In the 1830s, nearly all of Connecticut's black 8,047 citizens were free, and most of them had
been born in freedom. Those who were able or permitted to, bought homes and land. Black community
leaders encouraged their people to live industrious, worshipful lives and to educate their children.
The idea of a school for young black women in Canterbury, a town
in eastern Connecticut, seems like
a natural evolution for a state where
the abolitionist movement--a movement
that advocated the immediate emancipation
of all of the nation's enslaved--was
already gathering adherents. So why,
in 1833, did all hell break loose in sylvan Canterbury?
To understand what happened to Baptist schoolteacher Prudence Crandall and her school for "young
black misses," we need to back up for a moment and examine the temper of the times.
The civic status of northern free blacks during the 1830s was not
clearly defined. The state's white citizenry did not, by and large,
make black people welcome in their communities. They did not want
to work alongside blacks, they did not want their children educated
with black children, they did not want black men on juries and the
state legislature had already taken away the right of black men
Despite a nascent abolitionist movement taking root in New England,
most whites simply could not imagine
an integrated society, with citizens
black and white living and working
side by side. (Connecticut-born John
Brown, who would later hang for his
role in trying to stage a slave insurrection,
was a notable exception in that regard.
He farmed alongside black families
in upstate New York, made them welcome at his table and believed
that social equality would be part of abolishing slavery.)
But the fear was, as one newspaper at the time suggested, that whites "would be dragged down to the level
of the Hottentot." The deeply entrenched racial prejudice that had begun to manifest itself throughout the
largely slavery-free North earlier in the century was around every corner.... next >>