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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces an article in
The Journal of Negro History
Vol. 2 No. 1 (Jan. 1917), pp79‑82

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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 p79  Notes on Connecticut as a Slave State

On June 17 Mr. E. B. Bronson, the Winchester historian and president of the Winchester Historical Society, delivered before the woman's club and the students of the Gilbert School an address on "Connecticut as a Slave State." The address in part was:

"The caste system was in full being in church, business and social life. There was no more question about his right of keeping slaves than of his owning sheep. The minister — the leader and aristocrat of his day — invariably owned his slave or slaves. Even the heavenly-minded John Davenport and Edward Hopkins were not adverse to the custom, and Rev. Ezra Stiles, one time president of Yale college and later a vigorous advocate of emancipation, sent a barrel of rum to Africa to be traded for a 'Blackamoor,' because, he said, 'It is a great privilege for the poor Negroes to be taken from the ignorant and wicked people of Guiana and be placed in a Christian land, where they can become good Christians and go to heaven when they die.' Religious freedom was an inherent right of the mind, but slaveholding was a matter of the pocketbook, and an entirely different proposition in the Puritan eyes. The fact of the matter is, he kept them because it paid.

"The high-water mark of slavery in Connecticut was reached in 1774, and thereafter steadily declined. To speak in the Billy Sunday vernacular, 'Connecticut had hit the sawdust path.' The number of slaves rapidly decreased from 6,562 in 1774 to only 2,759 in 1790, and 10 years later, in 1800, there were only 951 slaves in the state. Still the good work went on, and in 1810 only 310 were left. In 1820 but 97, and in 1830, 200 years from the commencement of the evil system, there were only 25 slaves owned within Connecticut's borders. In 1840 there were 17. In 1848 Connecticut experienced a full change of heart and enacted a law forever doing away with this blot upon her fair escutcheon, and emancipated all slaves remaining in Connecticut. At this time there were but six slaves remaining in bondage within the state.

"Throughout the whole history of this slavery thraldom in Connecticut, some curious laws were passed, showing that the Puritan was not fully satisfied with the situation. In 1702, there  p80 was enacted a law which arose from the practice of turning loose a slave who had broken down, and was of little use, and abandoning him, thus forcing him to care for himself. This law obliged the last owner of the slave and his heirs, and administrators, to pay for the care of these wrecks of humanity. In 1711 it was further enacted, that in case the former owner refused to give the care required, the selectmen of the town where the owner resided, should care for the needy slave, and collect with costs from his owner. In 1774 it was enacted the 'no Indian, Negro, or mulatto slave, shall at any time hereafter be brought or imported into this state, by sea or by land, from any place or places whatsoever, to be disposed of, left or sold, within this state.'

"In 1784, a law was passed which provided that no Negro or mulatto child born after March 1, 1784, should be held in servitude beyond the age of 25 years. In 1797, a further enactment released all colored children from slavery, when they 'had attained the age of 21 years.' Connecticut gradually was 'coming to her own' again. Even the ministry received a change of heart, for in 1788, the general association of ministers of Connecticut declared the slave trade to be unjust, and that every justifiable measure ought to be taken to suppress it. In 1789, Connecticut shippers were prohibited from engaging in the slave trade anywhere.

"One of the interesting points to note in this gradual metamorphosis is that as the number of slaves gradually diminished, the number of free Negroes correspondingly increased, showing that but comparatively few left the state. The caste system was in full force everywhere. It was very evident in the church. For years the system of 'dignifying the pews,' as it was termed, was practiced. That is, assigning seats to the different members of the parish by a committee appointed for that purpose. For a man must go to church whether he wished to or not, and pay his share of supporting the minister, by a tax laid upon him and collected by the town. Social standing secured the first choice of seats, wealth the second, and piety the last. In this assignment one or more pews were 'set off' away up in the top of the gallery for the slaves of the social leaders and ministers. At the First Congregational church, Winsted, there were two pews thus 'set off' in the gallery, and they were so high up that they were called 'Nigger heaven.'

"In 1837, a number of enthusiasts were invited to meet in Wolcottville (now Torrington) to organize a county abolition society.  p81 Upon looking for a place of meeting, they found that every church, public and private hall, was closed against them, and also heard public threats of violence if they persisted in attempting to hold a meeting, from the proslavery element of the town. A barn was offered them as a meeting place and promptly accepted. The barn was filled, floor, scaffold, haymow and stables, by these disciples of abolition. It was a very cold day in January, and much suffering resulted in spite of their warm zeal. Roger S. Mills of New Hartford was appointed chairman, and Rev. R. M. Chipman of Harwinton secretary, and Daniel Coe of Winsted offered prayer. The following officers were appointed: President, Roger S. Mills; vice-presidents, Erastus Lyman of Goshen, Gen. Daniel Brinsmade of Washington, Gen. Uriel Tuttle of Torringford and Jonathan Coe of Winsted; secretary, Rev. R. M. Chipman of Harwinton, and treasurer, Dr. E. D. Hudson of Torringford. While being addressed by an agent of the American society, and suffering from extreme cold, they were attacked by a mob of proslaveryites who had paraded the streets of Wolcottville and had elevated their courage with New England rum. They gathered around the barn which was near the Congregational church, yelling, blowing horns, thumping on tin pans and kettles, and ringing furiously the church bell, and finally, by brute force, broke up the meeting which took a hasty adjournment.

"When the people were leaving Wolcottville the entire village seemed to be a bedlam. Dea Ebenezer Rood was set upon while in his sleigh, and some of the mob endeavored to overturn him and cause his horses of the run away. But the blood of his Puritan ancestors became rampant, and in defiance he shouted: 'Rattle your pans; hoot and toot; ring your bells, ye pesky fools, if it does ye any good,' and plying his whip to his now frantic horses he escaped the mob.

"Torringford street arose in its anger and might, at this insult, opened her church doors, and the abolition convention held session there for two days. Although there was great opposition on the street at this new move, there was no other demonstration.

"Inspired by Dea Rood's defiance, the abolition spirit blazed high, and monthly meetings were held in barns, sheds, and groves, throughout the county. These enthusiasts were called all sorts of opprobrious names such as, 'Nigger friends, and disturbers of Israel,' and some were excommunicated from the churches. These  p82 were indeed stirring days; Connecticut had received a change of heart, and in her ecstasy had forgotten her own sins.

"Even our own village did not escape unscathed. A pastor of the First Congregational church who had strong antislavery principles, dared to preach an abolition sermon one Sunday from his pulpit, and the next morning the village was flooded with a 'Broadside' demanding the people to rise, and teach this disturber a lesson, and not allow such sins to be perpetrated in their midst. A copy of this sheet was even nailed upon his own doorway, and is now deposited in our historical society, and is worthy of your perusal.

"Even the historic cannon now reposing in our historical rooms was used to break up 'pestilent abolition meetings' in our own midst. Thus I have endeavored to give you some idea of an interesting phase in the history of our Commonwealth, that may not be familiar to all, and which I would term as a Connecticut mistake." — The Springfield Republican, June 18, 1916.

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