Let’s Take This Conversation Underground
Underground Railroad Trail
17 Towns all over Connecticut
These 28 sites, scattered all over the state, comprise an important part of the greater Freedom Trail. This trail (along with the Amistad and Freedom Trails) were updated and expanded in early 2011. So at one point I was “finished” with the URR Trail, but now suddenly I’m not! Such is my life. Here’s the official list of URR sites.
Here are a bunch more sites out in Litchfield County, not on the official list (yet), just for the heck of it.
Slavery existed in America from the earliest period of colonial settlement at the beginning of the seventeenth century until it was abolished in 1865 by passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. While some slaves became free through legal means, many who wanted freedom chose to escape from their owners and find a safe location. This system began during America’s colonial period and led to laws that penalized persons who assisted runaway slaves. In 1793 the United States government passed its Fugitive Slave Act that allowed for the capture and return to slavery of any runaway slave living in a free state. As it developed over the years, the Underground Railroad, which was neither under the ground nor a railroad, provided a series of safe havens, or stations, for fugitive slaves who were making their way to the Northern states, Canada, or other locations.
The North Star was a guide for runaway slaves leaving the South, but once in the Underground Railroad system the participants were conducted by foot, wagon, horse, or boat to a private house, barn, or church where they would be hidden until it was possible to send them to the next northward-bound location. This operation required the cooperation of free African Americans, Native Americans, and whites. It also required secrecy since free participants could be charged with breaking the law in helping slaves escape their owners. This secrecy has made it difficult to document fully what buildings in Connecticut were used in the Underground Railroad, and often this information has survived only in oral tradition.
Fugitive slaves entered Connecticut at a number of points. Some passed through the state by way of Stamford, New Haven, or Old Lyme, often traveling on to Farmington, the “Grand Central Station” in Connecticut. From there they headed north to Westfield or Springfield, Massachusetts. Some traveled to Springfield by way of Middletown, Hartford, and other communities along the Connecticut River. Those who passed through the state by way of New London or Westerly, Rhode Island, went north to Norwich and Putnam, and then to Worcester, Massachusetts. A western Connecticut route included Waterbury, New Milford, Washington, Torrington, Winchester, and Winsted.
Some of the buildings listed below cannot be documented with precision. However, their inclusion on the Freedom Trail is based on written histories, studies, and traditions.
Most of the buildings listed here for the Underground Railroad are privately owned and are not open to the public – making my goal to photograph each a little more exciting. I will present them as I “visit” them, more or less.
The National Park Service’s Underground Railroad “Freedom Network” which contains one Connecticut listing – the Custom House in New London.
Connecticut Underground Railroad Trail:
Deep River (1)
New London (1)
North Stonington (1)
Old Lyme (1)
Isiah Tuttle’s House in Torrington
To Be Visited
David Ruggles Gravesite
David Ruggles (1810-1849), born in Norwich to free black parents, moved to New York City after his education and became an ardent abolitionist. Among his accomplishments, there are many firsts. He operated the first black press in the nation and used it to advocate for the antislavery cause. The first periodical to be published by an African American, Mirror of Liberty, was published by Ruggles. The activist was also a journalist for the Freedom Reporter, recognized as the country’s first black newspaper. In addition to his many firsts in the literary world, Ruggles was also an Underground Railroad conductor, Frederick Douglass being one of his early “passengers.” Perhaps one of his most important actions against slavery was the establishment of the New York Committee of Vigilance, which fought against the kidnapping or re-capture of free blacks and former slaves. Unfortunately, Ruggles’ extreme dedication to the fight for freedom and equality took a toll on his health. By age 29, he suffered from stomach problems and was nearly blind. He passed away ten years later in Florence, MA and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Ruggles Family plot at Yantic Cemetery in Norwich.