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Resources for studying African-American Heritage at the CT State Library

History of Slavery

Slavery in the United States tore families apart while leaving few exact records.  Knowing that one’s ancestor had to endure the abuses of slavery can be distressing.  Charles Blockson, in his book Black Genealogy, has given this encouragement:  "There is certainly no reason to be ashamed if some of your relatives were slaves  --  you should be proud if they were able to maintain their dignity in the midst of an inhuman system".   Searching for ancestors who may have been slaves requires a thorough investigation of slave-owning families in public and historical records.

Helpful introductory materials include:

  • Andrews, Charles M.  “Slavery in Connecticut.”  Magazine of American History 21 (May 1899) 5:422-23 [CSL call number Offsite E 171.M18].  Includes manumission certificates in Wethersfield records.
  • Bontemps, Arna.  Five Black Lives:  The Autobiographies of Venture Smith, James Mars, William Grimes, The Rev. G. W. Offley, James L. Smith.  Middletown:  Wesleyan University Press, 1971 [CSL call number E 444 .F49].  Autobiographies of ex-slaves living in Connecticut between 1729 and 1870.
  • Catterall, Helen T.  Judicial Cases Concerning American Slavery and the Negro.  Carnegie Institution of Washington, Publication No. 374.  5 vols.  Washington:  Carnegie Publications, 1926-37 [CSL call number E 441.C35].  Lists and discusses fifty cases regarding slaves or slavery that were decided in the Connecticut Supreme Court of Errors, 1702-1873.
  • Collier, Christopher with Bonnie Collier.  The Literature of Connecticut History.  Middletown, CT:  Connecticut Humanities Council, 1983 [CSL call number Hist Ref AS 36 .C8 A1].   See pages 242-251, “Slavery and the Black Experience”.
  • Cruson, Daniel.  Newtown’s Slaves:  A Case Study in Early Connecticut Rural Black History.  Newtown, CT:  Newtown Historical Society, 1994 [CSL call number F 104 .N78 C78 1994].
  • Fowler, William Chauncey.  Local Law in Massachusetts and Connecticut, Historically Considered; and The Historical Status of the Negro in Connecticut....  New Haven:  Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor, 1872-1875 [CSL call number KFC 3678 .F6].
  • Mars, James.  Life of James Mars, a Slave, Born and Sold in Connecticut, Written by Himself.  Reprint.  Miami, FL:  Mnemosyne Publ. Co., 1969 [CSL call number Cage E 444 .M362 1969].
  • Mead, Jeffrey B.  Chains Unbound:  Slave Emancipations in the Town of Greenwich, Connecticut.  Baltimore:  Gateway Press, 1995 [CSL call number F 104 .G8 M44 1995].
  • Mitchell, Mary Hewitt.  “Slavery in Connecticut and Especially in New Haven.” Papers of the New Haven Colony Historical Society 10 (1951): 286-312 [CSL call number 974.62 N445p vol 10].
  • Steiner, Bernard C.  History of  Slavery in Connecticut, 1893.  Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins Press,  1893 [CSL call number SpecColl E 445 .C7 S8 1893; a second copy is in the stacks].
  • Stark, Bruce.  “Slavery in Connecticut:  A Re-examination.”  Connecticut Review 9 (November 1975):75-81 [CSL call number ConnDoc St22 core].
  • Statement of Slaves in Connecticut, Abstract of Census.  US House of Representatives Executive Document No. 90, 26th Congress, 2nd Series, Vol. 3, 1945 [CSL SUDOCS number UN 32 no.384].  Does not list people by name; only gives numbers of individuals within various categories.
  • Welch, Vicki S.  “The Keys to the Shackles.” Connecticut History 40 (2001): 225-46 [CSL call number E 91 .C749].
  • Weld, Ralph Foster.  Slavery in Connecticut.  Tercentenary Pamphley Series, No. 37.  New Haven:  Published for the Tercentenary Commission by the Yale University Press, 1935 [CSL call number ConnDoc T 271 hp].
  • Yang, Guocun. "From Slavery to Emancipation: The African Americans of Connecticut 1650s to 1820s." Thesis (PhD), University of Connecticut, 1999 [CSL Call Number E 445 .C7 Y36 1999b].

See also materials in the State Library’s Law and Legislative Reference Unit, for example:

  • “An Act to Prevent Slavery.”  The Public Statute Laws of the State of Connecticut, as Revised and Enacted by the General Assembly in May, 1821.  Hartford:  S. G. Goodrich, 1821, p. 428 [CSL call number Ref KFC 3630 1821 .A24].
  • “Nancy Johnson Against Bulloch,” in Day, Thomas.  Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Errors of the State of Connecticut, vol. 12, pp. 38-69.  Hartford:  Brown and Parsons, 1839 [CSL call number Ref KFC 3645 .A2 vol. 12].  Slave case with history of the law.

These records, documenting the sale and ownership of land, also document the sale, purchase, manumission, and emancipation of slaves, who were considered personal property.  There is no statewide index to Connecticut land records, but general indexes to grantors and grantees are available for most towns.  Some examples of manumissions in land records include:

                Negro, Alpheus, Emancipated from John & Benj. Moseley, 31 Oct. 1808
                Glastonbury Land Records, Volume 15, page 413.

                Slave, Cato, (Negro) - emancipation.  Grantor:  Warner, Jonathan
                Lyme Land Records, Book 20, page 21, Oct. 7, 1793.

Land records for each Connecticut town have been microfilmed to about 1900 on a town-by-town basis and are available at the Connecticut State Library and Latter-day Saint Family History Centers.

Log Book of Slave Traders between New London & Africa, 1757-1758

Check our Hartford, Connecticut Courant Index, 1764-1799 under the headings “Slave trade.” “Slavery,” “Slavery, in British colonies,” “Slaves,” “Slaves, adv. For,” “Slaves, for lease,” Slaves, for sale,” “Negroes, runaway”.   The State Library has many other original and microfilmed early Connecticut Newspapers.


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