Wallingford celebrates Juneteenth with dedication of Witness Stones

WALLINGFORD — It was a sunny and breezy day Sunday, and especially busy at the Historical Society’s Nehemiah Royce House, where locals recognized Juneteenth and honored the lives of enslaved men and women.

The Historical Society opened the doors at the Royce House, 538 N. Main St., to host the historical exhibit “Enslaved Wallingford,” which chronicles the experience of enslaved Black Americans in Wallingford between 1704 and 1840.

The opening of the exhibit was held in conjunction with the dedication of three “Witness Stones” — the first ones dedicated in Wallingford. The stones commemorate the lives of enslaved individuals.

“Through research, education, and civic engagement, the Witness Stones Project seeks to restore the history and honor the humanity of the enslaved individuals who helped build our communities,” according to witnessstonesproject.org.

The first stone dedicated Sunday was at the Royce House. It honored a Black man known as Dick Freedom, who was kidnapped in Africa, brought to Wallingford as a slave and owned by the Royce family. Freedom fought in the American Revolution. A powder horn, adorned with birds, animals, and reptiles, is one of several artifacts included in the exhibit.

“To be able to tell stories here is wonderful,” said Dennis Culliton, founder and executive director of the Witness Stones Project. “Today in Wallingford, we are putting in the 125th witness stone memorial since we started this five years ago with three stones in Guilford. In each town, I like to say, each state, each county, town, and home, slavery is different.”

The Nehemiah Royce House was also known as the Washington Elm house. The saltbox-style house was constructed in 1672 and was visited by George Washington twice, first in 1775 as he was on his way to take command of the Continental Army in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and again in 1789, when he gave an address to the townspeople in front of the house near an elm tree.

“This is a real treat, and this is my first time at the Royce House,” said Kerry Lentz, a lifelong Wallingford resident who visited the house with husband Scott Atkins on Sunday.

After the first witness stone dedication, the group walked to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on North Main Street for the dedication of two witness stones honoring Esau and Grace, who were both enslaved by the Brockett family, one of the town’s founding families.

Members of the family “were large donors to the church when it was first built several blocks from here,” said Amy Foster, senior warden of St. Paul’s. Esau and Grace “were in our printed history, but no one knew anything about them. So we did some research, and the Witness Stones Project did more research about them. Esau, once he was freed, bought and sold property. They lived until the 1830s or the 1840s, so we honored them today.”

Foster said her research committee worked with scholar and Wallingford Historic Preservation Trust Vice President Chris Menapace. Through his research they discovered at least a dozen or so people enslaved by members of their congregation dating from the 1700s.

The “Enslaved Wallingford” exhibit will be available for patrons to view at the Nehemiah Royce House this week from 1 to 4 p.m. Hours for the rest of the summer will be posted on the Wallingford Historic Preservation Trust website https://www.wallingfordcthistory.org/

For more information about the Witness Stones Project go to witnessstonesproject.org/.

Reporter Jessica Simms contributed to this story. 

Reporter Nicole Zappone can be reached at nzappone@record-journal.com.


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