Bringing to life the hidden lives of four Greenwich slaves with honor and witness stones

Bringing to life the hidden lives of four Greenwich slaves with honor and witness stones

This is an excerpt of an article originally published by Greenwich Sentinel

Forces have joined in the town of Greenwich to tell its hidden history, “To return the colors to the historical fabrics of our community,” so said Dennis Culliton, co-founder of the Connecticut-based Witness Stones Project that “seeks to restore the history and to honor the humanity and contributions of the enslaved individuals who helped build our communities.”...

And there was placed in the soil, in the back of Cos Cob’s Bush Holley House on the Greenwich Historical Society site, the four “witness stones” with those enslaved names, their dates, and their occupations. Those four are part of an estimated 300 enslaved individuals who lived in Greenwich from 1790 to 1830. Until recently not much has been known of those four slaves.

Enter Sacred Heart Greenwich middle schoolteacher Kelly Bridges with her inspired idea that would embrace those four slaves. “I teach United States history from the colonial period through the Civil War. Slavery existed during that period throughout much of the country, and yet our textbook suggests that northern states abolished it shortly after the American Revolution… Not only did slavery exist in the northern states, but these states were also complicit in perpetuating it right up to the Civil War.”

Bridges wanted her 7th and 8th grade students to understand “a more accurate history.” Learning from a workshop how local museums were working to preserve African American history and culture, Bridges was introduced to Dennis Culliton and the Witness Stones Project, and found the Greenwich Historical Society “most willing to participate,” as was “important colleagues” at Sacred Heart in her research idea to enlist her students to research through the Historical Society Archives three of those four slaves: Cull Bush,Sr., his domestic partner Patience, and Candace Bush. What they learned was shared by four students at the ceremony.

In 8th grader Lillie Foster’s opinion, “Slavery in the United States was one of the most unfair treatments of people in history. Many of the millions of enslaved people…weren’t even recognized as human, but rather as property or objects.” Born into slavery Cull Bush, Sr. was a personal servant of David Bush, the largest slave holder in Greenwich. “In 1803, Cull was finally emancipated…when he was about 28 years old,” Foster shared. Citing the scant information found on him, she said, “Cull didn’t even have a gravestone in memory of his life.”

Cull’s partner Patience, “was bought by David Bush,” shared 7th grader Lily Broughton. “Patience had six children…she reclaimed her humanity by becoming a mother.” Broughton cited the dehumanizing seen in David Bush’s will, with Patience and other slaves “labeled as possessions.” With their value also stated: “Some slaves like Patience were only valued at seven dollars,” Broughton learned, “even though she was qualified under Connecticut’s Gradual Abolition Act.” She was grateful that, “Today we will lay a witness stone in memory of Patience and to finally set her soul free.”

Candice Bush received a higher value of “about $70” in David Bush’s will, recounts Sacred Heart 8th grader Hazel Carrion. “Listed in the 1790 census, we suppose she began working for the Bushes when she was 10 years old…with household chores…soap and candle-making, basic cleaning, cooking, and sewing.” Her slave quarters were “a small attic-like space without windows, causing extreme overheat in the summer, and terrible frigidness during the winter.” Candace would not be freed until 1825. “Candace is a woman whose name I say with extreme pride…She rose to freedom and finished her admirable life in approximately 1859. Candace was buried in Union Cemetery located in Greenwich, Connecticut.”

According to Sacred Heart 7th grader Clare Junius they were asked to address their research with five themes of slavery: the economics of slavery, dehumanization, paternalism, treatment of the enslaved, and agency and resistance. Her takeaway from the research was, “We need to keep telling and spreading these stories because …it brings an understanding of our history. Especially now, remembering our history is important."...