Collection of Incoming Correspondence to Guy R. Phelps (and others), Secretary, later President, of the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Co., of Hartford, Connecticut, 1847-1868

431 letters, 510 pages, dated 1847 to 1868. The bulk are dated 1847-1851, with 3 letters dated 1852, and 1 letter dated 1868.Of these 431 letters, there are 380 incoming letters to Guy R. Phelps of Hartford. Phelps also wrote several of these letters. Also, there are 12 letters written to James Goodwin of Hartford, President of Connecticut Mutual; 26 letters written to one of the company's directors, James A. Ayrault of Hartford. Other directors written to are E. A. Bulkeley of Hartford, (2), Robert Buell of Hartford, (1), and Woodbridge S. Olmsted, Esq. of Hartford, (1). There are also letters written to Dr. Lewis F. Gallup of New Bedford, Massachusetts (1); Joseph H. Davis of Hartford, (1); Amos B. Meritt of Boston (1); and S. C. Bemis, Esq. of Springfield, Massachusetts (1). As well there are 5 other miscellaneous incoming letters written to the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company. Almost all of the letters are folding stamp-less letter sheets, written in ink, in legible hands.

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The letters are written by various agents of the company, or directors inquiring about policies, applications, premiums, and other business related information for the policyholder, or potential policyholder, or about the business in general. One of the agents writing regularly is E. B. Pratt of Boston. Most of the letters are written from individuals throughout New England and, the Midwest and Middle Atlantic states. Besides agents of the company, various individuals write to Phelps inquiring about potential policies, or pitching ideas for expanding the company, or seeking to establish agencies in potential emerging markets. There are also interesting letters on insurance policies that touch on the historical events of the day, like the risks of writing policies for those caught up in the California Gold Rush, the Mexican War, and a Cholera outbreak. The letters give excellent insight into the day to day operations during the early years of one of America's pioneering life insurance companies.

The Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Co., Hartford, Connecticut (1846-1996)

The three leaders in the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Co. were an attorney E. O. Goodwin, a carriage manufacturer Elisha B. Pratt, and a doctor turned apothecary, Guy R. Phelps. These three men associated with others (Thomas K. Brace, Robert Buell, David S. Dodge, Edson Fessenden, James A. Ayrault, Eliphalet A. Bulkeley, Lorenzo B. Goodman, Nathaniel H. Morgan, Nathan M. Waterman, and Henry L. Miller), and constituted the first board of directors for the new company. Two of these men, Phelps and Pratt, figure prominently in this collection. Most of the letters offered here were written to Phelps, the company's Secretary. Elisha B. Pratt, of Boston, wrote a number of these letters.

The years 1843-1846 saw the birth of the first life insurance companies in the United States. The Mutual Life of New York began writing business in 1843, the New England Mutual in 1844, the Mutual Benefit, New York Life and State Mutual in 1845, followed in 1846 by The Connecticut Mutual, the first life insurance company chartered in Connecticut. All of these companies were pioneers. No one of them could have received the benefit of any experience gained by another. Each was based on the purely mutual idea.

The officers or directors of Connecticut Mutual who received incoming letters in this collection, include: James A. Ayrault, director 1846-1849; Robert Buell director 1846-1848; Eliphalet A. Bulkeley, director of 1846-1848, president 1846-1848; James Goodwin, director 1847-1878, president 1848-1866, 1869-1878; Guy R. Phelps director 1846-1847, 1857-1869; president 1866-1869; Woodbridge S. Olmstead, director 1869-1871.

The company existed under its own name for 150 years- it merged with Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. in 1996, forming at that time the fifth largest mutual life insurance company in America. Connecticut Mutual appears to have given up its name in the merger, coming under the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance name after the companies consolidated.

Guy Rowland Phelps (1802-1869)

Guy R. Phelps, long time secretary, and one time president of the Connecticut Mutual, was born on 1 April 1802 at Simsbury, Connecticut. Most of the letters offered here were addressed to Phelps. Phelps was the son of Colonel Noah A. Phelps and Charlotte Wilcox. Guy's early schooling was received at Simsbury and Suffield, after which he attended Yale College, graduating in 1825. He was briefly a teacher, while studying medicine. He was licensed to practice medicine in New York and after some time there moved to Hartford to practice. Failing health caused him to give up his medical practice, and he then established an apothecary shop in 1837.

