In recent years many black Americans have begun to take pride in their African heritage and to look for information about the past. Although tracing African-American genealogy can be difficult, it is no longer considered impossible.
Most blacks came to America during the period of legal slavery, a time when documentation of blacks as individuals was often lacking. However, even then there were some free blacks, and by 1863, one-seventh of all blacks in the United States were free. This means that there are many blacks now living in the US who have free black ancestry. Slave or free, almost every black family can be traced back until at least 1825, and some families can be traced to even earlier times.
Connecticut is fortunate in having a centralized location in Hartford, the Connecticut State Library, for genealogy and local history resources. The State Library’s History and Genealogy Unit and the State Archives hold early vital records, church records, censuses, and other items of interest to those researching African-Americans in Connecticut. To best utilize these resources, one needs basic genealogical research skills, a broad understanding of black American history, and an awareness of the state’s slave system. While this research guide is not intended to be an exhaustive checklist, it should provide you with an overview of the wide variety of African-American materials available at the State Library and help you form successful search strategies. Additional materials may be found in the library’s Law and Legislative Reference and Government Information Services collections.
Please note that this research guide deals primarily with resources pertaining to African-American genealogy and local history from colonial times through the end of the nineteenth century. Not all blacks in Connecticut share this background; some may have Cape Verdean or Caribbean ancestries. They may see themselves not as African-Americans but rather as people with a distinctly different history and cultural heritage. Resources covering these other groups may be covered in a future research guide.
- Related Subjects of Interest
- The Amistad Affair
- Arts and Artists
- Connecticut’s “Black Governors”
- Connecticut Freedom Trail Quilts
- Prudence Crandall
- The Life and Times of William Webb: An African-American Civil War Soldier from Connecticut
- Log Book of Slave Traders Between New London and Africa, 1757-58
- Research Guide to Materials Relating to Slavery in Connecticut at the Connecticut State Library
- Underground Railroad
- Other Institutions with Relevant Collections
If you are just beginning to research your family history, you may wish to read Getting Started in Genealogy and familiarize yourself with some of the books listed on our bibliographies, A List of Some Suggested How-to Books for Family History. These sources will provide information on genealogical research techniques which are useful, no matter what ethnic background you are researching.
- Blockson, Charles L., and Ron Fry. Black Genealogy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentiss-Hall, 1977 [CSL call number HistRef CS 21 .B55].
- Brown, Barbara, and James Rose. Black Roots in Southeastern Connecticut, 1650-1900. Gale Genealogical and Local History Series, Volume 8. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1979 [CSL call number HistRef E 185.93 .C7 B76].
- Lawson, Sandra M. Generations Past: A Selected List of Sources for Afro-American Genealogical Research. Washington: Library of Congress, G.P.O., 1988 [CSL call number LC 1. 12/2:AF 8/4].
- Rose, James, and Alice Eichholz. Black Genesis: An Annotated Bibliography for Black Genealogical Research. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1978 [CSL call number HistRef CS 21 .R57].
- Smith, Jessie Carney, ed. Ethnic Genealogy: A Research Guide. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1983 [CSL call number HistRef CS 49 .E83 1983]. See pages 309-363.
- Szucs, Loretto Dennis, and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, eds. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Rev. Ed. Salt Lake City: Ancestry Incorporated, 1997 [CSL call number CS 49 .S8 1997]. See pages 575-586.
- Tobey, Ilene. Searching Black Genealogy. Hartford: Connecticut State Library, 1989 [CSL call number HistRef ConnDoc St 292 to sebL].
- Young, Tommie. Afro-American Genealogy Sourcebook. New York: Garland Publishing Co., 1987 [CSL call number E 185.96 .Y67 1987].
African-Americans In Connecticut
- Barnes, Barbara A. “Venture Smith’s Family.” Unpublished paper “submitted to the faculty of Wesleyan University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Certificate of Advanced Study, March 1, 1996” [CSL Call Number CS 71.S643 1996].
- Beeching, Barbara J. “African Americans and Native Americans in Hartford, 1636-1800: Antecedents of Hartford’s Nineteenth Century Black Community.” Unpublished paper “submitted to Professor Pfeiffer, Social Studies 637,” Trinity College, 1993 [CSL Call Number HistRef F 104 .H39 A24 1993].
- Beeching, Barbara J. “The Primus Papers: An Introduction to Hartford’s Nineteenth Century Black Community.” Master’s thesis, Trinity College, 1995 [CSL Call Number F 104 .H39 N4 1995].
- Bontemps, Arna. Five Black Lives: The Autobiographies of Venture Smith, James Mars, William Grimes, The Rev. G. W. Offley, James L. Smith. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1971 [CSL call number E 444 .F49]. Autobiographies of ex-slaves living in Connecticut between 1729 and 1870.
- Collier, Christopher, with Bonnie Collier. The Literature of Connecticut History. Middletown, CT: Connecticut Humanities Council, 1983 [CSL call number HistRef AS 36 .C8 A1]. See pages 242-251, “Slavery and the Black Experience”.
