Our exhibit, Making Connecticut, showcases over 500 objects, images, and documents from the CHS collection. “What is this?” posts will highlight an object from the exhibit and explore its importance in Connecticut history every other week. What is this object? What is the story behind it?
This linen banner bears the painted scene of a kneeling African woman wearing a white dress with a red waist sash, amid a tropical scene. An arched legend above the scene features Biblical references, from Isaiah and the Proverbs: “Let the Oppressed Go Free!” and below “Righteousness Exalteth A Nation / Slavery Is A Reproach To Any People.” A motto on the reverse of the banner reads: “Rouse, All, For God And Truth And Man, / Redeem Our Country From Its Shame, Perform The Lofty Deed Of Right / And Give Us Back An Honored Name.“
The image of a kneeling slave—sometimes in chains and sometimes not—was frequently used in support of the abolitionist and anti-slavery cause in the 1700s and 1800s. The figure is adapted from the “The Booroom Slave”, an 1827 oil painting by Henry Thomson copied by engravers and later, lithographers, through the 1830s.
This abolition banner, now in Making Connecticut, was purchased from the estate of Millard R. York of Mystic, Connecticut, who died in 1996. But it appears likely that the banner originally belonged to the family of a Plainfield, Connecticut anti-slavery activist, Rinaldo Burleigh.
The Burleighs were early and ardent social reformers. Rinaldo Burleigh (1774-1863), who devoted his life to teaching, is described as “among the foremost to advocate the abolition of slavery.” A convention about forming a statewide anti-slavery society, held in Hartford in 1838, was advertised in a poster listing the names of nearly 1800 petitioners who supported the proposal—Rinaldo Burleigh was one of them.
Burleigh had five sons and they distinguished themselves in the anti-slavery movement as editors, publishers, teachers, and lecturers. The family also took to other social causes, including temperance and women’s suffrage.
When Rinaldo Burleigh died, he passed down this banner to his son, Lucian; and of Lucian’s children, it was his daughter, Harriet Burleigh Allen and her family, who remained in Plainfield.
The last Plainfield descendant of this line was Harriet’s son, Edward M. Allen, who died in 1955, unmarried and childless. Edward M. Allen left all of his estate, both real and personal, to Millard R. York, the grandson of his longtime neighbor and close friend, Nellie Augusta York.