“(T)he first slaves in Connecticut were not chiefly negroes, but Indians taken in battle and afterwards distributed among the settlers. The first Pequot War, for instance, furnished a large number, even a superfluity of servants of this character. There is, however, reason to believe that the two institutions of indian and Negro slavery co-existed for a period”.
“So much was the slave a part of the family that in every meeting house there was an ‘African corner’ where the slave must sit while attending divine service. In one town, to be sure, the seats were hidden from the rest of the congregation by a tall board partition.”
“It was even the custom in Puritan families to catechise the slaves Sunday noon regarding the sermon preached in the morning, a simple method by which many an ignorant black learned the fundamental truths of christianity.”
“(I)n early colonial history (there were) balls given by the blacks of a town, events of much pomp and splendor; military training days of a rather uncertain character and on a greatly reduced scale were regularly held; the slaves even went so far as to hold an annual election for governor.”
“It seems that there were negro governors in several towns and that each was really at the head of the slaves in that immediate vicinity.”
“(T)he annual election of these governors usually took place the Saturday after Election Day; …it took place as late as 1820, (or possibly) later”.
“After the negro governor was declared elected and inducted into office, if such it might be called, the whole black population formed an ‘election parade,’ in which the borrowed horses, saddles and trappings of their masters figured prominently.”
“The Black King, as he was graciously dubbed, was escorted through the streets of the town while the din of fiddles, fifes, drums and brass horns filled the air with an unearthly noise which the blacks themselves modestly described as a ‘martial sound.’”
“The negro nature being what it was, it was impossible that the slave’s privileges should be far reaching. Sometimes a slave might, upon the death of his master, choose with which son he wished to live, but of public privileges, at least in the early part of the eighteenth century, he had none.”
“As in other Northern states, gradual emancipation freed no slaves at once. It simply set up slavery for a long-term natural death. Connecticut finally abolished slavery entirely in 1848.”
“The 1800 census counted 951 Connecticut slaves; the number diminished thereafter to 25 in 1830, but then inexplicably rose to 54 in the 1840 census. After that, slaves were no longer counted in censuses for the northern states.” (Harper, 1899)
“In 1820, Blacks in New Haven were relegated at worship to the balcony of the First Congregational Church, located on the New Haven Green.”
“A group of Black worshippers persuaded Simeon Smith Jocelyn (1799-1879) a white abolitionist and Yale student, to conduct religious services with them at his home.”
“Four men and eighteen women, including Bias Stanley, Dorcas Lanson, Nicholas Cisco, and Adeline Cooper, came together as the first Black congregation in New Haven.” (The church was founded on February 8, 1820, when there were approximately 1,000 Negroes in New Haven. (Johnson-Taylor; New Haven Register))
“In 1824, the congregation organized as the African Ecclesiastical Society and purchased a building at 105 Temple Street. On August 25, 1829, the Western Association of New Haven County formally recognized the Temple Street Congregational Church (as the first African-American church in New Haven) and ordained Simeon Jocelyn as its minister. He served in that position until 1834.” (Johnson-Taylor)
Then, “On account of the failing health of his wife, (Hiram) Bingham was compelled to return to the United States (from Hawai‘i) in 1840, after a period of a little more than twenty years’ labor at the Islands.”
“He continued in the service of the Board during the five following years, and did not until the end of that time wholly abandon the hope of returning to the mission.”
“After so long an absence, however, believing that he could not easily accommodate himself to the new state of things, and unwilling yet to be laid aside from service, he began to act as stated supply to various churches, particularly the church in Chester, Mass., and the Temple Street Church, New Haven, Ct.”
“For over a year he was acting pastor ‘for the Congregational colored people of this city,’ as he wrote his oldest daughter; but he did not know ‘how long I shall supply them, with what compensation they will feel able to give me.’” (Congregational Quarterly)
“The Temple Street Church had a reputation as a ‘haven’ for fugitive slaves. It does not appear whether he was aware of that, but with the coming of the Civil War (Hiram) became a passionate supporter of the ‘cause of our Country and of Human Liberty.’” (Alfred Bingham)
The Temple Street Congregational Church congregation purchased the old North Church Mission Chapel at 100 Dixwell Avenue and moved there in 1886; the church was renamed the Dixwell Avenue Congregational Church (the oldest African American UCC Church in the world).
In 1967-1968, the Church was rebuilt at 217 Dixwell Avenue. Throughout its history, the church has been at the forefront in the struggle of human rights, civil rights and justice.
Its early pastors were leaders, even ‘conductors’ of the Underground Railroad and antislavery movements and the Amistad Incident of 1839. Slavery was not abolished in Connecticut until 1848. (Johnson-Taylor; New Haven Register)
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