- Johnson, Charles S. The Negro Population of Hartford, Connecticut. New York: Department of Research and Investigations of the National Urban League, 1921 [CSL call number F 104 .H39 A24 1921].
- Johnson, Charles S. “The Negro Population of Waterbury, Connecticut.” Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life 1 (Oct. 1923) 10: 298-302, 1 (Nov. 1923) 11: 338-342 [CSL call number E 185.5 .06].
- Mead, Jeffrey B. Chains Unbound: Slave Emancipation’s in the Town of Greenwich, Connecticut. Baltimore: Gateway Press, 1995 [CSL call number F 104 .G8 M44 1995].
- Nason, Mary L. African-Americans in Simsbury, 1725-1925. M. L. Nason, 1995 [CSL call number F 106 .S6 N37 1995].
- Rose, James M., and Barbara Brown. Tapestry: A Living History of the Black Family in Southeastern Connecticut. New London County Historical Society, 1979 [CSL call number E 185.93 .C7 R67]. History of a black family and its origins. Mr. Rose trained under Alex Haley.
- Trapp, Patricia A. “Silent Voices and Forgotten Footsteps: A Chronicle of the Early Black Culture of Glastonbury, 1693-1860.” Master’s thesis, Wesleyan University, 1996 [CSL call number F 104 .G5 T73 1996].
- Warner, Robert Austin. New Haven Negroes: A Social History. Reprint, Arno Press, 1969 [CSL call number F 104 .N69 N4 1940].
- Weld, Ralph Foster. Slavery in Connecticut. Tercentenary Pamphley Series, No. 37. New Haven: Published for the Tercentenary Commission by the Yale University Press, 1935 [CSL call number ConnDoc T 271 hp].
Identification of blacks in genealogical records is difficult because the African names of slaves were largely disregarded. Blacks were usually given only American first names. In Connecticut, a man’s wife and children often took his given name as their surname. For example, the sons of Primus Richards were known as George and Henry Primus. In the Records and Papers of the First Congregational Church, Hartford, blacks are listed in the index as “Negroes”. There are no individual name listings, and slaves were often listed under the slave-owners’ names (i.e., “Myers, Miers, Negroes of”) with no identification of the person by name.When slaves escaped to the North or were freed, they adopted surnames. Some slaves took surnames prior to being freed, but generally kept the name a secret from the white community. It is a common misconception that freed slaves took the surnames of their last owner. In fact, slaves often went by several surnames and made a final choice at the time they were emancipated or gained freedom. They often took the surname of their father, who may have been a white slave-master or overseer. Or, they took the name of a current owner, a former owner, a famous American, or a locally-prominent citizen.
Pucket, Newbell N., comp., and Murray Heller, ed. Black Names in America: Origins and Usage. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1975 [CSL call number E 185.89 .N3 P82].
Slavery in the United States tore families apart while leaving few exact records. Knowing that one’s ancestor had to endure the abuses of slavery can be distressing. Charles Blockson, in his book Black Genealogy, has given this encouragement: “There is certainly no reason to be ashamed if some of your relatives were slaves — you should be proud if they were able to maintain their dignity in the midst of an inhuman system”. Searching for ancestors who may have been slaves requires a thorough investigation of slave-owning families in public and historical records, including those in the Research Guide to Materials Relating to Slavery in Connecticut at the Connecticut State Library. Connecticut Genealogical Resources
Descendants of free blacks from Connecticut can find documentation of their ancestors prior to the Civil War in church records, land records, military records, probate records, vital records, and other public records. Some specific records, oriented to race, such as manumission papers (written to release an individual from slavery or bound servitude), and other proofs of freedom can also be found. However, researching black genealogy may be hindered by the practice of “passing”. Some blacks, as well as whites, will discover family members who found it necessary or advantageous to “pass” as white. As a result, their present-day descendants may be protecting this knowledge about their family, or may even be unaware of their black ancestry. Likewise, persons and families of mixed African-American and Native American ancestry may not acknowledge or be aware of part of their ancestral heritage.
Vital information from headstones in over 2,000 Connecticut cemeteries was recorded ca. 1934 as a WPA project known as the Hale Collection of Connecticut Cemetery Inscriptions. These records generally do not give a race, but there are some exceptions, and the researcher is advised not to overlook this resource. The statewide slip index and index for each separate town in the bound volumes include “No Surname” sections at the end of the alphabet, which include names of many blacks, Native Americans, and mulattos. One example from the slip index is:
- Foone (African Slave)
Cemetery 2 [Riverside Cemetery] Page 65
Vital records for each Connecticut town have been microfilmed to about 1900 on a town-by-town basis and are available at the Connecticut State Library and LDS Family History Centers.
