In 1995 I published my first book 'Chains Unbound: Slave Emancipations in Greenwich, Connecticut.' My original intention was for it to be used as an educational resource. This is an online companion site that I've created, especially for those of you utilizing online resources and smartphones. I've also included additional items and news articles not found in the 1995 edition. Jeffrey Bingham Mead, Historian and Author. October 13, 2014.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Chapter 2: He Bringeth Out Those Which Are Bound With Chains (1995 Printed Edition)

Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 
Exodus 13:3

The path to emancipation taken by the few local Greenwich residents who held slaves was tied in with legislative enactments originating in the colonial and state legislatures. Some, but not all, were certainly motivated by a moral and religious sentiment that the slaves ought to be free. 

The Quakers were among the first to denounce slavery in Connecticut. Others throughout the state proclaimed their advocacy for manumission in the latter 18th century after the end of the Revolutionary War.

In the end Connecticut pursued the path of gradual emancipation, a path mostly influenced by economic and political concerns. 

The American Revolution was the single most important cause for the decline of slavery in 18th century Connecticut. The momentous shifts associated with  the political, economic and religious convulsions before the rebellion against Imperial British rule influenced the status of slavery.

Some slaves were allowed to serve in a number of the Continental regiments, though there is no record of any slaves in Greenwich serving as such. The incentives for service included offers of land and freedom. Blacks were not segregated into separate detachments. But in the end many whites opposed arming black slaves, and there was the problem of restitution to owners since slaves were considered property.

This quagmire proved to be one of the strangest ironies of the cause for American independence and liberty throughout the new Republic. 

Just prior to the beginnings of the Revolution the Assembly in October, 1774 banned the importation of any Indian, Negro or Mulatto slaves into Connecticut as follows:

Whereas the increase of slaves in this Colony is injurious to the poor and inconvenient...that no indian, negro or molatto slave shall at anto be disposed of, left or sold within the same, or who knowing such slave or slaves to be so imported and brought into this Colony shall receive or purchase them, or any of them, shall forfeit and pay to  the  Treasurer of this Colony  the sum of one hundred pounds, lawful money, for every slave so imported, brought into this Colony, received or purchased... and that it shall be the duty of all constables and grand-jurors to enquire after and make presentment of all breaches of this act. (1)

The earliest known documented manumission of a slave in Greenwich occurred on February 2, 1776. Robert Field, a Quaker farmer living in the outermost area of northwestern Greenwich, freed his slave named Cuff. The certificate states that:

Considering the Case of Negroes now in Slavery believing they Should be free do hereby declare my negro man Cuff to be free and that henceforth he shall be free and at Liberty from me and my Heirs Executors & Administrators as if he had never been a Slave. (2)

In October, 1777 the Assembly passed another piece of legislation concerning slaves:

Be it enacted...That if any master or owner of any servant or slave shall apply to the selectmen of the town to which he belongs, for liberty or license to emancipate or make free any such servant or slave, it shall be the duty of such selectmen to enquire into the age, abilities, circumstances and character of such servant or slave, and if they, or the major part of them, shall be of opinion that it is likely to be consistent with the real advantage of such servant or slave, and that is is probable that the servant or slave will be able to support his or her own person, and that he or she is of good and peaceable life and conversation; such selectmen, or the major part of them, shall give to the owner or master of such servant or slave a certificate under their hands of their opinion in the premises, and that the master or owner of such servant or slave hath liberty to emancipate and set at liberty such servant or slave, he, his heirs, executors and administrators, shall be forever discharged from any charge or cost which may be occasioned by maintaining or supporting the servant or slave made free.  (3)

This legislation did not require any master or owner to set free their slaves or servants. It did provide for a legal procedure by which such masters and owners could acquire a certificate subject to the approval of the town Selectmen. This legislation also relieved the former master or owner of any obligation to support the emancipated slave or servant. 