Phelps married Hannah Latimer on 17 April 1833 at Simsbury. She was born in 1801 at Simsbury, the daughter of Waite Latimer and Hannah Pettibone. Together Phelps and his wife had at least four children: Antoinette Randolph, Maria Augusta, Guy Carleton, and Guyana Rowland.

Phelps was 44 years old when The Connecticut Mutual was founded in 1846. The great work of Dr. Phelps' life was the organization, establishment, and nurturing of the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company - and it was he who conceived the plan under which the great success of this company was achieved. In 1846 the company was organized, Dr. Phelps became the first secretary, and while the corporation was struggling in the beginning he even swept out his own office and brought kindling wood from home to save the company on expenses. He carefully studied insurance matters in all its phases, and not long afterward made a special trip to Europe to investigate the workings of the Old World companies, and on his return to America incorporated with his own plans all the features of value he had found. He wrote the charter of the company, which was adopted practically word for word as composed by him, and fought for two sessions in the legislature to have it granted. Though not the originator of the "mutual" system used in insurance, Phelps is said to have done more than anyone else to elucidate and popularize it.

Phelps was elected President of the Company in 1866, after being a founder and Secretary (1846-1866) since its beginning. He served as President only three years (1866-1869), dying in office. Guy R. Phelps died on 18 March 1869. His wife survived him until 28 May 1873. Both of them are buried at the cemetery in Simsbury where at least five generations of both husband and wife’s families were also buried.

Guy Rowland Phelps was also instrumental in helping to found Connecticut General, another insurance firm whose early president was Edward W. Parsons, a one-time director of Connecticut Mutual. Connecticut General dates back to 1865, when Phelps, one of the founders of the Connecticut Mutual Company, saw a need for "substandard" insurance, or life insurance for poor risks. Originally the new firm was to be called Connecticut Invalid, but because of concern that the word “invalid” could be read in two ways, it became Connecticut General Life Insurance Company and began to insure healthy lives along with substandard risks. Two years later the company withdrew completely from insuring higher risks and, through conservative management, survived a period when many other life insurance companies failed.

Connecticut General (CG) and the Insurance Company of North America (INA) merged in 1982 forming CIGNA. Other activities of Dr. Phelps were membership in the Freemasons and Odd Fellows.

Sample quotations from the letters:

The Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company was one of the early insurance companies that insured those men caught up in the California Gold Rush as shown by the following letters:

"Auburn, Jan'y 13, 1848

"J. A. Ayrault, Esq,

Dear Sir...I have had two or three applications for Life Insurance from young fellows going to California. Not knowing whether you would be willing to take that class of risks, nor in case you will take them, what additional premium you require I write for information. If you will answer me at your earliest convenience you will much oblige...T. M. Pomeroy"

"Sing Sing Mar 28th 1849

Guy R. Phelps, Esq.

Dear Sir...Your favor of the 20th inst is at hand, you may forward to my address at Goshen, Orange Co., New York the pamphlets, blanks, etc. necessary for a commencement of operations - with instructions as to employment of physician &c. Do you wish me to take any California Risks, if offered, if yea, what is the extra premium to be charged....L. L. Lockwood"

"Lyme, Aug 24/49

G.R. Phelps, Esq.,

Dr Sir...Hope we may go through the Cholera Season & the California risk without using any more than regular earnings of the year, but suppose it is pretty doubtful if we can do it...O.J. Lay"

"Guy R. Phelps, Esq.

Dr Sir...Enclose you will receive George A. Emerick application for risk for California to sail in the steam ship Georgia the 13 may with a ticket to San Francisco - He refers to Doc't Sherman his last family physician for four years of Sheffield, Mass but, on the examination of the examining physician, and his next friend being a neighbour and his statements can be relied on, I would not delay his application to send & wait until I could hear from Doc't Sherman, and if it should be necessary at any other time can get it in 4 or 5 days...J. Wells White, Hillsdale, NY, Apr 22, 1850"

Another letter concerning insurance applications for men going to California shows the difficulties of the shipment of the insurance policies when one depended upon the stage coach:

"Norwich City, Jan'y 17th, 1849

Dear Sir...A Gentleman of my acquaintance has just come in with my bundle of policies from the stage house where he found it, he paid 25 cents stage fare for it on my behalf, we felt very much disappointed by your communication in station to the cutting down, and also that no other California applications would be received for I had four more persons examined by our company physician and had got two of them completed with applications written out and signed copied from a borrowed blank from another office and was going right on to write out the others to send on to you immediately.