Census Records Population Schedules, 1790-1880, 1900-1920
Censuses from 1790 to 1840 only gave the names of the heads of the household. All other people in the household, including slaves, were not named but merely counted: “2” under the category of “slaves” and “female”, for example. Free blacks who were the heads of households in this period were sometimes listed by only one name. In the 1850 and 1860 censuses, slave statistics were gathered, but the census schedules did not list slaves by name. All the members of free black households were enumerated by name in these censuses. The first listing of all blacks by name on a federal census was made in 1870. Censuses for 1850 and after will show the date and place of birth, occupation, personal wealth, education, spouse, children, and hired hands for free blacks. Research guides to census records at the State Library are available. The State Library’s Connecticut Census Index, 1790-1850, covers the U.S. censuses for Connecticut, 1790-1850 (excluding New London County in 1790). It is an index of heads of households, 1790-1840, and all individuals for 1850. Selected examples of entries from this index include:
Please note that this index refers to the state copy of the census, which was collated and paginated differently than the federal copy. Researchers should refer to published or CD-ROM federal census indexes to obtain the page numbers for census records on National Archives microfilms.
Mortality Schedules, 1850-1880
These schedules show the deaths in a state for a one year period preceding the census: June 1849-June 1850, for example. Name and date of death are given; age at death, and cause of death may also be given. For information on what years are covered, see the Research Guide to Special Federal Census Schedules for Connecticut at the Connecticut State Library.
Other Census Resources
- Newman, Debra L. List of Free Black Heads of Families in the First Census of the United States, 1790. Washington: National Archives and Records Service, General Services Administration, 1973 [CSL SUDOCS number GS 4.7:34].
- Statement of Slaves in Connecticut, Abstract of Census. US House of Representatives Executive Document No. 90, 26th Congress, 2nd Series, Vol. 3, 1945 [CSL SUDOCS number UN 32 no.384]. Does not list people by name; only gives numbers of individuals within various categories.
- Woodson, Carter Godwin. Free Negro Heads of Families in the United States in 1830, Together With a Brief Treatment of the Free Negro. Washington: The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, Inc., 1925 [CSL call number E 185 .W887].
Church records contain information pertaining to baptisms, births, deaths, and marriages of free blacks and slaves, as well as whites. The collection of original church records in the State Archives and microfilm copies of those records in the History and Genealogy Unit cover approximately 600 Connecticut churches, many dating back to the 17th century. Genealogical information from about one-quarter of these, mostly Congregational, is in the State Library’s Church Records Index. Microfilm copies of the Church Records Index and many Connecticut church records themselves are also available for use through LDS Family History Centers. If a black person had a surname, the Church Records Index will list him or her alphabetically by surname and possibly identify the person as “colored”. The Church Records Index (both the slip index and the bound volumes covering individual churches) also includes a “No Surname” section at the end. This section includes the names of many blacks, Native Americans, and mulattos.
Examples of “no surname” entries pertaining to blacks in the slip index of the Church Records Index include:
- Aaron, wife buried
First Congregational Church Records and Papers, 1685-1811.
(Pages of “Negro” persons with no surname.)
- Caesar & Jenne,
Negro servants of Lieut. George Denison, baptized Nov. 28, 1742; their son, Tim, baptized same day.
First Congregational Church Records
Volume 2, page 47
a colored man, died Feb. 13, 1826, age 45.
First Congregational Church Records
Volume 4, page 182
a mulatto free-born, married Prince, Negro servant to Elihu Chesebrough, Apr. 12, 1744.
First Congregation Church Records
Volume 4, page 42
Some examples of “no surname” entries pertaining to blacks in volumes of the Church Records Index are:
- Amy, a mixed coloured woman, her child, d[ied] Dec. 22, 1825, age 4 days
North Congregational Church
Volume 5, page 121
- Betsy, negro, m[arried] Stephen Holmes, negro, b[oth] of Amenia, N.Y., June 25, 1796
First Church of Christ (Congregational)
Volume 1, page 68
- Pheby, negro woman of Elijah Mason, m[arried] Sherry [ ], negro man of Eleazer
Lord, Jan. 28, 1762
First Congregational Church
Volume 4, page 160
- Robin, negro servant to Samuel Squire, Esq., m. Dorcas, negro servant to Elijah Abel, Esq., Feb. 18, 1779
First Congregational Church Records, 1694-1806
(Pages of “Negro” persons with no surname.)
Bailey, Frederic W., Comp. Early Connecticut Marriages as Found in Ancient Church Records Prior to 1800. Reprint. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1968 [CSL call number HistRef F 93 .B16].
These consist of lists of residents and their home addresses, often with their occupation and place of work. They also include lists of businesses within the town. A particularly useful feature of many Connecticut directories in the late nineteenth century was the listing of births, marriages, and deaths during the preceding year, complete with names and dates. When individuals moved from town, Connecticut directories often recorded this fact, along with the community to which they moved. In many Connecticut directories there was a separate list of “colored” persons with their addresses and occupations. In order to help differentiate blacks from white persons with the same name in directories in which such lists are not included, it may be helpful to know the sections of urban centers that contained the highest concentration of blacks. Some city directories included lists of colored Freemasons, Masonic societies, and black churches with names of pastors and officers.
