Witness Stones Shed Light On New Haven’s History Of Enslavement Downtown

The Reverence Luk de Volder talks to Foote School students. Al Larriva-Latt Photos.

By Al Larriva-Latt in Arts Council New Haven on June 6th, 2022

At the steps of the Trinity Episcopal Church on the New Haven Green, a dozen New Haven private middle schoolers in dress clothes crouched around two metal-plated stones. To the right, colorful posters displayed family trees, timelines, and key word definitions. The students leaned closer, studying the stones.

“Lucy Tritton enslaved here,” read one. “Lois Tritton enslaved here,” read the other. The sounds of the New Haven Green—busses being dispatched, police car sirens blaring, passerby conversing—cut in.

Last Thursday morning, middle school students from The Foote School and St. Thomas’s Day School joined historians, educators, and Witness Stones Project Founder Dennis Culliton to remember Lucy and Lois Tritton, a mother and daughter who were sold on the New Haven Green on March 8, 1825. The Witness Stones Project is a still-nascent attempt to find and commemorate the lives of enslaved Black people who lived—and often died—in Connecticut. Roughly 70 people attended. Continue reading.

Witness Stones Project Reflection

By Daven Kaphar, Class of 2022, The Foote School

I enjoyed the Witness Stones Project. I learned so much more about slavery in early America, but I found the story of Lois Tritton especially shocking. For a long time Lois and her mother thought they were free, just to be sold back in to slavery.

I felt like this was an amazing project. It was inspiring to actually be a historian, and look over primary documents and connect the pieces of this forgotten figure’s life. At times, I would find myself just looking at my screen, and not knowing what I was reading. The old English and the blurry script were difficult to decode. However, the transcribed documents helped. It was also useful to have a group to go to if I needed any more assistance.

The result was worth it though. While working on this project, it struck me that aside from the teacher and a few other people, my class and I were the only people to know this person existed. It felt cool at first, almost like when you are in a secret that no one else, save for you and your friends, know. Then I realized, the world deserves to know about this person.

I feel it is my duty to spread the story of Lois, not just because she was an amazing person, but because at the time she was alive, being an abolitionist, not many people supported what she was doing. I think she would be proud of how far we have come. I admire her for her ability to be so many things at once.

In class, we were asked to describe Lois in one word. The word that came up the most often was mother. I felt something was off. We had been learning about her for weeks, yet all we could say off the top of our heads was that she was a mother. When I got home that day, I made a list of other words that could describe her. It surprised me how little I could come up with. Then it hit me. Lois’s life was way too complex to be described in one word. Yes she was a mother. Yes, she was a daughter. And, yes, she was enslaved, but that didn’t define her.

The sad truth is, without actually knowing someone, it is nearly impossible to describe them. We may know when Lois was born (1799), or when she became a member of the church (1819), or when John Nicholl signed a quitclaim (1825), and we can use these facts to construct a skeleton of what her life was like, but we may never know what Lois Tritton was really like as a person. This assignment opened my eyes to that, and I am grateful. I will be lucky if I can do another project as special as this in the future.

Witness Stones Project Reflection

By Gus Witt, Class of 2022, The Foote School

This Witness Stones project was the most challenging and intriguing academic work I have ever done. I knew a bit about slavery in the United States prior to the Witness Stones research, but the new information from this research gave me a distinct perspective and distinct opportunity to learn about topics I wouldn’t be able to absorb as well or even at all in a textbook.

The focus, preparation, and intense workload made this project both enjoyable at some points and demanding at others. I have learned about Lois Tritton’s life and the way she affected her community, and I also have a more general understanding of slavery in that time period, and how even after emancipation the hardships of being a Black person in America were no less prevalent.

I have learned of the meticulous financial process that an enslaved person would go through when they were part of a sale or when they were emancipated, and how the control was never in the hands of the person being sold. Even when Lucy and Lois Tritton were emancipated, they had no jurisdiction over the situation.

I have learned about people like Frederick Douglass, an influential abolitionist who was not afraid to speak harshly and with condemnation concerning slavery, while knowingly  jeopardizing his freedom and livelihood. I also learned about people like John Nicholl, who saw other human beings as an investment and a way for people like him to profit.

Slavery remained in Connecticut and was not abolished (though restricted) for longer than in any other state in New England. In 1784, Connecticut passed an act ensuring that no enslaved woman born in America after March 1st, 1784, could continue to be enslaved after age 21. However, this did not apply to Lois Tritton because she was born in Nova Scotia, Canada. As a class we read a book called To Be A Slave by Julius Lester, which included quotes from enslaved and formerly enslaved people, stories of brutal beatings, and as well as the authors own experience with racism and segregation.

I know I not only was given information but also understood and comprehended its meaning and why it was significant, because of the way I was able to put together often broken pieces of a story or circumstance. This was an incredible story to research, and an opportunity to use the skills I have been getting better at all year.




Witness Stones Project Installation Ceremony Honoring Lois and Lucy Tritton

Thursday, June 2, 2022
10:00 a.m.
Hosted by the Foote School &
St. Thomas’s Day School at
Trinity Church on the Green
230 Temple Street, New Haven, Connecticut

The Foote School and St. Thomas’s Day School will bring the community together to remember and honor Lois and Lucy Tritton and to place Witness Stones in their memory.