When Europeans began settling in New England in the mid-1600s, they also began enslaving people here. By the American Revolution, Connecticut enslaved more Africans than any other New England colony. In 1848, Connecticut became the last New England state to outlaw slavery, though enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act continued through the start of the Civil War.
Even when slavery was illegal in Connecticut, industries like boatbuilding and textile manufacturing based here benefited from the use of enslaved labor in cotton and timber production in other parts of the country.
At Connecticut Landmarks, we work to understand how the history of slavery and the fight for freedom and equality continues to impact us today. In 2023, staff worked with local students and representatives of the Witness Stones Project™ to research and memorialize the lives of several individuals who were enslaved at the houses we now operate as museums.
The Witness Stones Project™ is an educational initiative whose mission is to restore the history and honor the humanity of the enslaved individuals who helped build our communities.
The Project provides local archival research, professional teacher development, a classroom curriculum, and public programming to help students discover and chronicle the local history of slavery. The final component of the work in each community is the placement of Witness Stone Memorials™ that honor enslaved individuals where they lived, worked, or worshiped.
Inspired by the Stolpersteine project, and with its blessing, the Project began in Guilford, Connecticut, in 2017, and became a 501(c)(3) in October 2019. The Project has partnered with 94 schools and civic organizations in 50 communities across five states. More than 6,600 middle and high school students and their communities have participated in the Project.