These records, documenting the sale and ownership of land, also document the sale, purchase, manumission, and emancipation of slaves, who were considered personal property. There is no statewide index to Connecticut land records, but general indexes to grantors and grantees are available for most towns. For suggestions on use of land records in genealogical research, see the Research guide to Connecticut Land Records.
Some examples of blacks mentioned in land records include:
- Negro, Alpheus, Emancipated from John & Benj. Moseley, 31 Oct. 1808.
Glastonbury Land Records, Volume 15, page 413.
- Slave, Cato, (Negro) – emancipation. Grantor: Warner, Jonathan.
Lyme Land Records, Book 20, page 21, Oct. 7, 1793.
Land records for each Connecticut town have been microfilmed to about 1900 on a town-by-town basis and are available at the Connecticut State Library and LDS Family History Centers.
The Connecticut State Library holds muster rolls, regimental histories, diaries, pictures, and bounty documents pertaining to Connecticut’s participation in all wars in what is now the United States, from colonial times though the Vietnam era. Published sources pertaining to blacks include:
- Beach, E. Merrill. From Valley Forge to Freedom: A Story of a Black Patriot. Trumbull Bicentennial Commission. Chester, CT: Pequot Press, 1975 [CSL call number E 444 .H38 B42]. The story of Nero Hawley, of Trumbull, who served with General George Washington at Valley Forge.
- Hodges, Graham Russell, ed. The Black Loyalist Directory: African Americans in Exile After the American Revolution. New York: Garland Publishing Co., in association with the New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1996 [CSL call number E 277 .B57 1996].
- Minority Military Service, Connecticut, 1775-1783. Washington: National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, 1988 [CSL call number HistRef E 263. C5 M56].
- Newton, Alexander H. Out of the Briars: An Autobiography and Sketch of the Twenty-Ninth Regiment of Connecticut Volunteers. Reprint. Miami, FL: Mnemosyne Pub. Co., 1969 [CSL call number E 499.5 29th .N48 1969].
- Saunders, Ernest. Blacks in the Connecticut National Guard: a Pictorial and Chronological History, 1870 to 1919. New Haven: Afro-American Historical Society [CSL call number F 105 .N4 S28].
- White, David O. Connecticut’s Black Soldiers, 1775-1783. Chester, CT: Pequot Press, 1973 [CSL call number HistRef ConnDoc AM35 cb].
See also the information on the Connecticut Archives: Revolutionary War; State Archives Record Group 12, Records of the State Library, War Records Department; State Archives Record Group 13, Records of the Military Department; and the Trumbull Papers, listed under “Archival and Manuscript Materials”, below.
The State Library holds an extensive collection of Connecticut newspapers in either original format or on microfilm. Important indexes include: Hale Collection of Newspaper Marriage and Death Notices, ca. 1750-1865
This Works Progress Administration project abstracted marriage and death notices from the 90 earliest newspapers published in Connecticut from about 1750 to about 1865. The index entries are arranged alphabetically by surname, with a “No Surname” section at the end, in which are listed many blacks, Native Americans, and mulattos.
Examples of death notice index entries in this collection pertaining to blacks are:
- Cezar, Minott (colored), Age 40
Columbian Register, issue of Aug. 11, 1849
- Cesar, Rachel (colored), Age 100?
Springer’s Weekly Oracle, issue of Sept. 23, 1799
- Freeman, Candace (colored widow), Died Dec. 7, 1857; Age: 81
Winsted Herald, issue of Dec. 18, 1857
These abstracts have been microfilmed and are available at the Connecticut State Library and LDS Family History Centers.
Connecticut Courant Index, 1764-99
This slip index to the Connecticut Courant, a forerunner of the Hartford Courant, includes name and subject entries for the period 1764 to 1799. Sample index entries are:
- Cato, slave runaway from Hebron, 8 O 92:33
- Negroes, runaway, 29 Apr 65:31
- Slaves for sale in Glastonbury, 18 Fb 8:33
Wills, inventories, and distributions contain a wealth of genealogical information. Servants and slaves were listed in inventories, given in distributions to other people, and sometimes given their freedom. Free men generally do not have a race listed. Connecticut probate records consist of two types: 1) probate estate papers — the actual wills and inventories, etc., and 2) probate court record books — the official record of the actions taken by the probate court.
