The Luther Kingsley Music Book

Historical Article Series May 10, 2020 > The Luther Kingsley Music Book

From the Mansfield Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 53, No. 1, May 2017

Among the treasures in our archives is a small leather bound book containing two hundred and twenty-two eighteenth century secular tunes that were compiled by Luther Kingsley (1774 -1834). He noted inside the cover that he purchased the blank book in 1795 from John Byrne of Windham.  He must have begun his compilation of tunes about that time.  The book contains English, French, Scottish, Irish and American tunes popular during that time.

In the back of the book, there is also a collection of lyrics without music, probably compiled by Lucian Freeman at a somewhat later date. Luther Kingsley married Anna Freeman and the music book passed down through her family.  It was given to the Mansfield Historical Society in 1962 by Ethel Freeman.  

In the 1970s Kate Van Winkle Keller of Coventry examined the book and declared it a rare collection of early tunes.  At the time she was preparing a history of secular music in Connecticut for the Bicentennial series and was also involved with the preparation of a National Tune Index that was published in 1980.  

Luther Kingsley Music Book
A sample page from the Luther Kingsley Music Book. The names of the tunes are “Green Grows the Rushes”, “Blast you Bob’s a dying!”, “The Wilks’ Riggle”, “Sailor Jack”, “The Country Frolick” and “Yankey Doodle.”

She compared the Luther Kingsley music book with Eleazer Cary’s Book dated 1797 and hand copied by “A. Storrs, Scribe.” She found many of the same tunes, sometimes arranged on a page exactly as in the Kingsley book and feels that either one copied from the other or that they had the same music teacher.  Eleazer Cary lived in Willimantic and Norwich, and for a few years in Mansfield. He was known as Eleazer, the Fiddler.

Mrs. Keller made arrangements with the Connecticut Historical Society to have the Kingsley music book copied on microfilm for their collection.   This has helped to preserve our rare volume from being damaged by too much handling.

About Luther Kingsley

This article, written by Roberta Smith, was originally published in the Mansfield Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 16, No. 1: September 1979.  It has been slightly updated by Ann Galonska.

Luther Kingsley, son of Eliphaz Kingsley and Triphena Palmer, was baptized by the pastor of the Scotland Congregational Church August 14, 1774.

Luther grew up in Scotland Parish. He moved to Mansfield about 1803 and married 24-year-old Anna Freeman. The Freemans lived on Spring Hill in the house, known until recently as the Altnaveigh Inn.  (It was purchased last November by Lee Lambert who has renamed it the Spring Hill Inn).

A few years after his marriage, Luther purchased a piece of land directly opposite his in-laws, “on the east side of the Turnpike Road” (Mansfield Land Records, Vol. XV, pg. 255). He paid $33.00 for three-fourths of an acre.  The transaction took place on March 31, 1807. It is likely that he built the house during the following months.

The “Luther Kingsley house” is the cape style house located next door to the Old Town Hall.  It is one of the oldest extant houses on Spring Hill.  It has the added interest of being the birthplace of George H. Gurley, benefactor of our Society whose generous bequest established our endowment fund. Mr. Gurley’s father owned the house from 1882 to 1891 and George was born in the southeast corner bedroom on February 26, 1889.

Luther Kingsley was elected Town Clerk and Treasurer of Mansfield in 1816, positions he held until his death 18 years later.

Various Spring Hill land deeds mention Luther Kingsley’s shop. The exact location of the shop has been a difficult puzzle. From evidence uncovered so far, it was a small building, approximately 18 feet by 20 feet, in close proximity to the house. That it was large enough to be inhabited is ascertained from his diary entry of April 21, 1819, concerning Mrs. Abbe “Moving into the shop” — possibly this small building had a second story.

From a surviving account book we also learn that Luther was involved in an intriguing variety of services: repairing clocks, parasols, harnesses, wheel-heads, warming pans, shuttles, watches, tongs, andirons — mending teapots, earrings and spectacles — making shoes and bridles — stringing beads — engraving teaspoons and even polishing a sword. It appears he was truly a Yankee “jack-of-all-trades.” The account book and diary also provide evidence that Luther was much involved in Mansfield’s domestic silk industry.

Luther and Anna had only one child that lived beyond infancy, a son, Luther Warren Kingsley. Warren survived his father by only 10 years.

Luther Kingsley was certainly not a wealthy man, but in the early 19th century he would have been considered a prosperous one and held notes of over $2,000 from many of the local citizenry.

The inventory of his estate provides additional evidence of his versatility as a workman, with vast numbers of tools and other articles listed in the contents of his shop. He was equipped with tools of joiner, blacksmith, surveyor, watchmaker and others.

That music and reading were a part of his life and household becomes evident from the books listed and the music book the Mansfield Historical Society now possesses.

A piano-forte was listed as his most valuable household possession. It is pleasant to contemplate the simple lovely tunes played on a treasured piano-forte, the notes ringing out over the hilltop of Spring Hill on quiet summer evenings.

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