Page Three:Enslaved Africans in the Colony of Connecticut

Enslaved black men and women and even children appear in the accounts published in old newspapers, court records, diaries and letters. One remarkable captive from Ghana, a man named Venture Smith, left an account of his life in slavery and freedom that is rich with detail.

From the narrative of Venture Smith, from the diary of New Londoner Joshua Hempstead, and from the pages of the New London Summary(among other sources), we know that enslaved people worked on farms, in shipyards, as household servants, and that their labor was often shared among white landowners. We know that they lived in many places throughout the colony, and that their labor was sought-after. When they tried to run away and escape their captivity, their owners advertised for them.

Sometimes they were freed when their owners died, but there is also evidence from wills and probate documents that slaves were passed on through generations of families.

In the mid-1770s, there were about 5,100 slaves in the Connecticut colony and they comprised approximately three percent of the population. Three percent does not sound like a big number, but 5,100 does. It was, then, perfectly legal to participate in the slave trade, to buy and sell enslaved people, and to own them. Indeed, many Connecticut ministers, farmers, and businessmen did. Slave ownership was not the province of just the wealthiest families.

Which brings us back to labor. Throughout the eighteenth century, a new world was being created on this soil. In the South, black people would become identified with agricultural work, with the growing of rice, cotton, tobacco, indigo and other products. Here in stony Connecticut, enslaved black men did work, in large numbers, on farms. But they also built barrels, shoed horses, rolled casks across wharves, dyed cloth and raised barns. The women made medicines, tended children, cooked, cleaned, milked cows and made clothes.

The stories of Connecticut’s captives are embedded in many records that survive from the long ago. They have become shadowy figures to us, their lives and their labors submerged in the narrative of a wealthy colony that later became a wealthy state and a national powerhouse.

But they are there, and if we want to see and understand them, all we have to do is look.  go to documents & activities >>