The History and Genealogy Unit’s holdings include microfilms of probate estate papers for most of the state prior to 1880 and for much of the state to about 1915. Most of these are indexed in the Probate Estate Papers Index in the corridor adjacent to the History and Genealogy Reading Room. Examples from the Probate Estate Papers Index are:
- Cato (a Negro)
Town of Plainfield District of Plainfield
1788 – File Number 402
- Freeman, Francis (Negro)
Town of Farmington – District of Hartford
1697 – File Number 2068
1 Miscellaneous document
- Primus (Negro)
Town of Wethersfield – District of Hartford
1731 – File Number 4408
1 Will – 2 Inventories – 5 Miscellaneous documents – 1 Bond – 2 Accts. of Administration.
The index does not cover specific items of property (including slaves) mentioned within a will, so it may be beneficial to search the tax abstracts of a town to determine slave owners and then check the probate records of those individuals. Tax abstracts for many Connecticut towns are included in State Archives Record Group 62.
Many original probate files that have not been microfilmed are in the State Archives and are subject to the Rules and Procedures for Researchers Using Archival Records, Original Newspapers, and Secured Collections Materials.
Microfilm copies of most probate court record books to about 1915 are available in the History and Genealogy Reading Room.
The Barbour Collection of Connecticut Vital Records consists of abstracts of Connecticut town vital records (births, marriages, and deaths) up to about 1850. Blacks may be identified as negro, black, or mulatto, or designated as “free men of color” to distinguish them from white Americans of the same name. Examples of Barbour Collection index entries pertaining to blacks are:
- BURR, Mance* Titus
freeman, Negro of Fairfield, married Castile or Lusteel Nichols, freeman of Weston [ ], 1822, by David Hill, J.P. (*or Nancy)
Volume l-m, page 6
- NICHOLS, Fanny A.
of Hartford, married John Harding, of Ellington, colored, Sept. 9, 1838, by Rev. John A. Hempsted
Volume 1, page 144
- PRIUM, Hodrich,
married Mehitabel E. Jacob, both of Hartford, colored, July 27, 1835, by Rev. George Coles
Volume 1, page 121
The Barbour Collection’s statewide slip index and its bound volumes for individual towns include a “No Surname” section at the end in which are listed many blacks, Native Americans, and mulattos.
Vital records for each Connecticut town have been microfilmed to about 1900 on a town-by-town basis and are available at the Connecticut State Library and LDS Family History Centers.
Archival and Manuscript Resources Archival Materials
An archives pass is required for the use of these items. Please see the Rules and Procedures for Researchers Using Archival Records and Secured Collections Materials.
RG 1, Early General Records, 1629-1820. This group consists of colonial and early statehood records which, because of their nature or arrangement, cannot be attributed to the record groups for individual state agencies. Sub-groups include:
Below are listed some examples of index entries from some of the series in the Connecticut Archives which may be of interest to those studying African-American history:
Crimes and Misdemeanors, 1662-1789
- Barney, Negro, convicted of maiming minor son of Jonathan Allyn. Volume IV, doc. 67.
- Divorce: Hannah, Negro, petition for divorce from Cyrus on the grounds of adultery, 1726. Volume III, doc. 327.
- Negroes: York, servant of Samuel Bliss, Norwich, tried for taking swine, 1727. Volume III, doc. 88-91.
Ecclesiastical Affairs, 1658-1789
- Negro servants of Joseph Buckingham to be freed by his will, 1760. Volume XII, doc. 189a, 190a, 19l.
- Slavery: Petitions of Samuel Morris of Killingly for five hundred pounds for support of slave left on his father’s hands, Dec. 1750. Volume IX, doc. 37.
Indians, Series II, 1666-1820
- Negroes: Petition of Benoni Occum and others of the Mohegan Tribe showing that they do not want Negroes or any miscellaneous races to have any of their lands. Volume 1, doc. 86.
Insolvent Debtors, Series II, 1750-1820
- Negroes: Caesar, Negro fugitive, Hermitage, New York, advertised in Connecticut Gazette, October 5, 1787. Volume IX, doc. 4g.
- Pomp, Negro, East Hartford, creditor of William Moore, 1798. Volume VIII, doc. l0l c, h, i, L.
- Slavery: Petition of William Ryan of New London showing that he was a seafaring man and acquired considerable property…, Apr.-May 1793. Volume X, doc. 135.
- Duce, Hannah, negro slave of Thomas Richards, question of slavery of her child Abda, whom she claimed was son of John Gennings, a white man, 1702/3. Volume II, doc. 14, 21a, c.
- Filly, slave, deed of manumission from Wareham & Elizabeth Mather, New Haven, Feb. 1743/4. Volume II, doc. 76d, 78d, 79c, d.
Revolutionary War, Series I, II, III
Consists of military data and petitions concerning a variety of matters. Historians estimate the number of black soldiers in this war to have been about 5,000 men, serving in militias, seagoing services, and support activities. In some cases, slaves were offered their freedom in return for satisfactory completion of a set period of service. Sample index entries are:
- Africa. Ruel, Negro, private, Wallingford, bounty. Volume XXX, doc.144a.
- Black. Caesar, alias Caesar Fidler, Wethersfield, death in army and petition by Daniel Buck, administrator and former master of Caesar, showing there is a balance after settling estate…. Volume XXXVII, doc. 242-244.
