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.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Slaves In Greenwich: A Founding Family's Descendant Documents History

The Advocate (Stamford), by Thomas Mellana, Staff Writer
Sunday, October 9, 1994. Page A5.

In 1767, Greenwich resident David Mead, Sr., a member one of the town's founding families made a sale to his son.

A record of the transaction still exists in the Town Hall records room.

David Mead, Sr.,  that year sold his son a boy. A 14-year-old boy named Jack who was a slave.

While no record of other slaves sales in Greenwich exist, evidence of other slaves does.

Estate inventories and manumission decrees, documents by which owners free their slaves, show that at any one time, dozens of slaves lived in town in the 1700s and early 1800s.

According to the federal census taken in 1790, 49 residents in Greenwich owned a total of 80 slaves. The town population that year was 3,175.

Jeffrey Mead, a free-lance writer and 12th generation member of one of the town's founding families, is completing a book on the subject called Chains Unbound: Slave Emancipations in Greenwich, Connecticut, which he plans to publish in December.

 Mead has spent many hours since May pouring over records at Town Hall and at the Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich. Having known for a long time to slavery had existed here, Mead said he still found things that shocked him.

Once, when he was looking over his ancestor Ebenezer Mead's estate inventory from 1812, he saw the listing for a "negro." Ebenezer, one of the Meads who owned slaves, was the only direct ancestor of Jeffrey who did, he said.

"When I saw that, I was a bit shocked," Mead said. "But that's what you'd see listed -five brooms, five oxen and a negro girl."

"You can see very clearly how they were regarded as property," he said. "It just brings it home, if you will."

 Mead first heard about slavery Greenwich years ago from a relative in Massachusetts, who owns a painting of an old Mead home on the corner of Indian Field Road and East Putnam Ave. The owner of the unsigned painting told him it was done by Hester Bush, "who was the daughter of her freed slave." 

"That was one of the first things that got me interested in the subject of slavery in Greenwich." Mead said.

Town Hall records show that Hester's mother, Candice Bush, "a sleeve of Fanny Bush of said Greenwich, is a proper person for emancipation," of January 3, 1825, by "We, the Civil Authority and Selectmen of the Town of Greenwich County of Fairfield."

Candice was freed under a state law mandating slaves be freed after their 25th birthday. It's not known what she did after being emancipated.

Although it's not known when she died, Candice's tombstone in Union Cemetery is thought to be the only remaining stone of a slave's grave in Greenwich. Buried next to her is Hester, who lived from Jan. 6, 1807 to March 2, 1864. Hester's stone reads, "Dedicated to my mother."

Mead, an expert in Greenwich's 65 burial grounds, said he believes there is a slave burial ground in part of the Old Burial Ground of Byram, off Byram Shore Road, but no stones are visible anymore, and he has been unable to find a document confirming the graveyard.

There were few slave still left in town by the time Candice Bush was freed in 1825. Most were emancipated between 1795 in 1816, according to Mead.

At the time of slavery in town, a strong Abolitionist movement was centered in North Greenwich and the Stanwich area. It was fueled by two things: the Second Great Awakening, a period of active religious revival; and the aftermath of the Revolutionary War.

"It was odd to have this republic based on freedom from tyranny and have slaves running around," Mead said.

The abolitionist movement was very active, said Mead, who has records of anti-slavery speeches and letters. Josiah Wilcox, great-great-great-grandfather Greenwich resident Elizabeth Willis, harbored runaway slaves in his home on Riversville Road, about a half-mile north of where the Merritt Parkway is now.

Mead said he believes there was probably an active underground railroad here, but little proof exists.

"There was no documentation of it," Mead said. "Because if you were caught with runaway slaves, it could be used against you in a big way."

Slave owners were concentrated in Cos Cob and the shoreline areas of town where slaves worked on the docks and in marketplaces, Mead said.

The resident who owns the most slaves, according to the 1790 census, was David Bush, who lived in the Bush-Holley House on Strickland Road. The back wing of the house, which is now home of the Historical Society, was then a separate building with a kitchen and sleeping accommodations for Bush's slaves.

The richest man in Greenwich, Bush owned almost all of what was then Greenwich's main business -warehouses, stores, docks and a grist mill across from the Bush-Holley house. Many of his workers were slaves.

According to an inventory of David Bush's estate dated June 13, 1797, he owned 10 slaves, worth a total of $625, ranging from men Jupiter, worth $150, and Cull, $125, to little girls like Lucy, worth $2.

Bush was not an ancestor of former President George Bush, who was raised in Greenwich.

There is no evidence that slaves were regularly traded in town, Mead said.

"In fact I know there was not an auction block in Greenwich where people were paraded around in front of bidders," Mead said. "The only places I know of where they would have done that were New Haven or New York."

And there are no diaries of freed slaves describing the conditions in which slaves lived. There are no signs of a slave rebellion here or evidence of slaves being put on trial, which would indicate they were not tortured, he said.

"Then again, the whole concept of slavery means they were mistreated," Mead said. "It was a barbaric thing to do."

Slavery was not as widespread in Greenwich as elsewhere in the state, In Connecticut, it was centered around the New London area, where the shipping and whaling industries were concentrated, Mead said.

Although Connecticut took the first step toward emancipation in 1774, when it prohibited importing slaves, it did not outright ban the institution of slavery into 1848. The 1840 census showed 17 slaves left in the state, none in Greenwich.

Connecticut, though, lingered well behind other New England states in ridding itself of slavery. Most others did it years before, and all at once. The reason for this was the same as why slavery prospered in the South until the Civil War -there was money to be made it. "The whole basis for slavery is economic."

The last slave freed in Greenwich, Mead said, was Willis Reynolds, who was owned briefly by Ard Reynolds, a member of the Stanwich Society and the Federal Republicans, an abolitionist political group.

An ardent abolitionist, Ard Reynolds was brother of Heusted Reynolds, a slaveowner from North Carolina. When Heusted died, Ard "inherited" Willis in 1838. Horrified, Ard emancipated him immediately.

"We don't know what happened to Willis," Mead said. "After that, he didn't stay in Greenwich that we know of."

Mead plans to publish 100 or 200 copies of his book Dec. 1. At $12 per copy, he hopes it will be used as a reference book by libraries, schools, historians, and whoever else might be interested.

"I'm hoping a whole cross-section of people and institutions will purchase it," he said. "And I hope that other people also look into histories of slavery in their areas. It's something that is untouched in any local history."

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