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Mason Cogswell To John Braidwood, April 20, 1812

From: Letters By Mason Cogswell
Creator: Mason F. Cogswell (author)
Date: April 20, 1812
Publication: Father and Daughter: A Collection of Cogswell Family Letters and Diaries (1772-1830)
Publisher: American School for the Deaf
Source: Yale Medical Library


The first school dedicated to deaf education in the British Isles was established by Thomas Braidwood in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1760, and the Braidwood family became leaders of the field in Britain. Their approach emphasized teaching oral speech rather than sign language. Mason Cogswell of Connecticut, interested in education for his daughter Alice, contacted John Braidwood in 1812. John, Thomas's grandson, had come to the United States with the idea of establishing a school. Cogswell hoped he would become the first instructor of a Connecticut institution, a position that would eventually go to Laurent Clerc. The following letter is Cogswell’s first attempt to bring Braidwood to Connecticut. Thomas Gallaudet traveled to London to see the Braidwood methods, and it was on that trip that Gallaudet would meet Clerc.

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City of Hartford, Conn.


April 20, 1812.


Mr. Jn Braidwood --


Sir: You may be surprised to receive the address of a stranger, who has no other knowledge of you except what he obtained from a paragraph in the National Intelligence which he read for the first time last evening. But you, Sir, will know how to appreciate the motive which influences my conduct, when I inform you that I have a daughter, who belongs to the class of unfortunate beings, which has claimed so much of your solicitude and attention. The feelings of a Parent, I presume, you must often have witnessed on similar occasions, and I doubt not but you will readily forgive the intrusion, while I express an anxious wish, to know something respecting your future plans, on this interesting subject. My daughter is between 6 and 7 years old and if I may be allowed to express my opinion respecting her, possesses talent which may be cultivated to advantage and a desire to learn. Since her sickness which occasioned her deafness and which happened when she was about 2 years of age and after she had begun to talk, I have felt the importance of establishing a school for the instruction of the D & D; and I am now associated with a Doctor Gilbert, a respectable attorney in this vicinity for the accomplishment of so desireable an object. He has five children as unfortunate as mine. We have taken measures to ascertain the number of deaf and dumb in this State. This information we shall receive the next June, when we intend to apply to the legislature of the State for pecuniary aid, to promote the completion of our design; and it is the opinion of the best informed gentlemen with whom I have conversed, that a sufficient appropriation may be obtained from a school fund, already established, and in operation, and under Legislative control to support an Instructor, until the Institution would support itself. Our wishes may make us too sanguine on the subject, but I cannot entertain a doubt that a few years would amply reward a competent Instructor, for whatever pains he might bestow on a plan of such extensive benediction and utility. Allow me, Sir, to inquire if you have determined on the favoured spot which shall be the theater of your future labours? Or whether you intend visiting the various States, before you fix upon any place in which to commence your benevolent work? Will you not deem me impertinent if I inquire still further whether an Institution of this kind can be as eligibly established in the large cities as in the smaller ones? The Honorable C. Goodrich to whose care this letter is intrusted, is acquainted with my family. I refer you to him for whatever information you may wish respecting me and mine.


Should you, at any time visit the New England States you will almost of course pass thro' this place and while I anticipate the event, you will permit me likewise to anticipate the pleasure of your becoming one of my family for a few days at least.


That you may be prospered in your benevolent undertaking is the sincere wish of


Your friend and Serv't


Mason F. Cogswell, M.D.