- Caesar, negro, servant of Samuel Peters, Hebron, on evidence that he & wife, Lois, belonged to Peters estate, supported themselves without aid for 6 years until agents for managing the estate attempted to sell them & their children for the South & were rescued by Hebron neighbors from cruelty of traders, petition for freedom, gr. Jan. 1789. Volume XXXVII, doc. 258-262.
- Negro. Abel, private, East Windsor, bounty. Volume XXX, doc. 68b.
- Timon, private, Wethersfield, Lexington Alarm, 1775. Volume XIB, doc. 14c.
Slavery: Austin, Joshua, New Haven, petition and officer’s certificate showing his Negro, Brister, served 6 years and would be a fit subject for emancipation, Jan. 1784. Volume XXXVII, doc. 240.
Western Lands, Series II, 1783-1819
Negro free state. Petition of Reuben Stevens with other free Negroes showing that they wish to move from Connecticut to the unsettled parts of another state and form a settlement for themselves, families, and brethren now living in slavery as fast as they are emancipated and praying that the Assembly will purchase a township for them for which they will repay the state in about 10 years, 1776. Doc. 57.Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut
Public Records of the State of Connecticut
These sets comprise the official record books of the General Court/General Assembly. The original volumes are housed in the State Archives as part of Record Group 1, but those through the early nineteenth century have been published [CSL call number HistRef ConnDoc G25]. Records to 1792 are also available on microfilm from Research Publications, Inc. Sample entry:
Upon the memorial of Pomp, a negro man slave belonging to the estate of Jeremiah Leming formerly of Norwalk, clerk, now absconded to the enemy of the United States, showing to Assembly that in consequence of a sentence of confiscation passed against said estate agreeable to an administration committed thereon the memorialist is liable to be sold for the benefit of the State, and to be continued in slavery by act of government, and praying to be emancipated and set at liberty as per memorial on file: Resolved by this Assembly, that the memorialist be and he is hereby emancipated and set at liberty.
RG 2, General Assembly Papers (post 1820). This Record Group contains petitions, acts, resolutions, appointment and resignation documents, reports of committees and officers, governors’ messages, and other materials related to legislative business. Some samples of what is available are listed below:
Box 7, doc. 56. Peter White, an African by birth, late of Granby died owning $200 – $300 of real estate in Granby, had a wife “de facto” and a daughter Rany White. She seeks to inherit although illegitimate. Granted.
Box 11, doc. 25a. Petition of Simon Champlin, a colored man, for release from prison, claiming he was improperly convicted on a charge of bigamy as his first wife, Naomi Niger, had deserted him 11 years ago and that after 7 years he had remarried to Huldah Mamsley and had 2 children. Released from prison.
Box 27. Petitions regarding repeal of act prohibiting the education of colored persons; documents 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 7c, and 9a are lists of colored inhabitants of Middletown and New Haven, including some females.
Box 35, doc. 93a, b, c. Petition by free colored citizens (contains 50 to 75 names) of Hartford petitioning for a state amendment giving them the right to vote.
RG 2, General Assembly Papers, Rejected Bills.
Box 2, doc. 45 & 46. Petitions of Bias Stanley and William Lanson, both of New Haven and men of color. Both own comfortable homes to qualify them as voters relied on 1639 law that all inhabitants of 21 yrs. & with requisite property would be admitted as voters. Objecting to Connecticut State law of 1814 that added “white” to requirements. Seek exemption from all taxes for blacks if they are denied the right to vote.
Box 4, doc. 5. Petition by free persons of color in Norwich & New London against paying poll tax when they can’t vote. Signed by Josiah Cornell, William Laws, William Harris, Deppard Billings, Ira Forset, Olney M. Douglass, Anthony Church, Thomas Hamilton, Joseph Facy and John Meads.
Box 15, doc. 56a, b, c. Petition to amend Sec. 2, Art. 6 of State Constitution to secure the elective franchise to all men of requisite qualifications, irrespective of color. Signatures of colored male citizens of Hartford.
RG 3, Records of the Judicial Department. In addition to criminal cases and inquests, these records include a variety of civil case records, such as “warnings” to paupers, pension applications, divorces, appointments of conservators and guardians; papers relating to confiscated estates, Loyalists, and Indians; and records pertaining to the granting of tavern and other occupational licenses.
RG 5, Records of the Governors. These records contain proclamations and official statements, incoming and outgoing letters, miscellaneous reports, military correspondence, commitment papers, and subject files with titles such as “Afro-Americans”, “Civil Rights”, “Associations”, “Clubs”, and “NAACP”. See also the Trumbull Papers (official colonial papers, ca. 1631-1744) under the heading Manuscript Materials, below.
RG 12, Records of the State Library, War Records Department. Contains lists and other information of Connecticut members of the armed forces, 1776-1946, men and women who served in the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the Mexican Border Service, World War I and World War II, with extracts from the 1840 census of Revolutionary and military service pensioners.
