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 3: Awakenings and Abolition (1995 Printed Edition)

“The signs of the times appear to indicate that the "Great Battle" is soon to be fought... Some learned men think the witnesses are soon to be slain, & that the mother-land of our Pilgrim Fathers is to be a place of the great battle of God Almighty.” 
                                                                                     Congregational Missionary Amos Starr Cooke 
                                                                                     in Hawaii, November 1, 1842, from a letter 
                                                                                     addressed to Deacon Silas Hervey Mead of 
                                                                                     North Greenwich Congregational Church.

On June 17, 1788 the General Association of Connecticut, the state organization of Congregational ministers, proclaimed the trading of slaves to be unjust and that all steps should be made to extinguish it.  (1)

In September it was voted that Elizur Goodrich, Jonathan Edwards and Samuel Wales would be a committee to compose an address and petition to the General Assembly, "that some effectual Laws may be made for the total abolition of the Slave Trade, to be laid before this body at their adjournment hereafter determined. " (2)

The next day an outline of this petition was presented and accepted. Dr. Edwards and Dr. Wales were then appointed the task of sending the petition to the General Assembly in October. The resulting legislation prohibited Connecticut citizens from engaging in the slave trade.

The attitude favoring the abolition of slavery was acceptable enough in 1790 when "The Society for the Promotion of Freedom, and for the Relief of Persons Holden in Bondage" was formed. Yale president and theologian Ezra Stiles was elected its president. In 1791 it sent off a petition to Congress calling for abolition "from a sober conviction of the unrighteousness of slavery." (3)

The path toward total abolition of slavery on a national scale would not be so  seemingly graceful. In 1818 church and state were legally divided in Connecticut, but the distinction between the two in the political and ecclesiastical exercise of its citizens were not so detached. The 19th century brought unforeseen challenges with consequences for the nation as a whole. The influence on the emancipation of the slaves was significant. 

The inception of the 19th century in America also brought the dawn of the most intense and formative period of Protestant revivalism to date. From 1800 to 1870 spiritual fires were fervently re-ignited within and outside parishes across Connecticut and beyond. The ramifications were enormous in Greenwich, across Connecticut and the rest of the nation.

The Second Great Awakening was the intellectual and spiritual turning point. The emotionally  charged revivals were paralleled by strong intellectual unrest.  Social upheavals provoked by a decay in the moral fabric of society were widespread.   

This was occasioned by falling church attendance, said to have been as low as ten percent, widespread alcoholism and toleration of slavery. Defying God's word against immorality, engaging in gambling, imbibing in alcohol, as well as buying and selling slave men and women for profit were all seen as clashing with the general well-being of religious people. Slavery went from being tolerated to effectively equated with Satanism. 

Many humanitarian and social reform movements flourished in this period. Missionaries were sent to other parts of North America, Africa, Asia and islands in the Pacific.  The temperance movement was started. Education became a cornerstone of everyday  life . Spreading the word of God was of paramount importance. Freedom of thought, ingenuity and creativity burst forth like a tidal wave across America. 

An early 19th century watercolor of the Second Congregational Church by Mary Mason (1808-1833)
Image credit: Greenwich Historical Society. 

This period saw the creation of the largest number of churches in Greenwich history. The North Greenwich Congregational Church, Christ Episcopal Church, Calvary Episcopal of Round Hill, the Round Hill Methodist Episcopal Church, the First Methodist Church, Diamond Hill Methodist, Banksville Baptist and others large and small were established. Revivals were carried on, and those members not abiding by the teachings of the churches were sometimes brought up on charges; some members were expelled for infractions.

One of the most famous luminaries of the Second Great Awakening in Connecticut was Rev. Lyman Beecher. The father of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," Beecher was invited in 1829 to preach at the Second Congregational Church in Greenwich. He was an enthusiastic Calvinist who fostered the revivals and thought himself to be empowered by Almighty God to prepare for the Second Coming of Christ. 