The next manumission in Greenwich took place about two years later. Francis Nash, also residing in northwestern Greenwich

"set my negro woman named Catherine free... at Liberty & free to act as a free Agent for herself as clear from me or mine as I am able to do..."  (4) 

This was recorded in the Greenwich Land Records on April 2, 1779, one day after it was signed and witnessed. Catherine was set free, as the manumission certificate affirms, to support herself independently without any obligation to Francis Nash, her former owner. This apparently reflects the intent of the October, 1777 statute passed by the Legislature. 

In 1784 the Connecticut legislature added the following clause to the Act Concerning Indian, Mulatto, and Negro Servants and Slaves: 

"Sound public policy requires that the abolition of slavery should be effected as soon as may be consistent with the rights of individuals and the public safety." (5)

This amendment ordained that all children of slaves, regardless of the status of the parents, both in the State of Connecticut after March 1, 1784 would not be held in servitude after attaining the age of 25 years. The new legislation did not free any slaves in bondage at the time,  but it awarded to their children the status of apprentices until age 25 years when they would become free. (6)

Those slaves born before March 1, 1784 would die off, and thus slavery would eventually vanish. 

Six years later, with the first Federal Census of 1790, the statistics show that there were 2,759 slaves and 2,801 freed persons in Connecticut. (7) 

The October, 1788 session of the General Assembly included further work on matters concerning gradual emancipation and abolition of slavery. 

In "An Act to Prevent the Slave Trade,"  (8) the legislature forbade Connecticut citizens and inhabitants from engaging either directly or indirectly in the slave trade. The penalty for violation of this law was fifty pounds per person and five hundred pounds per vessel used in the transportation of slaves. 

Furthermore, it was forbidden for anyone to transport out of Connecticut, 

“any free Negro, Indian or Molatto, or any Person entitled to Freedom at the Age of twenty five Years, Inhabitants or residents within this State, or shall be aiding or assisting therein, and be thereof duly convicted shall forfeit One Hundred Pounds..."  (9)

This act went further, however, by adding "that nothing in this Act shall operate to prevent Persons removing out of this State for the purpose of residence from carrying or transporting with them such Negroes or Molattoes as belong to them, or to prevent persons living within this State from directing their Servants out of this State about their ordinary and necessary business." (10)

In order to comply with the mandates set out in the October, 1784 legislation, a clause was added to the "Act to Prevent the Slave Trade." Passed in 1788, it required the owners of slaves and servants in each town to report to the town clerk the names and other pertinent facts regarding their children born after March 1, 1784:

"...That all Persons who now are or hereafter shall be possessed of any Child or Children born after the first Day of March 1784, and which by Law shall be free at the Age of twenty five Years, shall within six Months from the rising of this Assembly, or within six Months after the Birth of any such Child deliver or cause to be delivered to the Town Clerk of the Town where such possessor belongs the name of such possessor as also the Age, Name and sex of every such Child or Children on Oath to the best of his or her knowledge under the Penalty of forty shillings, for each and every month neglect to be recovered before an Assistant or Justice of the Peace the One half to the Complanent and the other half to the Use of the poor of the Town where such Child or Children Live." (11)

Evidence of compliance with this law can be found in the early vital records in the Greenwich town clerk's office. These records are registered in manuscript form and contain the first genealogical information known concerning Greenwich's slave population and their children. 

The following entry is recorded for children of slaves of David Bush of Cos Cob: (12)

Phillis, daughter of Patience...............born April 6th AD 1789
Milley, daughter of Patience.............born April 12th AD 1791
Rose, daughter of Patience................born May 15th AD 1793
Lucy, daughter of Patience.............born 27th of August 1795
Nanny, daughter of Patience..............born 10th of April 1798
Cull, son of Patience..........................born 2d of April 1801
Jack, son of Candis.......................born 18th of March 1802
Hester, daughter of Candis..............born 6th of January 1807

Samuel Bush, a son by David Bush and his first wife, has the following children of slaves listed in the record books: (13)

