR: For all their prosperity and contentment, the Colts suffered more than their share of human tragedy. During their five years of marriage they lost two children to illness. A third was to be stillborn and the two remaining children would predecease Elizabeth .

For Sam Colt, the success he had craved and had achieved would ironically contribute to his death at an early age just after the outbreak of the Civil War.

BLANCHFIELD: He was under a tremendous amount of stress because he was very successful and he was trying to build on that success. He was doubling the size of the armory, and the factory was running 24 hours a day. He had been ill with gout for a couple of years before that.

HOSLEY: The rumor was always that Sam Colt had died of syphilis, which is almost certainly not true. I think the big picture is that Sam Colt died almost of exhaustion clearly there were natural causes - the gout, rheumatism, that did him in. This was a guy that was falling apart. His wife - Elizabeth herself described Sam as never having fully recovered from the death of his first daughter. I mean, what a fascinating contrast to the image of the rampant Colt - this macho persona.

NARRATOR: Sam Colt died in January 1862 at the age of 47. Elizabeth buried him on the grounds of his beloved Armsmear, next to his two infants.

HOSLEY: Elizabeth, as was the custom of the day, remained home and watched the funeral from the boudoir at Armsmear.

"I see the workmen at the tomb, preparing a last resting place for him. It seems as if ‘the main spring is broken’ and the works must run down."
--Elizabeth Colt, 1862

HOSLEY: There was a sense of just shock at the factory that this guy was so inseparably connected to the company. He was the company. His persona was mounted on its roof, his name was over the door. He had built this thing from nothing. He was lionized as one of the American originals, one of the great, you know, inventor industrialists of his age. Who would pick up the reins and carry on?

NARRATOR: By the time of his death, Samuel Colt had made and sold almost one million guns, more than anyone before. How would Colt’s empire, fame and reputation endure after his death?

Elizabeth, his 35-year-old widow, had been married to Sam or just five and a half years.

HOSLEY: In the end she is alone and of course one of many reasons why Elizabeth becomes Hartford’s greatest philanthropist is because she has no direct heirs to leave the fortune to. But it was also out of sense of civic love that she does these great things.

 


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Last modified: September 03, 2012