On May 31, 2022, students from the Wooster School gathered at the Long Ridge United Methodist Church to remember and honor the life of Nimrod Benedict.
On June 7 th, 2022, seventh graders from Woodstock Middle School shared evidence and insights about slavery in the dedication ceremony of a Witness Stone for a young man named Caesar, who was born enslaved in 1784 and raised with three other young men, Cit, Simon, and Prince in the Samuel McClellan home. In 1803, Caesar self-emancipated and his name never appears again in the Woodstock records.
The Woodstock Education Foundation and The Last Green Valley granted seventh grade English teacher, Christine Carter, and social studies teacher, Kyra Lit Schauer funds to research and place a Witness Stone in Woodstock. The Witness Stones Project™, “is a K-12 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 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, permanent landscape markers that honor enslaved individuals where they lived, worked, or worshiped. The award-winning program has spread to over eighty-six communities in five states and is rapidly growing throughout the Northeast from New Jersey to Maine.
The dedication ceremony, which took place at Roseland Park Amphitheater, included the flag ceremony and Pledge of Allegiance led by: Brendan Wright, Jacob Twordzidlo, Blake Kudzal and Blake Robida, of Woodstock Boy Scout Troop # 27. The Reverend Kevin Downer of First Church of Woodstock opened the ceremony with an invocation. First Selectman, Jay Swan, and Viktor Toth, Superintendent of Woodstock Schools gave remarks, commending the students for their hard work and dedication.
The following students read excerpts from their essays about Caesar: Robert Graham, Brayden Bottone, Lorelai Fish, Bella Stilltano, Kelsey McNeil, Maylie Ganias, and Brendan Lund. Izzy Crowly and Brendan Wright read Poems about Caesar. It was apparent through the student essays and poems that they learned about Woodstock history on their journey to uncover Caesar’s life. While examining primary sources, students gained a snapshot of the economy, industries, agricultural practices, the thriving commerce of South Woodstock, and Samuel McClellan’s contributions to Woodstock and the Revolutionary War, giving context to Caesar’s experience.
It’s not easy to find the stories of enslaved Africans who lived and worked in Northeast Connecticut. Vital records, land records, wills, and probate records from the time of slavery in the 18 th century left a scant trail behind those who were enumerated as “negro male or female” in census data or merely mentioned as possessions in wills, such as “my negro man Cuff”. And yet, students found evidence of their existence and the reality that even the smallest of New England towns were complicit in African slave trade whether they liked it or not.
Dennis Culliton, co-founder of The Witness Stones Project, introduced keynote speaker, Pat Wilson Pheanious, chair of the Witness Stones Project BOD. Ms. Pheanious, former State Representative from Ashford, and the daughter of a Tuskegee Airman, remarked on how empowering it was for her to learn from the Witness Stone research in Guilford, her ancestors’ place in American History. By saying their names, Pheanious felt for the first time that she belonged to America as much as anyone else.
At the end of the ceremony, the Woodstock Middle School Chorus performed “We Shall Overcome,” conducted by Maria Wood. The students continued to sing the song while walking from Roseland Park to the Witness Stone site at the McClellan House where owner, Kevin Lewis, welcomed the group to unveil the stone where Caesar once lived. The Reverend Kevin Downer gave a benediction that reminded students of the higher purpose of their project. He asked the whole group to repeat the following words:
I am somebody. You are somebody. And now, in the spirit of the Witness Stone Project, join me as we declare that Everybody is somebody!
The Reverend Downer went on to challenge the students who were part of the Witness Stones Project to share their experience with others so that we might have a “more hopeful, sustainable future.
According to teacher, Christine Carter, “students were very interested in discovering elements of Woodstock history that they did not know before. They felt a kinship with Caesar in his desire to be out from under the paternalism of enslavement as they dream of also growing up and having more choices. I am grateful to have been part of this project, and I hope it will continue to bring community members together”
On June 6, 2022, students from the CREC Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts hosted the community at the Old State House and remembered and honored the lives of Abda Duce-Ginnings and Hannah Ginnings. We invite you to watch the ceremony here.
During the event at Old Lyme-Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library, community members, Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School students and organizers gathered for music, poetry and remarks in remembrance of those residents. Continue reading.
By Lori Kriegel on HamletHub.com on June 3, 2022
Wooster School’s Middle School held the first Witness Stones Installation Ceremony in the City of Danbury on Tuesday, May 31, 2022 at the Long Ridge United Methodist Church at 201 Long Ridge Rd, Danbury, CT 06810.
Wooster School’s 7th and 8th grade Middle School team have been learning about the complicated history of enslavement in Connecticut via their research of a formerly enslaved man who lived in Danbury, Connecticut, as part of their participation in the Witness Stones Project. The Witness Stones project is a “K-12 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 research assistance, teacher development, and curriculum support to help middle school students study the history of slavery in their own communities.” Through their study of primary sources, students were tasked to take a critical look at issues such as the treatment of the people who were enslaved and their agency and resistance to the practice of enslavement. Continue reading.
