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William Edgar Simonds PDF Print E-mail

William Edgar Simonds was born in Canton, CT in 1842, the youngest of three children. His father, a descendant of Daniel Webster, died suddenly three years later, leaving the family destitute. William attended the public schools of Canton and went to work part time at the Collins Company. There was no public high school in the town at that time, but somehow he managed to matriculate and eventually graduate at the New Britain Normal School. He graduated in 1860 at the age of 18 and began working as a school teacher.

In August 1862 he enlisted as a private in the 25th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. Not long afterwards he rose to the rank of Sergeant Major; rapid advancement for anyone with some education was common in the Civil War. At the Battle of Irish Bend, LA on April 14,1863 he received a battlefield promotion to 2nd Lieutenant for heroism. The 25th CT was sent forward by General Weitzel as skirmishers. They ran into heavy musket fire from the edge of some woods plus Confederate artillery and fire from the Confederate gunboat Diana. Although this was their first test under fire the volunteers, led by men like Simonds, stood their ground. Later, with increased support and under severe crossfire and an attempted flanking movement by the rebels, they advanced and drove the Confederates from the field and forced the blowing up of the gunboat, capturing 60 prisoners, some horses and many small arms in the process. Of 350 men in the regiment entering the fight 86 were killed or wounded and 10 were missing, a 27% casualty rate. Simonds was later wounded at Port Hudson, the last Confederate bastion on the Mississippi, which surrendered 5 days after Grant took Vicksburg. Some 25 years later, when Simonds was commander of the CT Department of the GAR he received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism. The citation reads that he "displayed great gallantry, under a heavy fire from the enemy in calling in the skirmishers and assisting in forming the line of battle."

After his discharge in 1865 he entered the Yale University Law School from which he graduated in 1865. He immediately began to practice law and quickly developed an interest in patent and trademark law. He married Canton native, Sarah Jane Mills after his graduation and opened an office in Hartford. He was elected to the CT General Assembly in 1882, serving as chairman of the committee on railroads. The next year he became Speaker of the House. Yale Law School granted him a teaching position in the field of Patent Law and he was called upon to give lectures on this subject, while still maintaining a private practice. In 1888 Simonds was elected to the US House of Representatives, where he helped protect farmers' rights in opposing the McKinley Tariff. He was very instrumental in passing a bill that created the first international copyright law; for this he was France made him a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1891. He was unsuccessful in a second bid for Congress, but President Harrison appointed him as US Commissioner of Patents.

After 1893 Simonds returned to his practice of patent law and his life in the old Mills homestead on Simonds Avenue. He was active in Union veterans' affairs and many of his badges and medals, including the Legion of Honor are on display in the Canton Historical Museum. He died in 1903 at the age of 60.

 

Hours of Operation

Summer Months:
(April through November)
Wednesday - Sunday 1 - 4 PM

Winter Months:
(December through March)
Saturday and Sunday 1 - 4 PM
or by special appointment.

Admissions:
Adults $4.00
Seniors $3.00
Children (ages 6-16)  $1.00
Tours: Available by appointment
starting at $20 based on size of group

Images of the Museum

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