I know what you’re thinking; you’re thinking, “Concept of Freedom what?” Hey, I didn’t make up the name and I struggle with it too. But don’t let that cloud your thinking – this is a really cool and very important historical “trail” here in Connecticut.
The overarching Freedom Trail is broken down into three parts – the Amistad, Underground Railroad and this one, the Concept of Freedom, Trails. I’m not complaining – this “trail” used to be near-impossible to sort out from various brochures and a very poorly designed website. However, in February 2011, the folks responsible for these things updated the website and now it’s a pleasure to go there and browse around. Go ahead and do it yourself, I’ll wait.
Just as long as you click on a few spots below to get my take as I visit every single one of these places. Wish me luck.
The “Concept of Freedom” Trail sites:
(Updated May 2013)
East Haddam (1)
Greenwich (1 of 2)
Hartford (14 of 17)
New Haven (10 of 11)
New London (2)
North Canaan (1)
Old Saybrook (1)
Plainville (2… or 3)
West Hartford (1)
Prudence Crandall House,
Routes 14 and 169
This imposing late Georgian-style house was purchased by Prudence Crandall in 1831 to be a private academy for local young women and men. When she admitted Sarah Harris, an African American student, Crandall found that parents of white students objected. In April 1833 she opened her house as a boarding school for young African American women, an action which led to harassment by neighbors, passage of a state law against her work, and her being jailed for one night. Through two court trials and an appeal to the state’s Supreme Court of Errors, Crandall continued to operate her school. Only after a violent attack on the house on the night of September 9, 1834, did she agree to close the school and send her students home. In the United States during the years leading up to the Civil War, the Crandall incident was one of many that helped solidify attitudes against slavery. However, Crandall’s effort to provide integrated and equal education in this house was a rarity for the times. In 1995 Prudence Crandall was designated as Connecticut’s State Heroine. The Crandall House, a National Historic Landmark, is a museum open to the public.
Marian Anderson House,
46 Joe’s Hill Road
Marian Anderson was born in Philadelphia in 1902 and as a young woman was noted for her singing ability. Finding few opportunities to perform in the United States, she won recognition in Europe. After her return to America, she sang in concerts in New York City and at the White House. When she was denied permission to sing at Washington, D.C.’s Constitution Hall in 1939, the government arranged for her to perform at the Lincoln Memorial before some 75,000 listeners. A year later she purchased her home in Danbury, known as “Marianna Farms,” where she and her husband raised livestock. She lived here for some 50 years. Near the house is a small building that she used as her rehearsal studio. Named a delegate to the United Nations in 1958, Anderson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963. She retired from concert performances in 1964, but continued to be active in various issues and causes. Her autobiography, My Lord, What a Morning, was published in 1956. The property is privately owned and not accessible to the public.
Marian Anderson Studio,
Danbury Museum & Historical Society, 43 Main Street
Marian Anderson (1897-1993) was a world-renowned opera singer and the first African American artist to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Perhaps her most famous concert took place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, after she was denied permission to sing at Constitution Hall. The concert was attended by 75,000 people. In 1940, Anderson and her husband purchased their property in Danbury, which became known as “Marianna Farm.” Marian Anderson’s husband, architect Orpheus H. Fisher (1899-1986), designed and built her a rehearsal studio, featuring a curved ceiling to enhance acoustics. The studio was donated to the Danbury Museum & Historical Society and moved to the museum’s Main Street property in 1999. The studio was restored and opened to the public in 2004, featuring many artifacts from Anderson’s life. Marian Anderson was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994.
Little Bethel A.M.E. Church
44 Lake Avenue
The congregation of Little Bethel A.M.E. Church was established in 1883, making it the first African American church in town. The congregation purchased land and constructed a building in the following year. Until the late 19th century, there was no defined nucleus of African American activity. This changed as slaves were freed and African American neighborhoods appeared throughout the town. The church is representative of this transition. The current Gothic Revival church was built in 1921, when the congregation outgrew its original structure. Little Bethel A.M.E. Church continues to serve as a religious and social center for the African American community of Greenwich. The property has been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.
Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park,
Fort Griswold is one of few locations in Connecticut where a Revolutionary War battle took place. The American defenders, greatly outnumbered, were local militia for the most part and included two African Americans: Jordan Freeman and Lambert Latham. During the battle Freeman helped to spear a British officer, an incident depicted on a marker inside the fort. Freeman was later killed in the fighting. When the Americans surrendered, the enraged British began to massacre the unarmed defenders. Before the British officers could halt their troops, Latham and a number of other Americans had died. Fort Griswold is on the National Register of Historic Places and open to the public.
