By Cora Murray and Whitney Bayers
(c) Connecticut Explored Spring 2011
Black people had resisted slavery and fought for its abolition even before the formation of the Union in 1776. In Connecticut in 1779, 1780, and 1788 Black Connecticans petitioned the Connecticut General Assembly for “the abolition of Slavery in Connecticut.” Here we feature the words of some of Connecticut’s leading Black abolitionists, spoken and written, as they strove to be front and center in all aspects of the struggle for their human rights.
Three generations of Middletown’s Beman family played leadership roles in championing the causes of anti-slavery and temperance. Jehiel and his son Amos were ministers. Jehiel’s daughter-in-law Clarissa Beman established a chapter of the Colored Female Anti-Slavery Society in Middletown.
Reverend Dr. James W. C. Pennington, a fugitive slave, made his escape from Maryland by way of the Underground Railroad to Connecticut in 1827. He became a minister at Fifth (Talcott Street) Congregational Church in Hartford and traveled to Europe, where, in 1849, the University of Heidelberg, Germany presented him with an honorary Doctorate of Divinity. Pennington was also pro-emigration and helped organize missions to Africa.
Maria Stewart, a Hartford native, was one of the first female public speakers in America and is one of the few Black female abolitionists for whom any records survive.
Cora Murray was the senior historian and minority and women’s history coordinator in the Historic Preservation and Museum Division of the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism. Whitney Bayers was a professional development fellow in historic preservation for the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism.
The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University is home to the Beman Collection, a series of scrapbooks containing handwritten notes and clippings from newspapers compiled by Amos G. Beman between 1838 and 1857. For more information, visit www.library.yale.edu/beinecke.