“Georgia of the North.” That’s what Connecticut was referred to during the slave era in the United States.
Slavery in Connecticut dates back as far as the mid-1600s. Connecticut blocked the importation of slaves in 1774 and began a gradual emancipation of slaves in 1784 with slavery finally abolished in 1848.
To mark Black History Month, and shed light on Wilton’s involvement in slavery, the Wilton Historical Society is presenting Tools of a Shameful Trade, a small exhibition of slavery artifacts.
Objects on display include a neck collar, shackles, plantation whip, and an 1835 broadside advertising a runaway slave. The neck collar is particularly large and heavy, and is unsettling to look at, knowing it actually encumbered the neck of a human. A number of the artifacts are on loan from John and Samantha Reznikoff.
Another item on exhibit is an 1808-1824 ledger kept by Samuel Wakeman of Fairfield, which includes references to eight individuals with African ancestry — Jeffrey Freeman, Frederick, Primus Burr, Titus Freemen, John, Ned Freeman, Hiram and Primas Jenning.
Nick Foster, the society’s office manager, collections and membership coordinator, said there were a surprising number of families who owned slaves in Wilton, including the well-known Lambert family, whose ancestral home can be seen at 150 Danbury Road at Lambert Corner.
A 1757 letter from the Wilton Historical Society’s permanent collection confirms the sale of a slave named Jack to David Lambert.
Research has revealed that a black slave named Haggar, born in 1770, and owned by Wilton’s Samuel Belden II, was married to a Native American slave named Bill Tonquin. Tonquin was owned by another branch of the Belden family in Wilton. Haggar and Bill Tonquin had three children, Prince, Nancy and Black Jack, and lived in the Belden Store at the corner of Ridgefield Road and “Danbury Pike,” a crossways at the heart of Wilton’s town center. (See related story on Kimberly Wilson’s portrayal of Haggar Tonquin.)
Haggar Tonquin is documented as being the last slave in Wilton. Her children were slaves, but were born with the promise of freedom, as they would have been freed at age 21 by a Connecticut law passed in 1783.
Wilton also had a stop on the Underground Railroad, at the home of the abolitionist William Wakeman on Seeley Road.
Tools of a Shameful Trade will run through the end of February. The Wilton Historical Society, 224 Danbury Road, is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 to 4.