Slavery in Connecticut: Reminisces of Old "Ti"

 

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 . . . .

 

 

(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.)

[Titus' master] Dr. Gay was a learned man, as was his son after him, and very hospitable. Often his brother clergymen came and stayed over night and perhaps longer. Then there were notable discussions of science and literature and theology. Art was lightly touched on, for it was not indigenous to Suffield soil. It was a great thing for a boy to have such associations, and especially for Titus, only one degree removed from Africa. Later in life these scenes came back to him, as they come back to all happy enough to pass through them, and made him a better man.

Among the earliest memories that Titus loved to relate was the coming home of the soldiers and the great celebration. When these old New Englanders started out on a jubilation, it was bound to be a success. Tradition has handed down an account of how many beeves were killed, how many gallons of rum were furnished, how many pigs were roasted, how many bowls of punch were drank, how many sheep were eaten, how many kegs of flip washed them down. For our Yankee fathers were not so temperate either in eating or drinking as their descendants . . . .

Not did he ever tire of telling of Washington's visit to Suffield. He seemed to feel as it would not have been a success but for his efforts and his master's. His master was one of the principal officers of the day, and made the welcoming address; while Titus waited on the general. It needs no embellishment to make it appear a great occasion, for it really was. It was a gala day for Suffield . . .

Titus was never sick—that is, seriously—at least while he was in his teens. Once he managed to get laid up a few weeks by getting his leg broken. There was a "raising," and boy-like, he ventured too carelessly and had a fall that was a lesson to him—that is, if anything is a lesson to a sixteen-year-old boy . . . .

At sixteen, a boy was supposed to know enough to quit school—that is, if he was ever to know enough. And whether he did or not, he quit. So with Titus. He knew a little arithmetic. He had heard of geography, but not of grammar, for which he ought to have been thankful for it would have cramped him all his life, as it has most folk. He could scrawl a little and call it writing. So much he knew. And he quit.

He had not distinguished himself at school except for his good nature. In fact, he never did distinguish himself much anywhere or at any time. He was a very commonplace character, as best suits our purpose in illustrating the last days of slavery in the state of Connecticut. He was a simpleminded, honest, faithful fellow. He had no one else in the wide world to love but the doctor and his family. And he set to work in earnest to help. He, too, did "what he could." And the doctor needed all his help. Who ever heard of a New England divine that did not, excepting, of course, those who get rich by marriage or accident?

There was great improvement in the farm the years following, and Titus' strong arm did most of the work. Everything around the manse looked trim and well kept.

When about nineteen Titus became entangled in a love affair from which he never recovered. There was a husking—corn shucking, the call it in old Virginia—at Major John Pynchon's. All the white folks were invited, and most of them went. Of course the colored people were there to wait on the table and to attend to the odd chores.

The good doctor for once permitted Titus to go, although as a rule he did not approve of servants going to such frolics. But Zack, Judge Loomis' body servant was going, and he was a trusty boy for Titus to go with. The negroes had few opportunities to meet, as their masters had a notion it made them giddy and unsteady. Titus had seldom seen a colored girl, except when, as driver, he accompanied his master in his calls on his parishioners, and that was not a good time to form new acquaintances. But on this moonlit October night he was destined to form some that led him a merry dance . . . .

There was Bet Norton and Trix Austin, and a half dozen others at work setting the tables and trotting here and there. But Phillis Hanchett was the comeliest wench in all the neighborhood. It was said she knew it and was a little inclined to flirt, after the custom of her pale-faced sisters. But there was not much truth in that . . . .

 

 

(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.)

Ti and Phill seemed to gravitate to each other. And why should they not? Was not Titus Dr. Gay's boy? And Phillis Captain Hanchett's girl? Aristocracy was a great point among the colored folks as well as the whites and of about equal value . . . .

None the less, Titus did talk quite a deal of nonsense, which did not seem wholly disagreeable to Phillis. After supper things were cleared away and the rooms tidied up a little, all sorts of games were in order.

The dining room and kitchen were given up to the servants. The white people had the rest of the house. The elders talked politics and theology, with now and then a condiment of mild gossip. The young people danced most of the time and played many games that to say the least of them were "hilarious," and practiced more or less the sublime art of making love. The negroes emulated the sports of the young folks, for seldom one of them gets too old to frolic. There was more abandon, more real mirth among them than the others, but there as the same underlying current. Asrubel Hastyngs fell as desperately in love with Densy Carroll as Titus did with Phill. It is a game confined to no race or color or previous condition.

The evening seemed short enough to the actors, as such evenings always do, though it was past the time when "graves yawn and ghosts walk." There as great commotion at the breaking up, as is to be expected on all such occasions. It is a sort of pair-off time, or rather, the pairing-off exemplifies itself at that point.

Titus wanted to walk home with Phill, and she wanted him to. It was only a little distance—say three miles. But she came with Pompey and Trix, and it took a great deal of diplomacy to arrange a modus vivendi, as they call it now-a-days. Titus had the sensation of feeling the weight of Phill's hand on his arm, and the privilege of carrying her apron and basket.

They came to Squire Hanchett's safe and sound, though it took them a good spell to get there. They came near losing their way, familiar as it was. They were startled several times by screech owls, and two or three times heard something amazingly like a wild cat. Once they thought they saw an Indian prowling around. Strange, but these things rather added to their enjoyment. How a fellow does like to show his manhood on such occasions by protecting the girl, and how she does like to be protected. There was not much talk on the way home; there seldom is. But Titus managed to say some remarkably silly things, which Phill laid away in her heart and told him to "hush."

Titus slept very little that night, and when he did it was to dream of an angel, but always with a black face. The next morning the doctor said: "Titus, what time did you get home last night?"

"The meeting broke up about twelve, sir, and I didn't stop on the way. They kept me stepping sure, and I was done tired out."

"Did you have a pleasant time?"

"You know, I don't care much about that kind of meeting. There's too much nonsense."

"I am very glad, Titus, to find you always so serious and thoughtful for a colored person. It argues well for your future life."

"Thank you."

"You may bring around the chaise and get ready to drive me to Squire Hanchett's."

Of course Titus' conscience was very tender that morning. He felt sure his master had heard something not altogether to his advantage concerning the last night. But neither in going or returning or afterwards did the doctor say a word upon the subject uppermost in Titus' mind.

This was one source of unrest for him. Another was that although he stayed more than an hour at the squire's, he did not catch a glimpse of Phill. And yet he was certain she knew he was there.

He thought of little else on the way home, or for the next week, for that matter. How to see her or at least how to hear from her, was the question.

 

* * *


As it turns out, Titus and Phill do not have a happy ending. In a subsequent piece for The Connecticut Magazine (available via Google books), Judge Smith tells of how after escaping her master, Phill hides out in a cave with Ti's aid. Unfortunately, she becomes very ill and eventually dies, with Ti at her side. Ti never marries or talks of another romantic relationship.

According to research done by the Suffield Academy’s American Studies class (2012-13), Thanks to the Gradual Emancipation Act, Titus was freed by Dr. Gay in 1812 at the approximate age of 25.

After being freed, he lived in Suffield and was mainly employed by the church, helping out the minister and working as the sexton, gravedigger, custodian and bell ringer. He died in 1837 at the age of 50, and was allegedly buried in the northwest corner of the Suffield Congregational Church.
 

Slavery in Connecticut: Reminisces of Old "Ti"

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