Julius Deming


Julius Deming in a portrait
by W. Haskill Coffin
JULIUS DEMING (1755-1838) was a leading merchant of Litchfield's most prosperous period. In addition to his various business ventures, Deming was politically active in his town and in the new nation.

Background


Dorothy Champion
Deming

Born in North Lyme, he moved to Litchfield after his 1781 marriage to his first cousin, Dorothy Champion. During the Revolutionary War, he served under Dorothy's father, Col. Henry Champion, the principal assistant commissary general for the Eastern Division of the Continental Army. Deming, who attained the rank of captain of cavalry, was with the convoy that crossed the Hudson River to deliver supplies to Washington's army at Valley Forge.

Business and Public Life

After the war, Deming established himself in trade by obtaining goods directly from England — an unusual practice at a time when most Connecticut merchants got their wares from New York and Boston. Deming's merchandise arrived in New Haven Harbor and was brought by wagon to Litchfield. From there, it were sold in shops owned by Deming and his partner, Col. Benjamin Tallmadge. The two had shops in Litchfield and other towns. In addition to their other goods from Europe and the West Indies, they once imported a cargo of horses from England.

Deming used to travel abroad to personally select goods for import. That ended in 1784, when his ship, the Marsden, wrecked off the coast of Long Island on a return trip from England. Afterwards, it is said, he never returned to sea. Years later, Deming bought shares in the Litchfield China Trading Company. The articles of agreement list Tallmadge, Oliver Wolcott Jr., the future secretary of the treasury, and Frederick Wolcott as the original partners. Oliver Wolcott, Jr. maintained an office in New York City, the location of the port from which their ship —the Trident —set sail. The company lasted until 1814. One local history blamed its demise on the embargo of 1812-13. Concerns were apparent much earlier, though. The Embargo Act of 1807, which remained in effect until 1809, raised concerns about foreign trade which pervaded the endeavor. To allay his brother’s fear, Oliver Wolcott wrote Frederick in January of 1808,

…it is natural for you to feel concern respecting our China Trade. I can assure you, that the danger is less than appears at your distance. No Merchants have failed, who were not insolvent before the Embargo. Large sums are due our concern, but in general they are due from the best men in the City…There is no immediate danger of War & the Ship & Cargo out, are not embraced by any of the decrees of either of the Parties to the War. The Ship & Cargo are insured against all risques even War, in the best offices here & in Philadelphia… Tell Mr. Demming what I write & Keep yourself cool, for I assure you that we are not in any new danger, unless the British perfidiously swept our Commerce from the Ocean, which is not in the least probable.

In April of 1809, Oliver Wolcott announced to his brother, “…we have concluded to send out the Trident with a moderate Investment & to close the existing concern with the depending voyage.” After it’s return in 1810, newspaper advertisements announced “On Tuesday the 12 th June, at one o’clock, Will be sold at Public Auction, at the Tontine Coffee House, the ship TRIDENT, a first rate merchant ship, about 4 years old…” thus concluding the five year enterprise.

Deming's other business ventures included the manufacture of iron and a paper mill in Bantam. Little is known about the mill, but a sample of its paper is in the Historical Society's collections.

Though a family genealogy described him as disliking public life, Deming held several elected and appointed offices. He served three terms in the House of Representatives, along with stints as a magistrate and the county treasurer. In addition, he was a member of the First School Society, a body in charge of both the town's schools and the burying ground. Deming was also instrumental in getting a courthouse built
in Litchfield. In 1798, President John Adams appointed him a commissioner "to provide for the valuation of lands and houses, and for the enumeration of slaves." He was one of 41 such appointees in the country.

The Deming House


The Deming House, photographed
before the addition of the mansard roof.
In 1790, Deming started building his home on North Street. According to various accounts, the endeavor took from two to three years. Slabs of stone — some as long as 22 feet — were dragged in for its construction. According to some stories, oxen carted in shingles from Pittsfield, Mass. and the fireplaces and hardware came from England on Deming's trade ship.

The architect behind this undertaking was William Sprats, whose name is often written as Sprat or Spratt. Research during the last century has uncovered new information about this architect, once thought to be a myth. Born in Scotland, Sprats fought with the British army during the American Revolution. He was captured as a prisoner of war and held in Hartford. It is thought that he was sent to Litchfield, where he eventually settled. Along with the Deming house, his works in Connecticut include the first Litchfield Courthouse (destroyed by fire in 1886) and houses in East Haddam, Westchester and Farmington. Other examples of his work have been confirmed in western New England, and some Hudson Valley mansions have also been attributed to him. The Julius Deming house, however, is considered one of Sprats' best works.

The Deming house remained in the family until 1910. Lucretia Deming, Julius and Dorothy's youngest daughter, used it as a summer home, and the trees she planted gave the house its name, The Lindens. After her death in 1887, ownership passed to her nephew, Julius Deming Perkins. Under his ownership, architect Ehrick Rossiter designed additions to the south and east sides. Subsequent owners have also altered the house. The Mansard roof, for example, is 20th century addition. Today, the house remains a private residence.

The Julius Deming house may be the most copied home in Litchfield. Just a few years after it was built, it was already inspiring imitators. In 1794, Gen. Epaphroditus Champion —Deming's cousin as well as his brother-in-law— spent $10,000 to have the house recreated in East Haddam. He even hired the same architect. In another example, 19th century Connecticut architect David Hoadley is said to have copied the design for a house he built on the Waterbury Green. And during the Colonial Revival period, a contractor had a copy of the Deming house built for himself in New Haven. This most recent look-alike, built in 1929, can still be seen on Livingston Street in the Whitney Avenue Historic District.

Sources

Deming, J.K. Genealogy of the Descendants of John Deming of Wethersfield, Conn. Dubuque, 1904.

Heermance, Edgar L., ed. The Connecticut Guide: What To See And Where To Find It. Hartford: Emergency Relief Commission, 1935.

Trowbridge, Bertha Chadwick, ed. Old Houses of Connecticut, from Material Collected by the Committee on Old Houses of the Connecticut Society of the Colonial Dames of America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1923.

Trowbridge, F.B. The Champion Genealogy. New Haven, 1891.

Warren, William Lamson. "William Sprats, Master Builder— Foreign Trained." Connecticut Art and Architecture: Looking Backwards Two Hundred Years. Hartford: The American Revolution Bicentennial Commission of Connecticut, 1976.

White, Alain C. The History of the Town of Litchfield, Connecticut, 1720-1920, 1920.

Architectural Significance. The New Haven Preservation Trust. 4 November 2003.<http://www.nhpt.org/architectural_significance1.html>.

Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America, 1789-1805, Senate Executive Journal, Monday, July 16, 1798: A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1744-1875. 4 November 2003. American Memory, Library of Congress. <http://memory.loc.gov>.

From the Collections

Manuscripts
Though several collections contain letters to and from Julius Deming, the Quincy Collection is particularly notable. Two examples are transcribed here:

In addition, see the Warren Collection for business documents and the Deming-Perkins Business Papers. Also of interest is the Account Books Collection, which contains Deming's pocket list of expenses kept while he was acting deputy commissary general.