Slavery was a worldwide practice in the 17th-19th centuries. Native Americans and Europeans were routinely sold into slavery by their opponents during wars and other conflicts. While Native Americans and Europeans were opportunistic targets, Black
Africans were hunted as commodities. The first Africans recorded in New England may have arrived on a ship in Boston in 1638. An African slave is recorded in 1639 at the Huys de Hoop Dutch trading fort in Hartford. By 1730, Connecticut Colony had 700 Black slaves out of a total population of 38,000 people.
From 1749 until 1774, the trade in captive Africans flourished in Connecticut and the number of owners of captive people increased. By 1774, Connecticut had the largest number of Black slaves in New England, with a total of 6,464. That same year, half of all ministers, lawyers and public officials owned slaves, as well as a third of all doctors
Farmington was a wealthy and commercially-active town for much of the 18th century, using livestock and raw materials as trade goods to barter overseas for finished goods to sell back home in the colonies. Commerce grew thanks to the surplus production of the town’s farms, allowing residents to invest in commercial ventures such as the West Indian trade. The town’s most active merchants owned ships that sailed out of Middletown, Wethersfield and New London, to and from West Africa and the West Indies, as well as to England and the Continent. Further research will document whether these merchants ran shipments that included captive Africans.
Many Farmington people owned slaves during this active entrepreneurial period. So far, the research project has discovered the most captive people at one time during the period of 1750-1774, a total of 38 in a mid-18th-century population of 3,707. Slave labor was a boon to the small businesses that thrived in town, including mills, farms, shops and commercial ventures. .
Abolitionists, including many from Farmington, fought hard to outlaw slavery. Connecticut passed a law in 1784 for the gradual emancipation of captive people, which meant that many would die before they saw freedom. Black and mulatto children born in slavery on March 2, 1784, remained enslaved until age 21, waiting until the year 1805 to be freed. Connecticut’s legal position on slavery reflected the national reluctance to end a profitable enterprise: although federal law banned the importation of slaves in 1808, 250,000 Africans were illegally imported into the US to be sold into slavery between 1808 and 1860.
The number of slaves in Farmington diminished after 1784. By 1790, there were six captive people in Farmington, then two in each of the years 1800 and 1810. Farmington’s last surviving captive person is recorded as a slave in 1820. That same year, the census records 103 free people of color in Farmington.