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About the series: Why we're reporting on Connecticut's history of slavery

Slave Trade Act. Unforgotten: Connecticut's Hidden History of Slavery. Still Image. Overview.
Composite from primary documents
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Connecticut Public
In 1784, the State of Connecticut legislature passed the 'Gradual Abolition Act' which said that all children of the enslaved, born after March 1, 1784, would become free at the age of 25. It failed to free enslaved persons already living.

Unforgotten is a cross-platform series and podcast chronicling Connecticut's ties to slavery. Learn more.

When people think of slavery in the U.S., many think of the South. But slavery happened in the North — and throughout New England, including Connecticut.

In fact, Connecticut was the last New England state to formally end slavery. Slavery didn't legally end in Connecticut until 1848 — just 13 years before the start of the Civil War. Thousands of people were enslaved in Connecticut. Thousands more were enslaved across New England.

It’s history that many of us didn’t learn in school.

Connecticut Public’s journalists wanted to explore this history: What happened, why it happened and why it matters today. It led to nine months of reporting, which resulted in our special series, Unforgotten: Connecticut’s Hidden History of Slavery.

We’ve interviewed dozens of people: historians, experts, volunteers, families, students and teachers. They helped us tell the stories of some of the men, women and children who were enslaved.

People affiliated with a variety of groups have helped us find these stories — including volunteers with the Witness Stones Project, an educational initiative that aims to “restore the history and honor the humanity of the enslaved.”

Various academic studies, books and media reports in recent years have shed light on slavery in New England. So we realize that some are already familiar with our region’s history of slavery. But we also know that many are likely not aware of these stories.

We wanted to feature people talking in their own words about what the state’s history of slavery means to them. We talked with descendants of men and women who were enslaved in Connecticut. We interviewed them in or near the places where their ancestors lived, worked or are buried.

Reporter/producer Diane Orson initiated this series. Through her work as a musician, she had learned about Sawney Freeman, a musician and composer who was once enslaved in Connecticut; she had an opportunity to play his music. (We feature him in the fourth story in our series.)

While the Connecticut Public content team mostly mirrors the state’s demographics, many of the journalists involved in this series are white. We were mindful of that. We were intentional in centering our reporting on people of color and experts of color. We asked journalists of color to review the stories and offer feedback. We also worked with Frank Mitchell as an editorial consultant for this series. Mitchell is a cultural organizer and on the board of directors for CT Humanities. We turned to him for guidance as we reported and edited the stories.

Our series includes several videosand a television special; in-depth radio features, a radio special and a podcast; and digital storytelling and social media elements. We’re also hosting a community discussion.

As Adrienne Joy Burns, a public historian, tells us in our first story, learning about this hidden history is beneficial: “Because it helps us to understand how we got here. And that's the important part, because that's what we can change. We can change it when we understand it.”

As you read, listen or watch the stories in this series, we invite you to share your feedback with us. Send us an email at unforgotten@ctpublic.org.

Thank you for taking the time to explore this history.

— Eric Aasen, executive editor, Connecticut Public

Read more from Unforgotten: Connecticut's Hidden History of Slavery

Chapter 1: Think slavery wasn't in the North? Think again. Slavery has roots in Connecticut dating to 1600s

Chapter 2: ‘This is my country': A family learns their ancestors were enslaved in Connecticut

Chapter 3: An enslaved man told his story. Descendants are determined to keep Venture Smith's story alive

Chapter 4: A once-enslaved man’s music was hidden for centuries. Go on a journey to rediscover his melodies

Chapter 5: As CT learns more about its ties to slavery, students shape efforts to ensure the stories live on

Resources

Featured in this series

Frank Mitchell; Connecticut Explored; Witness Stones Project; Mystic Seaport Museum exhibition: Entwined: Freedom, Sovereignty, and the Sea; Hyland House Museum; St. John’s Episcopal Church in Essex; John Wood Sweet; Cheo Hodari Coker; Waide Communications; Jumoke McDuffie-Thurmond

Sisters in Stitches Joined by the Cloth; Heritage Film Project; the Watkinson Library at Trinity College; Barn Island Wildlife Management Area; Deacon John Grave House; Captain Nathaniel B. Palmer House Museum; East Haddam Historical Society & Museum; First Church of Christ, Congregational in East Haddam;

Guilford Free Library; Stonington Historical Society; the Whitney Library at the New Haven Museum; Old Saybrook Historical Society; James Hillhouse High School; Choate Rosemary Hall

Books

"Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery," Anne Farrow, Joel Lang and Jenifer Frank, Ballantine Books

"African American Connecticut Explored," edited by Elizabeth Normen, with Stacey C. Close, Katherine J. Harris and Wm. Frank Mitchell, Wesleyan University Press

"Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and ‘Race’ in New England, 1780-1860," Joanne Pope Melish, Cornell University Press

"Yale and Slavery: A History," David Blight with the Yale and Slavery Research Project, Yale University Press

"Venture Smith’s Colonial Connecticut" (recommended for grades 5-8), Venture Smith, Elizabeth Normen, Connecticut Explored

"The Freedom Business, including a Narrative of the Life & Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa," poems by Marilyn Nelson, Wordsong

Learn more

Yale and Slavery Research Project

Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University

Brown & Slavery & Justice

Alex Breanne Corporation

Credits

Reporter/producer: Diane Orson

Senior director, visuals and television production: Julianne Varacchi

Executive editor: Eric Aasen

Digital editor: Patrick Skahill

Editor, local news programs and podcast: Cassandra Basler

Editorial consultant: Frank Mitchell

Video editing: Ayannah Brown, Ryan Caron King, Mark Mirko, Meghan Lyden

Videography: Ayannah Brown, Ryan Caron King, Mark Mirko, Dave Wurtzel

Motion graphics: Sam Hockaday

Audio: Glenn Goettler, Mike Larini

Social media: Sabrina Herrera, Francesca Fontanez and Shanice Rhule

Editing support: Erica McIntosh and Meg Dalton

Senior director, storytelling and radio programming: Catie Talarski

Chief content officer: Vanessa de la Torre

Senior director, Data and Digital Services Bureau: Susan Bell

Director, digital products and strategic integration: Christian Setterlund

Director, digital projects: Bill Sencio

Digital producer: Jessica Gonnella

Chief digital officer: Lauren Komrosky

Vice president, community engagement: Lucy Nalpathanchil

Feedback

Share your thoughts on the stories in this series via email at unforgotten@ctpublic.org.

Stand up for civility

This news story is funded in large part by Connecticut Public’s Members — listeners, viewers, and readers like you who value fact-based journalism and trustworthy information.

We hope their support inspires you to donate so that we can continue telling stories that inform, educate, and inspire you and your neighbors. As a community-supported public media service, Connecticut Public has relied on donor support for more than 50 years.

Your donation today will allow us to continue this work on your behalf. Give today at any amount and join the 50,000 members who are building a better—and more civil—Connecticut to live, work, and play.

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