Rediscovering Stories of Slavery in Connecticut
Erik Ofgang, July 24, 2019, Connecticut Magazine
Shortly before the Revolutionary War, an enslaved Connecticut man named Jeffrey Brace was beaten unconscious by his new owner, John Burwell of Milford. Burwell struck Brace with his fists, legs and a chair. In a written account years later, Brace recalled that one blow to his head during the beating was so hard it “pealed [sic] up a piece of my scalp about as big as my three fingers.” After waking up, Brace was subjected to two rounds of whipping and made to walk a quarter-mile barefoot in the winter.
Brace’s visceral, difficult-to-read account of the horrors of slavery in Connecticut is the type of story we don’t often hear about Northeastern states, says Dennis Culliton, a recently retired teacher at Adams Middle School in Guilford. In Connecticut, we’re good at “pointing our fingers south and saying how awful those people were,” he says. But when it comes to confronting our own past, we have more trouble.
Culliton is a co-founder of the Witness Stones Project, which remembers enslaved Connecticut individuals by placing stone memorials in their honor. It’s an attempt to come to terms with Connecticut’s past in regards to slavery, a history that is often glossed over, if not outright forgotten. One textbook Culliton has long used says something like “slavery was ended in New England soon after the American Revolution.” It’s technically true but it’s an oversimplification akin to saying that a few years after the Pearl Harbor attack, the Allies won the war.