RG 13, Records of the Military Department. Includes records pertaining to the 29th, 30th, and 31st Connecticut Regiments, which were black Civil War regiments, and the post-Civil War black Connecticut National Guard units such as the 5th Independent Battalion and the First and Second Separate Companies.
RG 33, Works Progress Administration. See in particular the Ethnic Groups Survey and Church Records Survey.
RG 33:8, Ethnic Groups Survey.
- RG 33:8:25, Edited Copies of Papers on Ethnic Groups, 1936-38. Short reports or monographs by WPA field workers or editors on individual ethnic groups, including “Negroes” in different Connecticut towns. These reports may show the various aspects of black life and culture in Connecticut.
- RG 33:8:29, Files on Studies of Organizations, 1936-40. Edited copies of papers on ethnic organizations, together with lists, working papers, and related materials.
- RG 33:8:37, Bridgeport Office File, 1936-40. Reports of interviews with members of ethnic groups. Includes reports of interviews of Bridgeport area “Negroes” during 1936-1940.
- RG 33:8:38, Hartford Office File, 1936-40. Includes newspaper clippings concerning Hartford ethnic groups, including “Negroes”, mounted in scrapbooks.
- RG 33:8:39, New Britain Office File, 1936-40. Includes edited copy, drafts, interview reports and working papers arranged by ethnic group.
- RG 33:31, Church Records Survey. See boxes 280-288: Inventories of church records, arranged by denomination.
RG 62, Records of the Towns and Boroughs. These records include selectmen’s records, including letters pertaining to paupers; town meeting records, including cases of paupers; town treasurer’s reports with welfare information (dates of death and other genealogical information); and monies paid to blacks for various services. Examples include:
Wethersfield – Town Papers.
- Deposition of Wyatt Wolcot concerning Sarah Delion, a slave, Feb. 19, 1781. Box 4, doc. 598.
- Certificate of Selectmen concerning Dorcas, a Negro slave, June 14, 1798. Indenture of Armenal & Stephen Mix Mitchell, emancipating their slave, Dorcas. Box 4, doc. 599.
- Certificate of Selectmen concerning Sampson, a Negro slave, Jan. 6, 1800. Indenture of Ezek P. Belden, emancipating his slave, Sampson. Box 4, doc. 600.
This collection contains correspondence, diaries, account books, and a variety of other useful materials, including some municipal records. All manuscript materials are subject to the Rules and Procedures for Researchers Using Archival Records and Secured Collections Materials. Items are cataloged according to the Dewey decimal classification system, with access through the Manuscripts and Archives Catalog in the History and Genealogy Reading Room. Subject headings under which one should look for blacks include:
- Fraternal Organizations
- Negro Soldiers
- Negro Suffrage
- Names of individual people and towns
Sample items found in this group include:
- Adams, Eliphalet
Bill of sale or indenture made by Eliphalet Adams of New London, Connecticut to Joseph and Jonathan Trumble of Lebanon, Connecticut, whereby he sells his mulatto girl, Flora, a slave for life, May 12, 1736 [CSL call number Main Vault 326 Ad15].
- Caples, J. A., comp.
Memoirs of the Caples family, history and description of Lyme, Connecticut, scrapbook of poems, death notices, Grassy Hill Congregational Church (blacks) [CSL call number Main Vault 974.62 L89 ca ].
- Law, Lyman
Certificate by Lyman Law, Notary Public at New London, Connecticut, showing that Caesar Shaw (free Negro) mariner on board sloop, Betsy, declares that he was born Feb. 10, 1760, in New London, Conn., and has a wife and family living in New London and that he is an inhabitant thereof and a citizen of the United States, Dec. 30, 1795 [CSL call number Main Vault 920 Sh52L].
- Lowell, L. H.
Bill-of-sale made by L. H. Powell to Hopkins Nowlin for the sale of Sarah, a slave, 16 years of age, for life, Mar. 22, 1850 [CSL call number Main Vault 326 P3].
- New London County
Certificate of emancipation of Robert Jones, Negro, requested by him and applied for by his masters, Charles A. and George R. Lewis. Dated New London, May 8, 1827, and subscribed by Jirah Isham and Ebenezer Learned, justices of peace [CSL call number Main Vault 326 N46].
- Trumbull Papers
Official Connecticut colonial papers, ca. 1631-1784, collected by Governor Jonathan Trumbull under instruction of the Connecticut General Assembly [CSL call number Main Vault 974.6 fT76]. Check the slip index under the headings “Negroes” and “Slavery,” and the names of individuals and towns. Sample entries include:
Petition by negro servants of Hartford for their freedom,
Oct. 1780. Volume XIII, doc. 286a-d
Notice by Oliver Collins & Benjamin Douglas of New Haven
in reply to Samuel Turner’s advertisement for return of Pero
alias Aaron Moree as a slave. Aaron declared to be free born
& persons attempting to hold him warned of prosecution,
Oct. 1773. Volume XXIII, doc. 38d
Genealogists may save some time in finding records by consulting the Ancestral File and the International Genealogical Index (IGI). These CD-ROM products include information on individuals throughout the world, including blacks.The Ancestral File is a collection of thousands of names and pedigrees submitted to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.