Bob, son of Moses.........................born December 23, 1785
Tack, son of Moses............................born November, 1787
Ellen, daughter of Jude...................born November 25, 1793
Jack, son of Ellen..................................born April 2, 1814

Dr. William Bush was a younger brother of David Bush. The children of slaves in his household were: (14)

Platt...................born July, 1789
Candis................born July, 1791
Diana..............born April 9, 1793
Rose..........born January 21, 1795

William Knapp was the son-in-law of David and Sarah Bush. Mr. Knapp had five children of the slave woman Milla listed in the record books: (15)

George, son of Milla..........born Dec. 13th 1792
Jenny, daughter of Milla, born January 18th 1795
Eleanor, daughter of Milla...born 13th Dec. 1798
Rachel, daughter of Milla..born 23d of May 1800
Alfred, son of Milla... born March 15th AD 1804

Henry Grigg also has a listing for children of a slave: (16)

Abbe, daughter of Flora...................born April 5th AD 1784
Pena, daughter of Flora.........born December ye 22d AD 1788
Charles, son of Flora, born March ye 13th AD 1793

Jared Mead's name also includes a list of children of slaves in his household: (17)

Prue, daughter of Jared Mead's wench Sib, was born on the 16th day of August AD 1790.
Lucy, daughter of do, was born 18th July AD 1792
Joe, son of Prue, was born on the 8th day of September AD 1812
Dorcas, daughter of Lucy, born August ye 22d AD 1812

Israel Knapp was the owner of Knapp Tavern, today known as Putnam Cottage. Mr. Knapp also registered the names and birth dates of several slave children: (18) 

Jenny, daughter of Israel Knapp's wench Nelly, was born ye 25th day of June AD 1789.
James, son of do, was born March ye 14th AD 1791.
Nero, son of Prue, was born 9th day of June AD 1815.

In May, 1792 the Connecticut legislature once again acted upon matters of slavery. A new law passed which totally forbade the transportation out of state of any slave for the purpose of selling. The penalty for violating this law was 100 pounds. (19)

In addition, the legislature established legal procedures by which a master or owner of a slave could willingly emancipate and make free a slave: 

Be it Enacted...That any Master or Owner of any Slave shall be disposed to emancipate and make free such Slave, and shall apply to any two of the Selectmen of the Town to which he belongs, it shall be the Duty of said Authority, or Authority and Selectmen, as the Case may be to enquire into the Health and Age of such Slave, and if they find upon examination that such Slave is in good Health and is not of greater Age than forty five Year or less Age than twenty five Years said Authority, or Authority and Selectmen shall give to the Owner or Master of such Slave a Certificate thereof under their Hands...and if the Master or Owner of any Slave shall on receiving such Certificate emancipate and set at Liberty such Slave he his Heirs, Executors and Administrators shall be forever discharged from any Charge or Cost which may be Occasioned by maintaining or supporting the Slave made free as aforesaid; Provided that the Letter of Emancipation and Certificate shall be recorded in the Records of the Town where the Master of such Slave resides. (20)

It is this piece of legislation which seems to have given the few in Greenwich who held slaves the incentive from a legal point of view to free them. This statute discharged and exempted former-slave owners from supporting their former slaves in cases where the freedmen or freedwomen were unable to support themselves. Most of the manumission certificates entered in Greenwich records cite this law in the wording of the texts. 
In 1797 the Assembly reduced the age of manumission from 25 years to 21 years: 

"That no Negro or Mulatto Child, born within this State after the first day of August, 1797, Shall be held in Servitude longer than untill he or She arrive to the age of twenty-one years; Notwithstanding the Mother or Parent of Such Child was held in Servitude at the time of its birth, but such Child at the age aforesaid Shall be free…" (21)

Most of the emancipation of slaves in Greenwich took place during the years 1795-1816. One unique record of an emancipation registered the freeing of two married slaves by Jabez Fitch in 1796. (22)

Some others were mandated by last wills of former owners, as in the case of the estate of Lucy, widow of Moses Husted, Jr. (23)

Greenwich's last emancipation occurred in 1838 under unusual circumstances. 

