Page Two: Enslaved Africans in the Colony of Connecticut

The most pressing need in the New World was not freedom, nor tools from England nor corn grown from seed. It was labor. To build this colony required hands to do work, and there were not enough white hands to do it all.

Connecticut was a colony of Great Britain, the greatest slave-trading empire on Earth. England had been buying black people from Africa and trading them for money and goods in the rapidly expanding New World, and some colonists, like the New London slave trader Samuel Gould, dabbled in the trade as well. Connecticut merchants became leaders in trade with the Caribbean, built ships for trading, carried slaves from Africa to the Caribbean and bought slaves from English ships too, in numbers that surprise us today.

With the exception of a few plantation-style farms in the eastern part of the state, colonial Connecticut practiced a kind of “personal” slavery: Many people owned just a single black man or woman, or a married couple, or a small family. Prudence Punderson’s embroidery provides a rare glimpse of an African American “servant” as an integral member of the domestic scene. Marginalized yet ubiquitous, Connecticut’s slaves worked on farms and in businesses, on ships and in households.

The idea that there were slaves in Connecticut brings us quickly to the questions of what kinds of work they did, how many of them were there, and what their lives were like. How much do we know about these people who were so important to our success as a colony and who were, as a group, so often despised?

Actually, we know quite a bit… 

View Samuel Gould’s logbook on the CT State Library website