Beecher assailed unbelievers, alcoholism, slave holders, Unitarians and Catholics, too. He ardently justified Calvinist tenets. He held that believers under God's absolute control who repented their sins could do so on their own free will and deemed it their responsibility to do  so immediately. Of slavery he said,"Were it in my power to put an end to slavery I would do it; but it is not. I can only pursue the measures best calculated, in my judgment, to get the slaves out of bondage in the shortest time, and the best manner...is to make emancipation easy instead of difficult." (4)

The Town of Greenwich did not have any independent anti-slavery groups. Efforts to abolish slavery were concentrated in the town's churches. The center of such efforts appear to have been concentrated in the Second Congregational Society and in the Stanwich and North Greenwich Congregational societies in northern Greenwich. According to early references there was a group of about 13 men engaged in the Abolitionist cause.

Shubal Brush of Stanwich was one of Greenwich's most gifted 19th century orators. Born in 1801, Brush was an active member of a debating group that met during the 1850s. He was an intellectually gifted thinker whose convictions and principles on a variety of subjects were deep-felt. He was the eldest son of Benjamin and Rachel Brush, and great-grandson of Rev. Benjamin Strong, the first Pastor of the Stanwich Congregational Church. A tanner by trade, he lived and worked near the original site of the church at the corner of Taconic and North Stanwich Roads.

The Brush Lockwood House, 1795, residence of Abolitionist and Orator Shubal Brush, Greenwich, Connecticut. 

The following excerpts are taken from one of his addresses on the issue of slavery:

I am surprised to find men intelligent in the 19th Century claiming and asserting that the Word of God sanctions Slavery as it now exists in this Nation...But the Abbetors of Slavery have attempted to construe His Word and Work to prove Slavery is of Divine Origin...Is not Slavery a sin, yes it is a great National Sin. But we are told the Word of God sanctions Slavery, or in other words, that it does not prohibit Slavery as it now exists. And we in which He authorizes the Slave Trade as it now exists in this Nation. Who I ask does not know that Robbery and Murder are inseparately connected with Slavery as it now exists…

The very idea of becoming a Land or Sea Pirate, to capture Human Beings to sell into Slavery to American Slave Masters fills the mind with Horror. And should I charge any or either of the Abbetors of Slavery as now pursuing such a course, they would denounce me as a vile slanderer attempting to bring them into disrespect by the vilifying of their characters...I should be dragged before some Earthly tribunal to answer for such rashness...God sooner or later  will arrange the Business with all who charge Him or claim it is His will that the System of Slavery should exist.  (5)

This is a photocopy of an original manuscript excerpt (reduced size) from
and address delivered by Shubal Brush in a debate on slavery, circa 1850-60.
(Brush Family Papers, The Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich)

Gravestone of Shubal Brush, Stanwich Congregational Church Cemetery. 

Another Greenwich citizen active in the Abolitionist cause was Deacon Silas Hervey Mead. Born in 1796, he was one of the founders of the North Greenwich Congregational Church in 1827. "In the prime of his life he went far and near to hold meetings, that sinners might be saved,” declared his obituary in 1878. "In anti-slavery times he was a radical on the question of human rights as on that of alcoholic drinks, and all in these parts who knew an Abolitonist knew Silas H. Mead.” (6)  Deacon Mead's enthusiasm was illustrated by his gift of the land where the church still meets today.

Deacon Mead had an on-going, long distance relationship with Amos Starr Cooke, a prominent leader of the Congregational missionaries in Hawaii, who lived in Greenwich with his wife Juliette before departing for mission work in the Pacific. 

Amos Starr Cooke, circa 1859, Honolulu. 

Cooke wrote to Deacon Mead in January, 1840 observing that "...we are all Abolitionists, and as fond of being free as you & others are of having the Southern slaves set at liberty. O! Liberty, thou art dear to the missionary & to the Christian..."   (7)

Two years later Cooke wrote again from Hawaii to Mead: "You will probably hear soon, if not already, the stand some of our brethren took, last Spring, on the Anti-Slavery Question. You said but little in your last about that subject. I hope you are not growing cold in it. It is too important a subject to leave alone; and yet it must not be attended to the neglect of its accompanying or similar subjects, which now agitate the Christian church. I see by papers &c that some of our good brethren at home are so zealous in the Anti-Slavery cause that it blinds their eyes...They are all one, & the same thing, to overturn the kingdom of Satan."  (8)

Silas Hervey Mead's gravestone, North Greenwich Cemetery. 