I wrote you both on Monday & Tuesday evenings & sent two in by telegraph that the papers had not come - It seems the stage driver is hardly to be depended on, I was informed the bundle came by the yesterday stage. I suppose the drivers change & probably the stages on the way and where the bundle has been laying I cannot divine. - Your telegraph communication stated that it was sent by mail on Friday, therefore I did not think of quizzing of the stage driver, I suppose the mail would be safer & perhaps the express for a large bundle the best of either & that comes every day. I have just been to the stage office to enquire for the bundle which your letter of the 16th speaks of but it has not come & thou they were so kind as to tell me the other had lain there ever since Saturday evening and if they left it at Hartford perhaps you might recall it - I was going to enclose 3 or 4 applications this eve but from your letter conclude it will be useless...Stephen Coit"

Another letters shows the opportunities the company had for expansion:

"Danbury, April 6th, 1849

Mr. Ayrault...When I was in Ridgefield last week I saw Rev. M. Hawley who is a minister of the Congregational Church of high standing & excellent abilities; he said that he was going to the state of Illinois in the month of May as a delegate3 from the General Association of Conn & that he would like to lecture on the subject of Life Insurance and establish some agencies in some of the most prominent places in Ill & Iowa; he is  a man that is a ready off hand man & would do the subject justice should you think best to give him a moderate compensation. He is well acquainted with that state having spent many years of his life there & knows its most prominent places; he says thus he will also present the subject before the combined association of clergymen in the state of Ill & Iowa & thus they will scatter the information throughout the extent of both states. Mr H wishes me to inquire what offer you could make to such a prospect & write me as soon as possible. Yours in haste, L. C. Hoyt."

One letter touches on a returning physician who served at the Jalapa Hospital in Mexico during the Mexican War:

"Norwich City, 11 Oct 1848

Guy R. Phelps, Esq.,

Dear Sir...Solomon Payne Esq. of Canterbury obtained insurance on the life of his son Elisha Payne dated 19th Jan'y 1847 for the term of Seven Years for $1000, annual premium nine dollars seventy cents, George Perkins Esq. agent at that time.

Mr. Elisha Payne went to Mexico, a physician, and was in the hospital at Jalapa, he being absent his Policy was not renewed in Jan'y 48 - he returned to Canterbury about the 5th July last - he now wishes to renew his Policy if you will allow him to do so - his father tells me he is in good health....Stephen Coit."

One letter shows how the company worked when there were epidemic outbreaks:

"Cincinnati Agency, May 21st, 1849, Cincinnati Agency

Guy R. Phelps, Esq.

Dr. Sir...Yours bearing date 16th inst I rec'd this day noon - as regards the Cholera there is not the slightest cause for alarm now neither do I think there has been for any who are prudent and decent care of themselves. I sent you dispatch today for more papers and also a dispatch from Dr. [Vathier] our physician here who is a member of the board of health. I had determined not to take applications from this city if the Cholera made an indiscriminate attack upon our citizens until I had instructions. The worst day we have had has not proved fatal but to eleven & those, ¾ at least from the bowls & sick of pollution. This city is believed now since Mill Creek has been taken in is estimated to contain at least one hundred & ten thousand inhabitants. You will see at a glance that we are not in danger to any extent...for 2 days there has been only 28 cases & 7 of which proved fatal, for the last 24 hours our death only has occurred 2 we think now we are as good as over...Joseph J. Davis"

Another letters shows that Phelps' company required a special permit if you were going to travel by steamer to Europe:

"Office of Conn. Mutual Life Ins. Co.

New York, March 12th, 1849

Guy R. Phelps, Esq., Secretary

Dear Sir...Wm. H. Beebee who is insured for $3000 by Policy No. 1850, wants a permit allowing him to go to Europe. He goes by the Steamer "Washington," and wants the permit immediately. Yours Respectfully, James W. Judd."