Greenwich Historical Society will host a ceremony on May 27th at 1 pm to honor the legacy of enslaved persons who resided in Greenwich.
Open to the public, the event will take place on the Historical Society campus in Cos Cob to include town officials, civic leaders, clergy as well as teachers and students from Greenwich Academy and Sacred Heart Greenwich who were instrumental in researching the lives of the enslaved individuals. Enslaved persons will be honored with a “Witness Stones Memorial” engraved with their name, known birth and death dates and primary occupations, and placed on the grounds near Bush-Holley House where they resided. A reception with light snacks will follow.
The Historical Society collaborated with The Witness Stone Project on this initiative that seeks to teach school-age children about enslaved persons in their hometowns using primary sources like deeds, wills and letters. Students and teachers from Sacred Heart and Greenwich Academy, who are also partners in the program, have worked diligently, with the support of the Historical Society, in researching the daily lives of the enslaved. The ceremony will be the culmination of their work over the past 18 months.
While the number of enslaved people estimated to live in Connecticut varies widely, newer research suggests that there were approximately 5,100 enslaved persons in Connecticut in 1774. Numbers for after the Revolutionary War are still being studied. Greenwich Historical Society research estimates there were around 300 enslaved people who resided in Greenwich during the 18th and 19th centuries. Fifteen enslaved individuals who resided at Bush-Holley House in Greenwich from 1790 - 1830 have been identified through inventory and census records.
The May 27th ceremony will honor four of the enslaved who resided at Bush Holley House based on research conducted by the students: Cull Bush and his partner Patience and Candice Bush and her daughter Hester Mead. Additional family members and other enslaved persons who lived throughout Greenwich will be recognized in subsequent years as the partnership expands with the involvement of more of the Town’s schools.
The May 27th ceremony will include presentations by:
- Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo, who will present a proclamation citing May 27th as A day of remembrance for those enslaved in the Town of Greenwich for honoring their achievements and lives in building Greenwich.
- Witness Stones Founder and Executive Director Dennis Culliton, who will discuss the relevance of the Witness Stones initiative for Greenwich.
- Reverend Thomas L. Nins, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church, Greenwich
- Students from Greenwich Academy and Sacred Heart, who will share what they learned about the enslaved and their impact on the history of Greenwich.
- Teresa Vega, local historian and genealogist
Students and teachers comment on their experiences:
In reflecting on the Witness Stones initiative, Eliza Carroll, a student in Kristen Erickson's class at Greenwich Academy said: "The Witness Stones project has been a rewarding experience this year. Having the opportunity to learn about Hester has opened my eyes to the stark reality of American history and has made me think more critically about what has been recorded and what has been omitted from the records."
Michaela White, a student at Sacred Heart said she wants people to know “how truly terrible this [slavery] is. After learning about a specific family, I became more passionate for reducing inequities in the world and educating others on the topic to spread more awareness. Hopefully, it will empower others to speak up and advocate for other topics and issues that they want changed.
According to Kelly Bridges, a teacher at Sacred Heart, the seventh-grade students began last year to investigate the lives of enslaved individuals who lived and worked in Greenwich during the late 18th and 19th centuries: “Students dedicated considerable time and energy working in collaboration with the Greenwich Historical Society to research the lives of three individuals, Candice, Cull, and Patience, who were all enslaved by the Bush family. They produced creative and thoughtful projects to reflect the history of slavery in Greenwich and the experiences of these individuals. The end goal was to install actual “Witness Stones” on the campus of the Bush-Holley House to remember these individuals and to educate the public about their contributions to the Town’s history.”
“In all of my years of teaching American History, this is the first time I have been able to delve this deeply into primary source research on the topic of slavery,” says Bobby Walker, Assistant Head of School for Student and Community Life at Greenwich Academy. “The Witness Stones Project has allowed my students to engage in meaningful, original research, ask the difficult questions that historians ask about the past, and ultimately, to bring to life an individual who overcame slavery and provided even greater meaning to her life and added to the rich, cultural history of our Town.
Never before have I even had a better understanding of slavery in the North. The best part of this whole project was that my students, at various times, became the teacher. Learning from them and seeing their high level of engagement and wonder made this a special project for us to undertake.”
“We are privileged to host this reception in honor of the enslaved who were largely forgotten, yet played an important part of our town’s development,” says Debra Mecky, Historical Society executive director and CEO. “Greenwich’s local history is replete with many prominent individuals and organizations who contributed to the community and even the nation at large, yet few included people of color. Thanks to our partnership with Witness Stones and the hard work of the students and teachers of Sacred Heart and Greenwich Academy, our mission of preserving and interpreting Greenwich’s history and strengthening the community’s connection to the past, each other and to the future will be enhanced.”
*Image shows Sacred Heart Greenwich students at Greenwich Historical Society Archives researching enslaved Greenwich residents, courtesy of Kelly Bridges of Sacred Heart