Amistad Center for Art & Culture
The Wadsworth Atheneum, the nation’s oldest continuously operating public art museum, houses the Amistad Center for Art & Culture Collection. This unique collection of Americana is comprised of over 7,000 art objects, posters, broadsides, photographs, memorabilia and rare books that evidence the many contributions of African Americans to American culture. The Amistad Center for Art & Culture provides for public access to this collection, along with changing exhibitions and special interpretive programs, including scholarly and public forums and cultural performances during the year. The Wadsworth Atheneum also maintains the Fleet Gallery of African American Art to complement exhibitions in the Amistad Gallery and to further illuminate the role of African American visual artists in American art and culture. The Atheneum is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Mark Twain House
Most people recognize Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), as a satirist, humorist and literary figure. Less known is Twain’s activism in supporting the general cause of freedom and human dignity. Some accounts indicate that in 1881, Mark Twain endorsed and patronized the Parisian art education of Charles Ethan Porter, a talented African American artist from Vernon, Connecticut. And in a move that was to have reverberations during the civil Rights era, in 1885 Twain helped Warner T. Mc Guinn, a young African American student, attend Yale Law School. Warner T. Mc Guinn later became a mentor to Thurgood Marshall, who became the first African American Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. In a comment on his financial support of Mc Guinn, Twain wrote:
“I do not believe I would very cheerfully help a white student who would ask a benevolence of a stranger. But I do not feel so about the other color. We have ground the manhood out of them, and the shame is ours, not theirs and we should pay for it.”
Spring Grove Cemetery
Spring Grove Cemetery was founded by Stephen Page in 1845 on fifty five acres of land he owned in Hartford. His wife, Mary Balch Page, was the first interment on October 15, 1845.
Spring Grove is removed from the street as the founders back in 1845 did not want the interred and visitors disturbed by the heavy traffic on Windsor Street, which is now Main Street. The tree lined entrance brings you to the office which sits across from the Fire Fighters Memorial Flag Pole Park. This area has been designated to honor all living and deceased firefighters. Hartford’s first African American Firefighter, William Henry Jacklyn, is buried here. Jacklyn served in with the Hartford Fire Department from 1898 until 1914. Among the many other notable people interred here are Laurent Clerc (1785-1869), founder of the American School for the Deaf and Lydia Huntley Sigourney, supporter of Rev. James Pennington’s Talcott Street Congregational Church and author of the radical poem, “Color No Index of Worth.”
Soldiers and Sailors Monument
East Rock Park
Dedicated June 1887, this 110-foot monument stands at the summit of East Rock Park, commemorating the New Haven soldiers who fell in four wars – the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War and the Civil War. The names of the soldiers who died in the Civil War, including many from the Connecticut 29th Colored Regiment and the 31st Regiment U.S. Colored Troops, are listed on two tablets at the monument’s base.
Thomas Taylor Grave,
Grove Street Cemetery
A simple rectangular marble gravestone marks the resting place of Thomas L. Taylor, an African American sailor who served with the U. S. Navy on the Union’s ironclad ship U.S.S. Monitor when it fought the Confederate ironclad Merrimac during the Civil War. Taylor is recorded as being the last survivor of that famous battle. He died on March 7, 1932, at age 84.
Nero Hawley Grave, Riverside Cemetery,
Daniel’s Farm Road (off Route 127, one mile from exits 49 and 50, Merritt Parkway)
Nero Hawley was one of numerous slaves in Connecticut who joined the Continental Army during the American Revolution and were freed at the end of the war. He served at Valley Forge, and his life is featured in the book From Valley Forge to Freedom, which also notes other areas of Trumbull associated with Hawley’s life. Hawley died in 1817 at the age of 75. Riverside Cemetery is a short walk off Daniel’s Farm Road and near Route 127. Hawley’s grave is in the center row, near the far end of this small cemetery.
Green Farms Burying Ground
Sherwood Island Connector and Greens Farms Road
Established about 1725, the Colonial Greens Farms Burying Ground is notable for the quantity and quality of its carvings.Lyzette Hyde Munroe, wife of African American property owner Henry Munroe is buried in this colonial cemetery. Her stone reads “In memory of Lyzette, wife of Henry Munroe, who died August 21, 1836 aged 58 Years, 5 months and 8 days.” African American Dorcas Hyde is also buried here and is believed to have been enslaved by the Hyde family. Both graves are located in the far southwest corner, formerly the black section of the cemetery.
Henry and Lyzette Munroe House
108 Cross Highway
In 1802 African American Henry Munroe (d. 1821) bought eight acres of land from John Burr in the Greens Farms section of Westport. By 1806, he had built this farmhouse and had moved from the Greenfield section of Fairfield with his wife Lyzette (c. 1778-1836) and family. The building is one of few documented houses built by a free black man in the 19th century. Today the early 19th century farmhouse and related barn on the parcel represent the Munroe family and the other black residents, both free and enslaved, who lived in the area. Listed in the 1800 census as heads of households are Peter Hide, Peter Nash, Caesar, Fortune, Robin, Quom, Titus and others. Their births and deaths are also recorded in the Green Farms Parish Register. This property is privately owned and not open to the public.