The true price of slavery

Kenyeh (Kagne) the little gitl at the top right of the page, is the African who stayed with Charlotte Cowles

Kenyeh (Kagne) the little gitl at the top right of the page, is the African who stayed with Charlotte Cowles

When the men and children aboard la Amistad decided to take over the ship and return home, they initiated one of the more memorable events in Connecticut’s history. Steven Spielberg even made a movie about it. But some people actually lived it, like Charlotte Cowles of Farmington, Connecticut, and we are fortunate that she wrote about it. When the Africans were finally set free, they settled for a time in Farmington, and one of the children, a girl called Kenyeh, lived with Charlotte’s family.

Charlotte’s letters to her brother are full of anti-slavery sentiments and relate her many activities against the institution. She also writes about helping slaves escape north, so we know she knew Africans and African Americans. However, it is not until she meets the Africans from the Amistad, who had never been enslaved, that she truly understands the horrors of slavery. I will let her tell you in her own words: Continue reading

Auction Angst

The auction house said they would call before 11:00 am. It was 11:01 and I was in a panic, only to have the call come in at 11:02. We were bidding on an amazing collection of letters written by a young woman, Charlotte Cowles, of Farmington, Connecticut. We have plenty of other collections of letters, but these were different.

Charlotte, the daughter of Horace Cowles, grew up in an abolitionist home and her family actively assisted runaway slaves on their way to Canada. She attended abolition meetings; she commented on changing opinions in the community; she reported on anti-slavery meetings; and she read anti-slavery literature including the book Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses by Theodore Dwight Weld.

Her comments in these letters, written to her brother Samuel between 1833 and 1841, include the “new” custom of singing at funerals, local elections, the exhibition of an electrical machine, the explosion of the Steamboat Essex, and the arrival of the new minister, Noah Porter. It is these intelligent observations that make this collection truly valuable for local and social history.

The end of the story? We had the winning bid! My stomach did a final flip-flop and my hands were shaking from the adrenaline, but this wonderful collection is coming back to Connecticut, thanks to the CHS and the help of many friends of the Farmington Historical Society. Thank you!

I do hereby sell

No matter how many times I see one, I still get chills. A recent acquisition includes a bill of sale for a slave girl named Dinah. Not only is there the bill of sale, but there is also a certificate of birth attesting that “Dinah a female child born of the body of a female belonging to Zachariah Drum . . . 26th day of June 1808.” Dinah was sold six years later by Drum to Ebenezer Punderson of Red Hook, New York. I think I am saddest about the fact that we don’t know the mother’s name.

The top document attests to Dinah's birth, the bottom one is the bill of sale. Ms 101749, Folder 2.

The top document attests to Dinah’s birth, the bottom one is the bill of sale. Ms 101749, Folder 2.

We have many items in our Research Center, both manuscript and object, that relate to the Punderson family. Click on one of the links and explore what we have on this interesting family. They were most noted for being Loyalists during the American Revolution.

“The Others”

Prejudice is a very difficult topic to discuss without someone getting his or her feelings hurt or emotions stirred. However, that is exactly one reason we recently acquired two rather disturbing (to most modern sensibilities) documents–to tell “the other” side of the story.

In 1899 Margaret L. Shepherd advertised four lectures she would give at Unity Hall in Hartford on October 5 and 6. Two of the lectures were exclusively for women. Her topic? Convent Life Exposed. The threat of the Catholic Church to America in general and Protestantism and women in particular. Her lecture titles were:

  • The Priest and the Woman in the Confessional. Reasons why Protestants Should not Marry Catholics.
  • Does Secret Confession to the Priest and Parochial School Education make Good American Citizens?
  • The Nuns who are the Brides of Christ, and Private Life in the Nunnery
  • Purgatory, Indulgences and Relics. Sacrilegious Frauds for Obtaining Money and Building up Religious Industries.