A letter sent by Mead to his friend Cooke in Hawaii, dated November 8, 1842, offers a clue that all was not going well in North Greenwich. Deacon Mead's reply to Cooke's letter of March 29, 1842 spells out his position on his fellow Abolitionists. His religious convictions are clearly the core of his stance on slavery: 

“...Ever since the Meeting house has been closed against the prayer meeting for the slave we have been going down rapidly. The subject of Abolition is gaining ground fast, it was debated in Congress last session in spite of them, for when they put it out of one door the Lord would bring it in at another. For my part I and my family stand very near alone on that subject in our place. You speak about the Abolitionists, I will here just state that their enemies gave them the name of persons of one idea and I for one will respond to that name. I hope I never shall have any other idea only to do God's will without distinguishing whether it is popular or not, and that I believe is true respecting the largest part of the Abolitionists that I am acquainted with. You say you are afraid some of the Abolitionists zeal for that object blinds their eyes to other benevolent objects...I tell you my friend in a general way show me an Abolitionist, and I will show you a strong Temperance man and a strong man for keeping the Sabbath, and a  strong man for God anyway and every way. I'll not vote for it, but against it, nor will I use the products of slave labor as a general thing neither for eating, or wearing, at home or abroad. I must say by that I am opposed to it at all times and places and for anything and everything. And I would say to you hold on against Slavery...You must expect to be persecuted if you oppose the sin of Slavery."  (9)

The year 1850 saw the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law, provoking Abolitionists to provide haven for runaways. Though documentation is not available, Greenwich was a stop along the Underground Railroad. 

Josiah Wilcox House, Riversville Road Greenwich, Connecticut. Image captured Nov. 15, 2014. 

Josiah Wilcox and his family are said to have harbored fugitives in their home off Riversville Road, as did others in northern Greenwich. 

In a letter sent by Deacon Mead to his cousin Obadiah Mead on the subject of harboring fugitive slaves, dated March 5, 1851, Silas H. Mead states: 

“…I have not found any command to obey every ordinance of man. To submit is one thing, and to obey another. So the Apostles thought when they were forbidden to preach in the name of Jesus...I will also call your attention to the sixteenth chapter of Isaiah and the five first verses and to the fugitive slave law and there I think you will find that you and every other person are forbidden to feed or administer to any of the wants of the fugitive slave...if you will then conclude it is best to obey every ordinance of man regardless of any higher law, your heart must be harder than what I now think it is, and it is hardly worth while for you and me to talk anymore on this subject.” (10)

In the archives of the Second Congregational Church there is a book entitled "An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans," by a Mrs. Child. The inside cover includes the signature of Deacon Jonas Mead, dated 1833. 

She remarks that, 

”...fifty years hence, the black laws of Connecticut will be a greater source of amusement to the antiquarian, than her famous blue laws.”   (11)

In less than 30 years young men from Greenwich and elsewhere, both black and white, descendants of slaves and slaveholders, would be called into service to preserve the United States of America and eradicate slavery forever. Some paid the ultimate sacrifice. All Americans were emancipated, but the price for freedom and liberty was high.

FOOTNOTES (1995 Print Edition)

1   Records of the General Association of Ye Colony of Connecticut. Case, Lockwood & Brainerd Company, 1888, page 126.

2    Ibid., page 126-127.

3    Society for the Promotion of Freedom and for the Relief of Persons Holden in Bondage, 1791. 

4    Lyman Beecher Stowe. Saints, Sinners and Beechers. (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1934) page 66.

5    William E. Finch, Jr. Archives, The Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich: Shubal Brush Family Papers.

6    Greenwich Observer, January 2, 1879, page 3, column 3.

7    William E. Finch, Jr. Archives, The Historical Society 

8     Ibid., Amos S. Cooke to S.H. Mead, March 29, 1842.

9     Hawaiian Mission Children's Society Library, Honolulu, Hawaii. Missionary Letters 1816-1900 From Family and Friends, Mead thru Ryder: S.H. Mead to Amos S. and Juliette M. Cooke, Nov. 8, 1842.

10    William E. Finch, Jr. Archives, The Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich: Obadiah Mead Letters, Silas H. Mead to Obadiah Mead, March 5, 1851.

11    Mrs. Child. An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans, 1833. page 214.

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