Today in class we found an excerpt from the book called The Biography of a Town by one of our town’s historians, Robert Hayden Alcorn. This book gives us a history of Suffield, Connecticut from 1670-1970. Towards the beginning of the book on page 80 there is a page that mentions George Washington’s two visits. He came to Suffield in 1775 and 1789. On both occasions, he traveled up from Windsor and continued on to Springfield, MA. In 1775, we learned that he addressed Suffield’s residents across from the Austin tavern and under the town’s two sentinel elms. In this image of an excerpt from Alcorn’s history,
Excerpt from Alcorn’s The Biography of a Town
we also found another letter (primary source) regarding Mary Austin (Seth Austin’s wife) who wrote to Washington in 1789 about the Austin Tavern receiving counterfeit money from a man named Jonas Mace, who apparently made a very good career by counterfeiting money. She wrote to Washington asking for help to see if he could save them. She writes: “Necessity is my only apology for addressing a Gentleman of your dignified Merit—Having no alternative; you will excuse me…” In this letter she said her household and tavern had about twenty people living there, and they were very low on money and in much distress. I believe that these twenty people must have included the five slaves that my classmate discovered on the 1790s census. This fact rings true with how we learned that ministers and tavern owners owned slaves throughout the Connecticut River Valley.
The webpage Founder Online, published by the National Archives, supports our claim that George Washington had lunch at the Austin Tavern in 1775 when he was passing through on his way to take control of the Continental Army in Cambridge. This letter that Mary writes was written after the war.
My class and I are researching slavery and freedom in 1774, related to Suffield, Connecticut. I first researched the basics to discover that slaves arrived in Suffield as early as 1671. While researching this I discovered that a century later the African American residents of Suffield formed their own church; the Third Baptist Church of Suffield. This is where I would like to focus my research to see if any of the church’s founders were slaves in Connecticut. I tried to find more on this church; however, they have no website or information online discussing their history or founding. I hope to investigate the founder’s backstories through church and state archives to uncover their history and see if there is any correlation to the topic of Suffield slavery. I plan to reach out to the church through social media to inquire about records they may have. While this lead will take time to pursue, I continued my research and discovered that Connecticut had the largest slave population in New England during the time of the American Revolution. For instance, Seth Austin was part of one of the founding families of Suffield, and according to the 1790 census he had 5 slaves, which was the most of any Suffield family at that time. It is likely that he owned multiple slaves of which totaled part of the 37 Slaves listed in the 1774 census. His uncle Anthony Austin not only started the Suffield schooling system in 1796, but was also city commissioner andtown assessor (1). I believe this family should be investigated further as they have strong ties to the founding and development of Suffield. By analyzing the Austin Family tree I found that Anthony Austin’s great-grandson, Moses Austin, and his great-great grandson, Stephen F. Austin, were the founders of the first Anglo Colony in Texas, which became the town of Austin, Texas (2). Another prominent founding family was the King family. The King family had documents of their slaves listed among their cattle. In 1725 Elizabeth King and Anthony Austin were married, combining these two founding families. Considering both families were slave owners and very prominent in the community, I believe they may have archival evidence shedding some light on the slavery in Suffield. To investigate this theory further I looked into these families and their connections to fighting for freedom, and discovered men from both families were minutemen in the Battle of Lexington. Minutemen were civilians who organized and trained themselves to fight in battles during the Revolutionary War, supporting my hypothesis that they fought for freedom (3).