Plaque location: 4 Lyme Street, First Congregational Church of Old Lyme

An emancipation certificate entered in Lyme’s land records tells us that Humphrey, a Negroman Slave to John McCurdy, paid one Hundred pounds in 1778 to gain his freedom. In precise legal terms the certificate states that Humphrey had been a Slave for life and that McCurdy, having obtained a license from the major part of the Selectmen of Lyme for the purpose, did on January 13, 1778, Emancipate and Set free the sd Humphrey and Clear him from my Service forever. Nothing else about Humphrey is known.

Lyme’s vital records show that between 1757 and 1764, five children, Jordan, Ezelphie, Clo, Caezer, and Shambaes, were born into hereditary slavery in John McCurdy’s household. Humphrey may well have been the children’s father. During those years McCurdy built wharves and warehouses on the Lieutenant River, bred horses on his farm for export to the West Indies, and commissioned the building of multiple vessels. Humphrey provided labor essential to McCurdy’s mercantile activities, his accumulating wealth, and his social prominence. Gen. George Washington is thought to have rested at McCurdy’s house while traveling from Boston to New York in 1776, and Humphrey likely helped prepare for the distinguished visitor. Two years later, perhaps having been paid wages for work as a deckhand on a McCurdy vessel, Humphrey purchased his freedom.

Emancipation certificate for Humphrey, January 17, 1778