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.
Monday, December 8, 2014
Invisibile Men: New Book by Jeffrey Mead Traces the History of Slavery in Greenwich (1995)
Greenwich Time, Greenwich, Connecticut (1995)
by Peter Davenport
In the fall of 1842, Amos Starr Cooke, a former resident working as a missionary in Hawaii, wrote to Greenwich friend Deacon Silas H. Mead on the topic of slavery. "The signs of the times appear to indicate that the 'Great Battle' is soon to be fought… & that the mother-land of our Pilgrim Fathers is to be the place of the great battle of God Almighty."
The prophetic quote appears in the newly published a book by Jeffrey Mead. Called Chains Unbound: Slave Emancipations in the Town of Greenwich Connecticut, the book assembles a picture of chattel slavery and its gradual dissolution.
Though he is one of the town's most foremost historians, Mr. Mead estimated that "90%" of the research he did was new to him. The history of slavery and emancipations in Greenwich has hitherto been virgin territory, and Mr. Mead admits his book offers insight into only part of the question.
"This book is only one piece of the puzzle," he says. "There is so much more out there."
In its first part, the book examines the institution of slavery in Greenwich. Using town and state records as well as Historical Society archives, Mr. Mead offers a glimpse of Greenwich's slave population.
According to the 1790 Census, 49 of the towns 3,175 residents held 80 slaves. Slaves were often bequeathed upon the owner's death. Citing the 1797 estate inventory of David Bush, "the single largest owner of slaves and Greenwich is wealthiest businessman," Mr. Mead reveals that Mr. Bush (not an ancestor of the family of former President George Bush) left 10 slaves to his heirs, who were "appraised" at $692.
Mr. Mead also broke new historical ground in the area of the emancipations. Aside from printing and indexing all of the town's manumission records in his book, which have been scattered throughout the Greenwich and Stamford Land Records and historical archives, Mr. Mead researched the local abolitionist movement.
"The thing that I found most fascinating were some of the references to the local Abolitionist movement," Mr. Mead said. While historians tend to focus on Abolitionism in big cities, he found that it was also pervasive in Greenwich.
"Based on the information I have at hand, I believe that most of the abolitionist movement was centered in northern Greenwich," he says. Parishioners of the Second Congregational Church in lower Greenwich were also against slavery.
Passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850 made Greenwich a conduit for Southern slaves fleeing north. "Though documentation is not available, Greenwich was a stop along the Underground Railroad, Mr. Mead writes in his book. "Josiah Wilcox and his family are said to have harbored fugitive slaves in their home off Riversville Road as did others in northern Greenwich."
But outspoken families appear to have had a rough time of things. Writing to Mr. Cooke in Hawaii, Deacon Mead mentioned the trouble. "Ever since the Meeting house has been closed against the prayer meeting for the slave we have been going down rapidly," Deacon Mead wrote. "For my part I and my family stand very near alone on that subject in our place."
Backcountry Quakers were among the first to give up their slaves, Mr. Mead said. They were followed by Congregationalists when the Synod declared slaveholding "a sin" in 1788. Most local families, the records indicate, released their slaves somewhere around 1800.
Some families held onto their slaves a little longer, Mr. Mead notes. "I believe the Bushes and Husteds were the last to let theirs go," he says. One reason why the Husteds may have been so late in freeing their slaves, he speculates, owed to the fact that they had no children and may have needed slaves in lieu.
When the General Assembly at Hartford finally emancipated Connecticut slaves and abolished the institution in 1848, there were only 17 left in the state. Greenwich his last true slave, Candice Bush, was given her freedom in 1825. Another man "inherited" from the North Carolina estate was released in 1838, on being presented to shocked Greenwich heirs.
Mr. Mead encourages others to draw from his research and exploring the vast history surrounding slavery and emancipation in town, and adds that publication of his book is probably his last word on the subject.
"I'm moving to Hawaii next month," he said. There he plans to teach and research a new book on Mr. Cooke and the other Greenwich residents who moved to the Pacific during the 19th century to become missionaries.
Copies of Chains Unbound are available at Just books at 19 East Putnam Ave. in Greenwich, or from the author himself by sending a check for $16.84 to Jeffrey Mead, P. O Box 14 Cos Cob, Connecticut 06807–0014.*
*Authors 2014 Note: The book is no longer in print. Please do not send checks; I no longer have that post office box.
Instead, please click this link to the online version of Chains Unbound. It is free and available to all.