By Ella Montalvo, Class of 2022, Elisabeth C. Adams Middle School
It is scary to imagine that these people suffered on the very grass we walk on in our town but it isn’t any better for it to be the grass that others in the South walk on. Flora was an enslaved person in Guilford, Connecticut from 1739 to 1771. She was the daughter of two slaves, Montros and Philis, who were enslaved to Ruth and David Naughty. Flora had a child named Cesar who later died in 1817. Throughout her life, she never experienced freedom but sought for her son to experience his freedom. Something difficult for people in New England states to understand is that slavery was everywhere in the United States not just on plantations in the South. Flora and her family are a representation of this. She experienced the same pain, dehumanization, and unethical treatment as others did. If we can’t recognize that slavery shaped our towns then we will never truly understand the legacy of slavery across the United States.
Whether of the lack of documents or because of the denial of slavery in New England, we don’t hear much about the enslaved people in Guilford. However, we know that because Guilford is and was an agricultural town, you would commonly find people enslaved to do farm/labor work. Flora’s son, Cesar, was born at a neighbor of the Naughtys’ where Flora as rented out or indentured to.. He was seen as an animal just like the horses. He was listed on the probate inventory of Nathanial Hill for 35 pounds while the horses and oxen were being sold collectively for 30 pounds. A human was only worth 5 pounds more than an animal. Cesar nor other enslaved people were seen as human for their main purpose in life was to “work for the white man.” Cesar was not alone in his struggle as his mother, Flora, his grandparents, and aunts/uncles all suffered in the same way. At the time, there were 75 documented enslaved people being sold to white men in Guilford. There were most likely more than 75 enslaved people however, only now are some being documented in history. This is because most were likely indentured servants that worked in the houses and weren’t tossed around as frequently as the “farm animals.” Slavery happened everywhere in the United States and although it is difficult to imagine that something as horrible as slavery happened in our small town remember that the North was only so much better than the South in their racist ideas.
Flora experienced severe unethical acts against her throughout her life and would never get rid of these scars until she died. She was dehumanized, treated unfairly, had her rights stripped from her in order to “help” her, and was indentured to people in order for her owners to get money. However, throughout all of this, she resisted these acts by setting up her child to live past her and one day be freed. Dehumanization, not being seen as human, was what all enslaved people experienced. Flora experienced this when she was listed in David Naughty’s probate inventory for Naughty’s for 5 pounds classified as a “Negro girl.” She was listed as if she was part of a house, as if she was only a tool and not a human who can never have a price put on. From there she was only treated unethically and unfairly. David Naughty wrote a will specifying that when he died that Montros, Philis, along with their children were to be set free and given a house and supplies. However, once David died Ruth Naughty didn’t do this and instead of setting Flora’s siblings free, she kept them enslaved for their lives. Ruth Naughty’s paternalistic perspective showed that her ideas were the correct ones for Flora. She believed that it would be best for Flora’s siblings to “Live in some good Regular & Religious families as servants rather than to enjoy Freedom.” This showed that she believed that her actions were only helping them live a better life.
Not only did Ruth Naughty believe that she was helping, she had previously indentured Flora and her siblings to her neighbors. By doing this Ruth benefited financially from this arrangement. Flora got pregnant and had a child who we can understand was taught the ways to behave and act as an enslaved person. But Flora also taught him how to survive if he ever were to be free. She had a plan that Cesar would live past her age and one day be set free. A better life than she could ever imagine for herself. Flora was not alone in the struggles of surviving enslavement, in the United States, millions of people were enslaved and treated like they weren’t human. It is not right for people to plan for their death in the case that maybe, just maybe, their child can live free from the pain they experienced. However, this was the life of many during this time and Flora was no exception.
In conclusion, slavery was everywhere and it is part of everyone’s history. Flora was an enslaved person for her entire life. She did not start an uprising, speak out against slavery or run away. But we must recognize every single enslaved person’s sacrifice. By learning and saying Flora’s name she becomes real. She walked down the same streets you and I have walked. By telling her story we are acknowledging her sacrifice, her soul, and her life as meaningful. She is impactful to the point where we can understand and value the lives of people who built our towns, our cities, our states, and our country.
By Teagan Connellan, Class of 2022, Elisabeth C. Adams Middle School
No birth records. No death records. No marriage records. No working records. Someone who wasn’t even seen as a person. Someone who would be traded or worth a unit of dollars. Someone who was with five different people in his lifetime. Not as family. Not as a friend. Not as an employee. But as property. This is the story of Cuff.
