A ceremony was held at Greenwich’s Bush-Holley House on May 27 to commemorate the lives of enslaved persons who lived in Connecticut from the colonial period through the mid-19th century. For the ceremony, the Greenwich Historical Society collaborated with The Witness Stones Project in creating stone markers that identify four of the 15 enslaved persons who lived at the Bush-Holly House: Cull Bush and his partner Patience and Candice Bush and her daughter Hester Mead.
The Witness Stones Memorial includes the known birth and death dates and primary occupations of the enslaved residents of the site.
The information on the enslaved has been gathered through census and inventory records – the latter listed these individuals as property – and through an 18-month research effort involving the Greenwich Historical Society in conjunction with the input of students and teachers from Sacred Heart Greenwich and Greenwich Academy.
Anna Marie Greco, director of education for the Greenwich Historical Society, acknowledged that many people are surprised to learn about the depth of Connecticut’s role in the nation’s slave narrative.
“I think when we study slavery in the United States, we tend to focus on the South,” she explained. “However, slavery was legal everywhere, and people were enslaved all throughout the colonies. There was a huge maritime trading industry here in Connecticut and people who were enslaved were brought to New Haven, where there was a major port.”
Research suggests that there were approximately 5,100 enslaved people in Connecticut prior to the American Revolution, and the Greenwich Historical Society estimates there were approximately 300 who lived in Greenwich during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Greco noted that the state did not permanently end slavery until 1848, and up until that time efforts toward emancipation were complicated, with enslaved people born after a certain date given the right to freedom but those born prior to the date denied the right to liberty. First-person narratives and interviews with Connecticut’s enslaved population were not recorded, and for years their stories were unknown to the wider public.
“We’re trying to piece together the stories of the people that we’re honoring, to try and understand what their lives were like,” Greco added.
The May 27 ceremony was designed to be the first of an ongoing project by the Greenwich Historical Society to highlight this chapter in the region’s past.
“Over the next five years, we’ll be honoring all of the people who were enslaved on our sites,” Greco said. “We’re hoping that as people get to learn about the project, they might be interested in supporting it and starting to honor people beyond our site. We believe that there were over 300 people that were enslaved in Greenwich, and we would like to try and place stones for all of them.”