Elias Coomes, in Militia Coat Recently Acquired by Longmeadow Historical Society
Every once in a while, we add a new item to our collection at the Longmeadow Historical Society. This week the History Notes team asked our Board President, Al McKee, to share information about how and why we came to own our newest acquisition: a rare image of Elias Coomes of Longmeadow (1806-1851).
1. How did you come to discover this Elias Coomes image? I monitor several auction sites - both conventional auctions as well as eBay - for any items that may come up that may help the Longmeadow Historical Society better tell local history stories. This one came up on eBay. I spied the image on eBay of a man in militia uniform identified as Longmeadow resident Elias Coomes. The image of Elias Coomes is a photograph from an early Springfield photography studio of an earlier image (daguerreotype).
2. Why did this strike you as something that may be of value to add to the Longmeadow Historical Society collection?
Recently, while preparing for a presentation on the history of Longmeadow residents' involvement in military conflicts, we found that we needed to learn more about the militia. The Militia Act of 1792 provided federal standards for the organization of the militia. This act specified that every free, able-bodied, white male citizen aged eighteen years and under the age of forty-five years shall be enrolled in the militia. The historical society has several militia uniforms and so we went off to the Storrs House Museum to reexamine these items, learn how they had come to the historical society, and try to learn as much as we could about our objects. We identified three uniform coats.
Militia variant of the 1808 uniform adopted by the U.S. Army; c.1810-1820
Collection of the Longmeadow Historical Society
Militia coat c. 1850s Collection of the Longmeadow Historical Society
Militia Coat c. 1830-1840
Collection of the Longmeadow Historical Society
Expert evaluation indicates that the blue coat with flat buttons is a militia variant of the 1808 uniform adopted by the U.S. Army; dated roughly 1810-1820. The red coat with the militia buttons and epaulettes appears to be from the 1850s. The red coat with the ball buttons appears to date to the 1830-1840 period.
3. What is the process for making a decision about purchasing an item?
The Longmeadow Historical Society has collections policies that guide acquisitions and deaccessions of collection objects. When an item of potential interest becomes available for sale or is offered as a gift to the Longmeadow Historical Society, members of our collections committee review the object. We must decide whether it would contribute to our collection, and how it can be used to further our mission to preserve our Town's history and inspire public awareness of the people, places, and events that have contributed to Longmeadow’s history. We must also consider the object cost, our modest collections budget, the item's space requirements, and any conservation, special handling, or storage that the object will need. In this case, the eBay seller was willing to work with us concerning the price of the image and the board voted to proceed with the purchase. Thus the historical society was able to obtain this rare image for our collection.
4. Did you know much about Elias Coomes before finding this image?
No, I knew very little about this member of the Coomes family in Longmeadow.
5. What have you discovered about him since finding this image? Were there any clues within the image that made you curious?
Since acquiring this image of Elias Coomes in his militia uniform, it has led to a great deal of new research about Longmeadow men in the Massachusetts Militia. We have begun to learn information specifically related to this image. For example, the Aug. 16, 1844 issue of ‘The Boston Courier,’ shows Coomes serving as Major of the 10th Massachusetts Volunteer Militia Regiment, attached to the “Fifth Brigade” of Massachusetts Militia, and the Jan. 1847 “Massachusetts State Record and Year Book of General Information: Volume 1” shows that Elias Coomes had been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of the 10th Massachusetts Militia Regiment, which was now comprised of six companies and attached to the “Sixth Brigade, Third Division.” We also communicated with two local militia history experts who confirmed that the coat in the image is consistent with the 1840s- Mass Militia officer's coat. As to the color of the coat, it could have been blue, red, or green.
6. What would you like to learn more about since finding the image?
There is much more to learn about Elias, the man, and his family. He died a relatively young man. His probate indicates that he owned brickmaking machines. I have begun researching brickmaking in general and brickmaking in Longmeadow - in which Elias and his brother Horatio were involved. His probate indicates that he had a large amount of lumber on hand at the time of his death, which is curious and leads to more questions. The probate also indicates that his home appeared to be quite well furnished. Telling history through the stories of past residents of our community makes history more interesting.
7. Now that LHS owns the image, what are your plans for it?
This image has already been incorporated into a presentation that has been developed on Longmeadow at War, and I imagine that an enlarged version may be part of a future graphic panel in an exhibit.
-Contributed by Al McKee and Melissa M. Cybulski, Longmeadow Historical Society Board President and Vice-President
Originally published May 12, 2022