Thomas Ruggles Jr, a pastor of the First Congregational Church in Guilford. He was the first known owner of Cuff, that the sources tell. Thomas Ruggles Jr. had no sons and only one daughter, Sarah Ruggles, who married Joseph Pynchon. In 1760, their first son, Doc. Thomas Ruggles Pynchon was born. When Thomas Ruggles Jr. died in the 1770s, he left Cuff in his will. Along with his other property and “moveables”. This alone is a big problem that demonstrates dehumanization, the process of depriving people of positive human qualities, like freedom, the right to be independent, and even being considered a human. Cuff was put in a will. Just like a family heirloom or money or a house or a piece of property. This is depriving Cuff of independence, and freedom for his life choices, and it is taking away the fact that he is not property, that he is human. For example, as stated in Thomas Ruggles Jr.’s will, “All the Remainder of my moveables (Except my Silver Tankard Silver Teapot Gold Seal Ring Library & wearing apparel Husbandry Tools and Negro Servant Cuff)”. Here, Cuff is listed as a moveable and listed with tools, teapots, and a library. Here, Cuff is not even considered or thought of as a person. He was passed down to his Ruggles Jr.’s heirs, as a gift.
However, not only was Cuff going to be owned by one of Ruggles’ heirs, but the person inheriting Cuff needed to make sure that “he be Comfortably Taken care of & Provided For During Life by my Heir”. This means that whoever owned Cuff needed to care for all of his necessary things to live, like a place to stay, food, water, and clothes. Cuff’s story shows paternalism by being passed down in a will but still being sure that he will be taken care of. Although this can also show dehumanization, it majorly shows paternalism because it states that the person who inherits Cuff needs to take care of him for the rest of his life. This is an example of paternalism because Cuff was never actually given the choice to be taken care of but since he had been enslaved his whole life, others believed that he was not capable of taking care of himself. They expected him to believe that this was for his own good, that they were looking out for him, that he couldn’t survive without them. Maybe he couldn’t, but that was not his fault. He was the victim of being deprived of his freedom. And he didn’t even get the choice to try and survive. This is paternalism.
Later on, in Ruggles Jr.’s will, he explains to whom he would leave the excluded items and Cuff to. He says that “So they go to my Grandson… And as to my Servant Cuff, my will & desire is he be Comfortably Taken care of” this explains how Ruggles Jr. would leave Cuff to his grandson, only when Thomas Ruggles Pynchon became of age, of course. Until he was old enough to inherit things from a will, his parents would get Cuff. This is where the economics of slavery were put into play. Joseph Pynchon, the father of Ruggles Pynchon, was now one of the owners of Cuff and evidently did not need his work that frequently and so was able to “rent him out” to Eli Foote. He happened to be the grandfather of Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote a book that informed people about the horrors of slavery, (Article in NCPedia about Eli Foot). Foote used Cuff for multiple labor activities such as maintaining the grass and joining a work team, as shown in the account book of Eli Foote and Pynchon. When Pynchon rented Cuff out to Foote, he made 20 pounds for two years, meaning that he was economically benefiting from the labor of Cuff.
Eventually, Dr. Thomas Ruggles Pynchon turned eighteen years old and inherited Cuff, shown in the census of Guilford in 1790. However, in the Alderbrook Cemetery charts, it shows that Doc Thomas, his wife, Rebecca Pynchon, and Sarah Pynchon all died in the 1790s. As explained before, Ruggles Jr. stated that the heir must make sure that Cuff is to “be Comfortably Taken care of & Provided For During Life by my Heir”, In Sarah Ruggles’ probate records, it shows that she dies while still in debt to Ebenezer Hopson, for the care of Cuff. She knew that she had to take care of the enslaved person because in the will from Thomas Ruggles Junior, it elaborates that Cuff must be taken care of for his entire life. Since Sarah did not want to break his trust, and did not have the strength to take care of Cuff, she had to pay someone else to. Her probate inventory was taken in 1808, over forty years after the original will and testament of Thomas Ruggles Junior. Cuff survived this all. This shows agency and resistance, or enslaved people proving that they were still free people by doing things that they wouldn’t be usually allowed to do. Some slaves did it as marriage, making their own money, or hosting gatherings and elections within the slave population. But Cuff used agency and resistance by outliving all of his original owners. By showing that he could survive longer, even after all he had been through.
In conclusion, Cuff was an enslaved person who spent his whole life as a slave but was able to have examples of all of the elements of slavery in his life. With all of this, he was able to inspire and show others slavery as a whole, along with many other slaves, and this all came together to get slavery abolished. It showed how slavery existed in the North as well as the South. We can all learn a lot from the story of Cuff.
On LymeLine.com on June 3, 2022
OLD LYME – The Old Lyme Witness Stones Project is installing 16 new Witness Stones—historical plaques commemorating the lives of enslaved and indentured African Americans and Native Americans, who labored in the historic town of Lyme. The plaques will be placed on Lyme St. and McCurdy Rd. in Old Lyme. Continue reading.