As I referenced in an earlier post, I am piloting a class on slavery in Connecticut/New England. It is going to be entirely project-based learning. My only required text is Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank’s spectacular Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery. At this inflection point, I feel fortunate to have a class where I can engage my students meaningfully in #HardHistory and give them a lens through which to view our country and our struggles.
I’ve spent the summer doing initial lifting to familiarize myself with some of the history in the area. I’ve already posted about James Mars. I’m also excited to learn about William Grimes of Litchfield, CT, another remarkable formerly enslaved man and author of Life of William Grimes, The Runaway Slave.
There is so much synergy in this work.
Salisbury’s town historian, Jean McMillen, put me in touch with an African-American woman from Maryland, Katherine Overton. Katherine is an impressive genealogist and is also a remarkable historian. Katherine’s mother lived in an overwhelmingly white Salisbury until the 1930s. When she moved, she closed the book on at least 135 year of family history in Northwest Connecticut.
Here’s where the syncretism comes in. There are five published narratives of enslaved people from Connecticut: James Mars, Venture Smith, The Rev. G. W. Offley, James. L. Smith, and William Grimes. You can find the book here.
In one of my many conversations with Katherine this summer, she mentioned to me that her Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather, Timothy, had a daughter named Clarissa. Clarissa was married to the aforementioned William Grimes. (William Grimes deserves a post in his own right. Perhaps I’ll have my students write it).
So, from this tiny perch in my sleepy and mostly white country town, I can trace the roots of two vitally important Black men who helped build our country.
Katherine’s Cesar family’s American story has many spokes, and I look forward to having my students work with her to share more about the history of her remarkable family and their contributions to the building of our nation with the #AtlanticBlackBox Community.