The International Genealogical Index is an index of names extracted from church and civil records. It includes over 200 million names from records around the world, with concentrations in North America, Mexico, Great Britain, and Europe. Names are placed in the IGI by researchers or through name extraction programs. If your ancestor is in the IGI, you may be able to find the date and place of his or her birth, marriage, and/or death.
The Ancestral File and the IGI are also available at LDS Family History Centersand many other libraries with genealogical collections, and through the Family Search website.
Related Subjects of Interest
Arts And Artists
- White, David O. “Addie Brown’s Hartford.” Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin 41 (April 1976) 2:56-64 [CSL call number F 91 .C67].
- _______________. “Augustus Washington, Black Daguerreotypist of Hartford.” Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin 39 (January 1974) 1:14-19 [CSL call number F 91 .C67].
- Small, Edwin M. and Miriam R. Small, “Prudence Crandall, Champion of Negro Education.” New England Quarterly 17 (1944): 506-29 [CSL call number F 1 .N62 Microfilm].
- Fuller, Edmund. Prudence Crandall; An Incident of Racism in Nineteenth-Century Connecticut. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press (1971) [CSL call number LC 2802 .C8 F8].
Also look in the Manuscripts and Archives Catalog under the subject heading “Crandall, Prudence” and in the Biography Vertical File in the History and Genealogy Reading Room.
Documents relating to the passage of an addition to “An Act for the Admission and Settlement of Inhabitants in Towns” are found in the State Archives. See:
RG 2, Records of the General Assembly, Boxes, 17-18, General Assembly Papers, 1833. Includes petition from the town of Canterbury, April 9, 1833, signed by 131 residents; petition from the town of Canterbury presented “By Their Agents”; 145 printed petitions from Connecticut communities, April 8, 1833; Senate Resolution, May Session, 1833, appointing Philip Pearl to head a committee to consider changes to “An act for the admission and settlement of inhabitants in towns;” report of Philip Pearl’s committee; and “An act in addition to an act entitled an act for the admission and settlement of inhabitants in towns.”
Court records pertaining to the Prudence Crandall case are also found in State Archives:
RG 3, Windham County County Court
Files, Box 498, March 1833-December 1833, Bundle August Term, 1833. Includes complaint against Prudence Crandall, June 26, 1833; warrant of arrest on Prudence Crandall, June 26, 1833; Sheriff’s arrest, June 27, 1833; expenses. [Note: these items appear to be copies of the documents served on Prudence Crandall. What may be the original writ binding Prudence Crandall over to the Superior Court, September 26, 1833, is in the manuscript collection, Main Vault 920 C85w.] Also includes summons of witnesses, August 16 and August 22, 1833; warrant of arrest on Amelia E. Wilder, August 22, 1833; and bill of costs, state v. Prudence Crandall, August term, 1833.
Records, Vol. XXIX
p. 280. State v. Prudence Crandall, continued to County Court of December 1833.
p. 299. Case continued to March 1834 term.
p. 315. Case continued to August 1834 term.
p. 304. State v. Frederick Olney, March 1834.
RG 3, Windham County Superior Court
Files, Box 210, Bundle October Term, 1833. Includes complaint against Prudence Crandall, September 25, 1833; warrant of arrest on Prudence Crandall, September 25, 1833; sheriff’s arrest, September 26, 1833; Justice Court, Canterbury, September 26, 1833; summons of witnesses, September 25, 1833; summons of witnesses, October 1, 1833.
RG 3, Connecticut Supreme Court of Errors
Files, Box 34, Windham County, 1820-1843, Bundle July term, 1834. Includes Judge David Daggett’s account of the October 1833 Superior Court trial, including the jury’s verdict, the State’s opinions, and Prudence Crandall’s appeal to the Supreme Court of Errors.
See also Day, Thomas. A Digest of the Reported Cases Decided by the Supreme Court of Errors of the State of Connecticut…, vol. 10 (1833-1835): 339-372 [CSL call number KFC 3645.1 .D3].
- The Underground Railroad in Connecticut. American Revolution Bicentennial Commission of Connecticut. The Commission, (1976?) [CSL call number ConnDoc AM35 ur].
- The Underground Railroad in New England. American Revolution Bicentennial Administration, Region 1, (1976?) [CSL call number E 450 .U534].
- Underground Railroad Sites on the Connecticut Freedom Trail
Other Institutions With Relevant Collections
- Connecticut Afro-American Historical Society
c/o The Ethnic Heritage Center at Southern Connecticut State University
- Connecticut Historical Society
- Hartford (CT) Black History Project
Prepared by Beverly L. Naylor, Librarian, History and Genealogy Unit, Connecticut State Library.