Shepherd claimed she had been a nun before leaving the order and through these lectures she sought to expose the evils of the Catholic Church. I found numerous newspaper articles claiming that she was a fraud. Two of the four pages of this advertisement are filled with testimonials to her character and veracity. She also published a book on the same subject. Who was the real Margaret L. Shepherd? Was she part of the wave of xenophobia that swept the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries because “too many” foreigners (including Catholics and Eastern Europeans) were immigrating to the United States? Was she, or was she not, a fake?

Margaret L. Shepherd advertises her lectures on the evils of the Catholic Church. Broadsides Medium 1899 C733

Margaret L. Shepherd advertises her lectures on the evils of the Catholic Church. Broadsides Medium 1899 C733

The second document came in a frame along with a photograph of a Ku Klux Klan rally in Stamford and three pamphlets expounding the principles and beliefs of the Klan. I assume from the juxtaposition that this list of men were members of the Klan in New Haven. As a whole, the assemblage is quite frightening by today’s standards. Racism is a word thrown around a lot recently, given that we have an African-American as president, but these items and this list put names and faces on prejudice. These would be great starting points for a discussion of racism and the Civil Rights movement.

First of two pages of a "census" that presumably lists members of the Ku Klux Klan in Connecticut. Ms 10173

First of two pages of a “census” that presumably lists members of the Ku Klux Klan in Connecticut. Ms 10173

These provocative documents and a few more items about the Ku Klux Klan can be seen in our Research center.

I David Barlow, of Sherman

A very recent addition to the collection had me hopping up and down with excitement. We now have  copies of two wills, one written by David Barlow in 1814, and the other by his wife, Sarah Barlow, written in 1822. The couple lived in Sherman, Connecticut.

My original interest in these documents was that David willed “my Negro by the name of Jack” to his wife, along with livestock and cash. Subsequently, in her will Sarah noted that  “to my servant named Jack I give and bequeath one bed and bedding being his bed which he now uses . . . It is also my will that the said Jack shall have his Freedom he being a now a slave immediately after my decease and I hereby emancipate him the said Jack from and after the time of decease.”  Further research revealed that Jack married another Negro servant, stayed in Sherman, and died in 1849 at the age of 83.  Slave-related documents from Connecticut, never mind Fairfield County, are scarce–hence my excitement.

The rest of the will, was equally intriguing.  Barlow was a farmer, but he owned one oxcart, a wagon, a sleigh, and two chairs.  Not the transportation one equates with a farmer.  Research on him did not uncover much, except that on the grand list of Sherman in 1790 he was taxed $600.00, which was one of the highest assessments at the time. So, we have a rather rich man.

Sarah was also a surprise. To her granddaughter Sally Barlow she left her gold beads, and to granddaughter Sarah B. Hubbell, she left a bureau, a large dining table, one tea-table, two looking glasses, one set of silver tablespoons and one set of silver teaspoons. Again, not what one would necessarily expect on a farm. The actual estate inventory is part of the document, and provides a bit more insight.  However, we need to find more information on the Barlow family to fill out their story. Were they active in town government, state politics, the church? As is often the case, I have more questions than answers at this point.

Stonington, Connecticut.

One of the largest collections cataloged for our grant project was the Stonington selectmen’s records, 1792-1903.  The collection, measures 30.25 linear feet (61 boxes) and dates from the entire 19th century, the bulk of the records are from the 1880s and 1890s. Earlier records, from the 1820s, have yielded names of colored people (a term often used to refer to Native Americans) and Negroes living in town. Later records detail purchases of groceries for the poor, schoolhouse expenses, and labor for highway repairs. Each month the selectmen would submit their bill to the town, complete with all their receipts. Earlier submissions were entirely handwritten, but by the 1880s the majority of the documentation was written on pre-printed forms.

Among the more interesting discoveries was that supplies for the poor were divided among the five voting districts, with the second district receiving the most assistance. Also, dog owners were fined if their dog killed or injured a sheep.  By 1890 the fine for this offence was up to five dollars per sheep.

Also of interest are many bills for town residents enrolled at the Connecticut School for Imbeciles and those receiving services at the Connecticut State Hospital. There are several mentions of town residents being treated for small pox. A list, compiled during the Civil War, provides the names of substitutes drafted to serve in place of Stonington residents.  MS 70293