Source: Connecticut Post. February 26, 1995, Page A6
by James G. Clark, Staff Writer
A study of colonial history reveals a very different Fairfield County. For instance, not only was the region more rural but slavery was part of every day life.
According to the 1790 census -the first such accounting of the new nation- there were 2,764 slaves in the state, making Connecticut the largest slaveholding state in New England.
While most of the slaves in Connecticut were concentrated in the New London area, mainly because of the shipping industry, virtually every organized town in the state had some slaves. The Fairfield-Stratford area had nearly 300 slaves and, according to a new study, the town of Greenwich had approximately 80.
Slavery in Greenwich is the subject of a new book, "Chains Unbound: Slave Emancipation in the Town of Greenwich Connecticut." Jeffrey B. Mead is the author, and he should know a lot about Greenwich-he is a direct descendent of the Mead's, a prolific family the first settled the town in 1640.
During this research, Mead discovered at least one of his ancestors had indeed been a slaveholder.
Speaking recently at the Burroughs Library in Bridgeport, Mead said, "There were hundreds of slaves in the 1780s, more than people realize."
While Greenwich today is perceived as a bastion of upper-crust white Anglo-Saxon residents, during the colonial era it was much less polish. Its earliest settlers primarily were marginal farmers.
Mead's book sets the tone for the times, detailing which land owners held slaves, their names and values, as well as the emancipation record of each slave.
While slavery was widespread throughout Connecticut, Mead said its citizens were never comfortable with the concept. A mixture of religious fervor and changing laws of the state made for gradual emancipation of the slaves. The first known emancipated of a slave in Greenwich was on February 2, 1776 and the last occurred in 1838, according to Mead's book.
The General Assembly was slow to react to the slavery issue. In 1784, the legislature passed a law that freed the offspring of slaves once they reached the age of 25, and later reduced that age to 21. In 1792 the legislature forbade taking slaves out of the state to be sold. But it wasn't until 1848 the General Assembly passed a bill providing for the immediate, total emancipation and abolition of slavery forever. According to the 1840 census, by that time there were only 17 slaves left in the state.
Freeing the slaves was also a part of the Second Great Awakening that swept through the state from 1800 to 1870, according to Mead. Perceived decay in the state's moral fabric was taken up by the likes of the Rev. Lyman Beecher -the father of Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin" -and other ministers who with "fire and brimstone" sermons told slaveholders they were doomed to hell if they continued to own slaves.
Mead said the freed slaves lived alongside the landed white class and what was initially a relatively unsegregated community. Many former slaves or their descendants served in the Union Army during the Civil War and attended church together since the first church of the black community wasn't built in to the late-1880s. Mead said many blacks owned farms and dealt in real estate, the age-oldl business of Fairfield County.
Many moved from Greenwich to live in the White Hills section of White Plains, where their descendants still live.
Mead, a teacher and genealogist, said the slave records in the state are fairly accurate since each slaveholder was required to record births and deaths.
"It can be arduous, but you have to be patient with yourself," Mead said of doing research on family histories.