Slavery in Connecticut: Reminisces of Old "Ti"
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With the interest generated by 12 Years A Slave and in honor of Black History Month, we delved into the archives and found an interesting article in the 1905 edition of The Connecticut Magazine. Entitled "Reminisces of Old Negro Slavery Days," it was written by Judge Martin H. Smith of Suffield and chronicles some of the story of Old "Ti," a Connecticut slave during the era just after the American Revolution. From what can be gathered, Judge Martin was in his later years at the time of the writing; when he was younger, he had regular contact with the older Titus.
What follows are excerpts from the original story that focus directly on Titus' life—Judge Smith's original piece contained a number of rambling passages that delved into other subjects.
Warning: As this article was penned over a century ago, there is language that is racially insensitive and offensive by today's standards but was acceptable at that point.
I have frequently mentioned Old "Ti" in my reminisces of a long life in Suffield, Connecticut, and I believe you will be further interested in the dutiful labors of a negro during the slavery days in Connecticut. In telling of him I will picture to you to the best of my ability the village life in the early part of the last century.
There is not the least doubt in the world but Titus was a genuine negro. To use the language of the farm, he was of pure imported stock. His parents came over from Africa as involuntary immigrants, in a Dutch ship, about 1760. They were bright young curly heads and drifted in the course of trade, to Suffield. The father belonged to a brutal half-breed, who disposed of him to Captain Elihu Kent, afterwards a distinguished officer in the Continental Army. The mother was brought here by a besotted trader who treated her so badly that Dr. Gay bought her of sheer pity.
They had several children, but all died in infancy except Titus. He was born about 1770. His parents had never wholly recovered from the terrible hardships and horrors of the slave-ship, than which human greed has furnished no other instrument so cruel and heartless; owned, as it was, by reprobates and manned by fiends. The treachery of trusted friends, the stealing of children, and wanton murder, have at all times been execrated. But this, combined them all and carried the survivors through misery and suffering and brutality to hopeless slavery. Added to this, the severe climate of New England completely broke them down, and both died of consumption before Titus was five years old.
He was a puny little fellow and did not promise well for this world, that is certain. But he was well cared for and, after a struggle, grew to be a strong boy. The schools in those days were only kept some three months in the winter, and whatever advantages given, he shared with whites equally. There was no particular difference in his treatment and that of other boys, certainly none at home. All had to work and work hard, for it was no light matter to subdue the virgin soil, be it ever so fertile, in such a climate . . . .
The boys in those days had little opportunity for recreation, and as for amusement, in anything like the present sense, none at all. They might get up a half-hour's game of ball, or slide down hill at noon, when school was in session. But the chores kept them busy until school in the morning, and after school until it was more than dark, before the last horse was bedded down. In fact, the school began in winter shortly after sunrise, and except for a brief nooning, did not close much before sundown . . . .