In much of New England, slavery has been forgotten, ignored, or assumed to be a practice confined to the South. Old Lyme now has thirty Witness Stones that bring the practice home. The Witness Stones, small brass plaques installed flush with the ground, mark sites of enslavement along Lyme Street, on Meetinghouse Hill, in the section of town called Laysville, and on today’s Ely’s Ferry Road. They provide the names and circumstances of African Americans and Native Americans held in servitude by the town’s ministers, merchants, judges, ship owners, and large farmers.
The community gathered on the lawn of the Old Lyme Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library on Friday, June 3 to celebrate the second installation of Witness Stones in Old Lyme. The ceremony featured fifteen seventh-grade students reading their own poetry inspired by primary materials documenting the lives of Harry Freeman and Margaret Crosley Lewia, who each spent more than two decades enslaved in the town. The student poets were joined by Lyme Old Lyme Middle School’s select chorus and by Hartford’s inaugural poet laureate Frederick-Douglass Knowles II, who offered a verse reflection on Pink Primus, a woman enslaved in New Haven.
Acclaimed soprano Dr. Lisa Williamson and alto saxophonist Richard Wyman, a director of the U.S. Coast Guard Band, contributed musical tributes. Claudia Weicker spoke on behalf of the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center, First Selectman Timothy Griswold offered remarks on behalf of the town, and LOL Middle School curriculum director Michelle Dean reflected on the Witness Stones’ message.
Guest speakers Dain and Constance Perry, facilitators of Traces of the Trade: Stories from the Deep North, an award-winning film tracing the DeWolf family’s lucrative slave-trading business in Bristol, Rhode Island, remarked that the roots of that trade lie in Old Lyme.
Historian Carolyn Wakeman noted that a Witness Stone placed at the Sill Lane green commemorates Mingo, enslaved nearby by sawmill owner and tavern keeper Edward DeWolf. The plaque notes that Mingo was said to be “industrious in his master’s business.” Rev. Steven Jungkeit from the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme offered closing words of gratitude and reflection.