Touchstones with History: Slavery in Connecticut

12/21/2015

Touchstones with History: Slavery in Connecticut

Tombstone of Nero Hawley
The tombstone of former slave Nero Hawley in Trumbull. He served in the Revolutionary War as a substitute for his owner, Daniel Hawley, and was emancipated for it in 1782.
Photo in public domain
Touchstones with History logo
Touchstones with History: An occasional series of CTUCC.org

by Rev. John Van Epps

HARTFORD (12/21/2015) -- This month marks the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the United States, which ended with the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution on December 6, 1865.

Slavery was considered a Southern problem, their "peculiar institution," but it existed in Connecticut for over 200 years, right from early in our beginning. Many people owned slaves well into the 1700s, often as domestic servants or field hands. Connecticut profited greatly from the triangle trade of molasses, rum, and slaves; our many textile factories depended on the cotton harvested by slaves in the South. By the start of the Revolutionary War, Connecticut had about 6,000 slaves, the largest number in New England.

Slavery in Connecticut did not begin to decline until the Revolutionary era, with its promise of "liberty and justice for all" - or some, with reservations! After years of rejecting emancipation acts, the state legislature finally approved a law in 1784 allowing for the gradual emancipation of slaves. Children of slaves were to be freed at the age of 25. With this act, and changing views, slavery declined: slowly. In 1790 there were over 2600 slaves in Connecticut. By 1831 there were still 23 slaves in the state, and it wasn't until after 1840 that the last slave was freed.

Slavery was not officially abolished in Connecticut until 1848, just seventeen years before it was abolished in the whole country.

Abolition of slavery did not mean equal rights. In the 1700s, blacks were not allowed to own property in many towns. Education of black children was inferior, if it existed at all. We all know the story of Prudence Crandall, who attempted to establish a school in Canterbury to educate black girls in the 1830s, but it was closed by the passage of a state law: the Black Law.

A proposal to establish a college to educate blacks was proposed for New Haven in 1831, but was rejected by its residents by a vote of 700 to 4. The state legislature voted in 1814 to deny the right to vote to all blacks. For the next forty years, the legislature rejected several petitions to grant the right to vote to blacks. This denial of black suffrage was not struck down until the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment to the US Constitution in 1870.

The Rev. John Van Epps is Archivist for the Connecticut Conference UCC.