: The first Blacks came to Connecticut soon after the first settlements were founded. Colonial records note Black servants as early as 1660, and there is evidence that at least a few Blacks lived in Connecticut as early as 1640. Although no one is sure how they came to Connecticut originally, Connecticut’s first Black residents were not held in life bondage, and their bondage was not hereditary. When their White owners deemed their purchase price repaid, the first Black slaves were released.
Slavery was also not an exclusively racial institution; it applied to Indians and Whites as well. Habitual White criminals were periodically sold into servitude in the West Indies. Whether this condition was hereditary slavery or “life at hard labor” is impossible to tell from Connecticut records. In any event it was infrequently applied as a punishment.
Indian slavery was far more common. An ancient custom and one the Indians practiced, the enslavement of captives in the Indian wars did not work out well for the Puritans. It introduced a dissident element into Puritan society that proved resistant to subjugation or conversion. There were too many places for Indians to run, too many Indians who were not slaves, and too many opportunities for them to revolt to make Indians trustworthy slaves. Furthermore, their society had little prepared Indians to work as laborers on farms or as domestic servants.
One colonial law of the period affected Black slaves, but it was aimed mainly at protecting the colony against its Indian captives. In 1660 the General Court of Connecticut ordered “that neither Indian nor negar servants shall be required to train, watch or ward in the Colony.” Phrased as an exemption from service, the law was an effective way to keep from arming a part of the population colonists feared.
The growing West Indian and African trade gave the colonists the opportunity to trade their Indian captives for more desirable Black slaves. Indian slavery waned as the Indian population of Connecticut was decimated in the wars of the late 1600’s. For a time Indian slaves were imported from other colonies, but the arrival of captive Tuscarora warriors from South Carolina led in 1715 to the banning of the Indian slave trade in Connecticut.
Colonists found the large group of Tuscarora warriors difficult to control. Blacks were preferred for several reasons. They had no place to run to, no tribe to assist them in a rebellion, and they seemed more able to adapt to European ways. Also, as trade increased with Africa and the West Indies, it was easier to buy Black slaves than to capture Indian ones.
As the Black population grew, servitude in Connecticut became slavery for life and it became hereditary. There was no opposition to hereditary slavery among Whites. It made economic sense and it kept Blacks under control. Although slaves and free Blacks had legal rights and a part in the society, they were not accepted as equals and not fully trusted.
The growth of Black slavery in Connecticut prompted Puritan leaders to justify it. Puritan Connecticut held religious freedom as one of its guiding principles, but it was an intolerant and rigid society. There was a firmly hierarchical social order, based on a clear understanding of the importance or worth of each member of society. Little tolerance existed for any other religious viewpoint. Puritan leaders embraced those parts of Leviticus (25, 45, 46) which support slavery. A second justification was the notion that slavery gave Blacks the opportunity to live Christian lives in America. To this end the state encouraged slave owners to educate the children of their slaves as Christians and teach them to read.
The profits to be made in the slave trade prompted British merchants in the 1600’s to increase their shipments of Blacks from Africa to the colonies. In 1680 there were only thirty slaves in Connecticut; by 1774 over 6,500 people, or 3.4% of the population, were Black slaves. There were very few free Blacks, probably fewer than ten by some accounts.
It is important to consider several points in discussing the origins of slavery in Connecticut. A general discussion of slavery in ancient times would serve as a good introduction to the topic. A study of documents concerning the enslavement of Indians, Whites and Blacks in colonial Connecticut leads to three major concepts of slavery: as a result of war, as a punishment and as an economic convenience.
The activity lessons for this part of the unit focus on these three concepts. Each of the accounts is fictional but it is based on a character mentioned in colonial documents and on general conditions that prevailed in Connecticut around 1700.
: Abda is a mulatto servant who escapes from his master, Mr. Richards, and is sheltered by another White man, Captain Wadsworth. His master reclaims him and seeks damages from Captain Wadsworth. Abda sues for his freedom. Legally this case is significant because it establishes hereditary servitude, the notion that the children of a female slave are the master’s property. There is also the idea that even as early as 1700 not all Connecticut Whites were in agreement about slavery. There is also the question of Abda having the right to sue his master in court, a right which Southern slaves did not have. It is significant that Abda’s suit was largely based on his “White blood.” That race and slavery were linked even by slaves at that time says a great deal about the nature of the institution.
The fictional account makes use of the basic situation and the names, but I take some liberties. The judge’s legal language is simplified; Mr. Richards makes arguments that were not his but John Davenport’s; and Captain Wadsworth becomes something of an early, religious abolitionist.
The lesson contains reading comprehension exercises and vocabulary words as well as some discussion questions.
: Quinasset’s narrative is not based on the account of a real slave as Abda’s was but is a combination of several characters. Her situation is similar to several situations encountered by early Connecticut Indians.
Quinasset is taken captive after King Phillip’s war. Her father has been killed. Her brother is sent to Barbados and her mother and other sister are sent as servants to other parts of Connecticut.
The main points of the story are the colonists’ treatment of captives, the confusion which arises over how to deal with warriors, women and children and the fear of Indians which the colonists show.
This again is a reading comprehension lesson.
: Henry is a White “slave” sent to the West Indies for his crimes. This is largely a vocabulary and map skill lesson centering around the relationships of England’s early colonial settlements with one another. The central point is that Henry’s crimes are serious, but that his sentence to slavery is limited to four years. This may seem like an extreme punishment by today’s standards but it was considerably less harsh than Abda’s or Quinasset’s.
: The fourth lesson is a combination chart and map lesson on the growth of Connecticut’s Black population and its distribution around the state.