Witness Stones West Hartford ©

Remembering Slavery and Freedom in West Hartford

The Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society is committed to telling the story of slavery and freedom with a public history project focused on the work of the Witness Stones West Hartford Project.

Students and teachers shift their gaze from a New England colonial history dominated by English settlers to one informed by the institution of slavery.

Students and teachers engage with local primary sources to tell the stories of the enslaved and enslavers. Students amplify the stories through civic engagement activities which include the installation of stones in the Old Center Cemetery.

Retired Social Studies teachers from the West Hartford Public Schools,
Dr. Tracey Wilson (Town Historian) and Liz Devine will present these programs.

The Witness Stones Programs provides through lines and the words to address compelling questions students and teachers are wrestling with today:

What is the legacy of power relationships from slavery, based on race and profit, that still exist today? And, have these power relationships changed?

How can confronting our past help us to address questions of racial injustice today?

How can these stories reach a wider audience?

"We need to engage everyone in meaningful conversation about what it would take to cleanse ourselves of the legacy of slavery."

Bryan Stevenson, 2015 MOMA Interview

Program 1

Witnessing Slavery and Freedom in the West Division

This program gives participants an introduction to how the Witness Stones project and the "Black Lives Matter" movement are connected. That lens informs the study of the economic and social system in colonial West Hartford. Participants will learn who lived and worked in a colonial town, including enslaved people who, in part, built this community.

Students will use church records, maps, account books and wills to bring forth the voices of people who have not been heard. Students will explore the agency of enslaved people who escaped from slavery through runaway ads and manumission papers. Students will interpret and analyze agency and resistance and their connections to humanization and dehumanization today.

Program 2

Part 1: Learn the Story

Historians bring the various parts of the story of one enslaved person from the town to your virtual classroom. Students will discover and the story through primary and secondary sources.

Part 2: Tell the story How will you help the town remember?

Teachers will guide their students in individual and collaborative projects to tell the story. Historians can help teachers connect students to an authentic community audience.

"Slavery is the landscape you learn to see."

Anne Farrow, author, The Logbooks: Connecticut’s Slave Ships and Human Memory

Program 3

Mastery Experience in Local and Public History

High school students can pursue their mastery experience with the Witness Stones Project and the Noah Webster House and West Hartford Historical Society.

Work with town historians to examine your topic and create a blueprint for a culminating public history project that includes a presentation about your research and application of your skills and knowledge in helping to understand the public history of our town.

Grades 10-12

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Program 4

In this 4-session virtual program, community members witness the history of slavery in West Hartford with the Witness Stones Project Directors online. Participants read, analyze, and discuss documents discovered about an enslaved family who lived here, during Noah Webster’s time, and learn to tell their story. Participants help others in town remember their lives through the stone to be placed in the Old Center Cemetery at the end of this public history project. This program is available to churches, synagogues, community groups, senior centers, book clubs, as well as individuals.

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Community Reactions to the Juneteenth Witness Stones Installation Ceremony :

"What an amazing letter written by students who have taken their Witness Stones work to a distinctive level. Good for them, good for your project and good for the town of West Hartford. I am heartened to think their request might be honored by the town council, as it should be." (on trying to change the name of New Street to that of an enslaved person.)

"This project changed the way I look at West Hartford. I had an idealized conception of what colonial life In New England was like (based on what was taught in school). This project was truly an education!"

"I appreciate all the research to date and the fact that this is an ongoing project that focuses on people who until recently I haven’t thought about. I feel committed to teaching my friends and neighbors about life in West Hartford. I am struck by the convergence of the goals of this project to the social unrest nationwide and the possible awakening of America to our current and past racist history."

"There is something about Chloe and Ransom’s story that pinpoints a specific personalized human moment that disrupts the narrative of what freedom meant and looked like to formerly enslaved people in the North, specifically. " Community Member

"Thanks for sharing this interesting body of work with us. It is very well done; informative, creative and inspiring. I am impressed by the research and work that had to be part of these presentations.

Thanks to the students, teachers and Witness Stone participants that made this happen."

For more information contact: Jennifer DiCola Matos, Executive Director NWH matosj@noahwebsterhouse.org
Dr. Tracey Wilson, Co-Director of Witness Stones West Hartford traceymwilson@gmail.com

Grateful for our 2022 - 23 Sponsors

Sandy and Arnold Chase Family Foundation