Historic Walking Tour Of Farmington

June 9, 2014 8:00 AM

From 1839 to 1841, Americans were captivated by the Amistad incident, which played out in several Connecticut cities. It began on June 28, 1839 when the Spanish ship “La Amistad” departed from Havana, Cuba carrying 53 kidnapped Africans from Mendeland (now Sierra Leone). The Spaniards were headed to Puerto Principe, Cuba, where they hoped to sell the Africans into slavery, but four days into the journey the Mende leader Cinque freed himself and led his fellow passengers in a revolt against their captors. The U.S. Navy, which spotted the ship near the coast of Long Island, hauled it into New London Harbor, while the Mende Africans were arrested. Over the next year and a half, a series of court proceedings were held in Hartford and New Haven until finally the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in their favor in 1841, declaring them free to return to Africa. The Amistad survivors stayed in Farmington for eight months while funds were raised for their voyage home. The Farmington Historical Society offers tours of places in town that helped them.

Austin F. Williams House and Carriage House
127 Main St.
Farmington, CT 06032

There are several homes around Farmington that hosted the Mende Africans, but most of them stayed with Austin F. Williams, one of the town’s most outspoken abolitionists. A dormitory was built near his house specifically for the men and was then converted into a carriage house after their departure. Later the carriage house became a popular stop on the Underground Railroad. Escaped slaves used a secret door in back that led to a basement where they could hide. Williams’ home is now a National Historic Landmark.

First Church of Christ Congregational
75 Main St.
Farmington, CT 06032
(860) 677-2601

Another National Historic Landmark, Farmington’s First Church of Christ played a prominent role in the lives of the Mende Africans during their eight months in town. The church’s abolitionist minister, Noah Porter, let one of the females, Margru, stay in his house (which is also on Main Street). Meanwhile, many members of the congregation welcomed the Mende Africans into their lives, providing them with food, clothing and shelter as well as academic and religious tutoring. Cinque, who led the Amistad revolt, even delivered a speech at the church before he and the others left for Africa.

Samuel Deming Store
66 Main St.
Farmington, CT 06032

Businessman Samuel Deming, along with his wife Catherine, was instrumental in bringing the Mende Africans to Farmington after the Supreme Court freed them. Strongly antislavery, Deming allowed the males to stay upstairs in his store until Austin F. Williams made space on his property. Afterwards, the second floor was used as a school which the Africans attended six days a week during their stay. Today it is called Your Village Store and sells conveniences and groceries.

Related:  Top Historical Sites In Connecticut

Canal House and Pitkin Basin
128 Garden St.
Farmington, CT 06032

At the time the Mende Africans were in town, the Farmington Canal led to the Pitkin Basin (now a parking lot), which was used by swimmers and boaters. The Amistad survivors would frequently use the canal to travel to nearby towns where they would raise money for their return trip. Unfortunately, it was also the site of a tragic accident – one of the Africans, Foone, drowned in the basin by the Canal House in August 1841.

Riverside Cemetery
160 Garden St.
Farmington, CT 06032

You can find Foone’s grave with a special plaque in the Riverside Cemetery down the road from the Canal House. Austin F. Williams, Reverend Noah Porter and Samuel Deming are buried here as well. If you walk further down, you’ll get a view of the meadow where the Mende Africans performed farm work during their stay. Like the other places mentioned here, the Riverside Cemetery is an official stop on the Connecticut Freedom Trail, and you can see the marker with the lantern logo by the entrance.

Joshua Palmes is a freelance writer covering all things Connecticut. His work can be found on Examiner.com.

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