Heusted Reynolds was born in Greenwich and moved to the Town of Windsor in Bertie County, North Carolina. Mr. Reynolds died a bachelor in 1837. In his last will and testament he states the following order:

"I direct and desire my Executors... to sell at public sale all my lands and real property of every description, and all my negroes and personal property..." (24) 

Heusted bequeathed to his brother Ard in Greenwich a gold watch with chain and all his clothing. Other members of the Reynolds family and their Close family cousins in Greenwich received money from the estate. That seemed to be the end of it.

Heusted requested to be entombed in a "Patent Cement Coffin" and buried with the other deceased members of his father's family in Greenwich. 

It is not hard to imagine the jolt the Reynolds family and their Close family cousins in Stanwich suffered when the executors of the estate arrived in Greenwich with the body of Heusted Reynolds -and an unsold slave from North Carolina named Willis. 

The reason Willis was not sold is not known. Ard, Harriet and Elizabeth Reynolds as well as Tompkins Close Jr., and Sally Close -all being the legatees of Heusted Reynolds' estate and acting on behalf of the minor children- agreed to immediately "Emancipate said Willis Reynolds and relinquish all our ownership and claim to him or his property and declare him a free person to all intents and purposes...."  (25) 

Willis Reynolds disappeared and his life after emancipation remains a mystery.
It was not until the year 1848 that Connecticut finally passed legislation which provided for immediate and total emancipation and abolition of slavery forever. 

According to the 1840 Federal Census there were only 17 slaves left in Connecticut. Given the arrangements mandated by the laws for gradual emancipation in 1784 these 17 slaves in all likelihood were of advanced age. 

The emancipation process in Greenwich, like elsewhere in Connecticut, was an uneven one. Freedmen like Cull Bush, Frank Husted and York Mead stayed in town as farmers and laborers. Land records contain transactions involving them in the buying and selling of real estate. The offspring of the newly freedmen and women attended public schools and churches in town. None were segregated, and although blacks were citizens, none had the right to vote until after the Civil War. 

Though the last slave was freed in 1838, the preoccupation with slavery and emancipation did not end.

FOOTNOTES 1995 Printed Edition

1   Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, Volume 14, 1772-1774, (Hartford, 1887), page 329.

2   William E. Finch, Jr. Archives, The Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich. This certificate was presented by Mary

3   Public Records of the State of Connecticut. Volume 1, 1776-1778, (Hartford, 1894), pages 415-416.

4   Greenwich Land Records, Volume 11, page 15.

5   Acts and Laws of the State of Connecticut (New London, 1784), pages 233-235.

6   Ibid., page 235.

7   Federal Census, 1790.

8   Records of the State of Connecticut,Volume 6, 1785-1789, (Hartford, 1887), pages 472-473.

9   Ibid., page 473.

10  Ibid., page 473.

11  Ibid., page 473.

12  Early Greenwich, Connecticut Vital Records, Volume 1, page 145.

13  Ibid., Volume 1, page 150.

14  Ibid., Volume 1, page 147.

15  Ibid., Volume 1, page 144.

16  Ibid., Volume 1, page 145.

17  Ibid., Volume 1, page 144.

18  Ibid., Volume 1, page 144.

19  Records of the State of Connecticut, Volume 7, 1789-1792, (Hartford, 1887), page 379.

20  Ibid., page 379-380.

21  Public Records of the State of Connecticut. Volume 9, 1797-1799, (Hartford, 1953), pages 38-39. 

22  Greenwich Land Records, Volume 13, page 653-654.

23  Connecticut State Library and Archives: Stamford Probate Estate Papers, Box #35.

24  North Carolina State Library and Archives:Windsor, Bertie County Probate Estate Records.

25  Greenwich Land Records, Volume 23, page 457.

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