Underrepresented Voices in Fairfield’s History
The Fairfield Museum and History Center brings together people from across our regional community for a wide range of activities, from the serious to the fun. We are committed to using historical resources and expertise to help explore and understand current issues and questions that have been impacting all of us. By bridging diverse experiences and perspectives, we try to cultivate a deeper sense of community identity and civic engagement.
The Fairfield Museum and the community we serve sits on the homeland of the native Sasqua, Unquowa, Poquonnock, and Paugussett peoples and their ancestors. Through our historical research, exhibits and programs, the Fairfield Museum seeks a better understanding of our region’s native past, present, and future, as well as the legacies of other Native American communities in the region. Like many New England Towns, Fairfield was established in the aftermath of violent conflict with and subjugation of Native people by Europeans.
The Fairfield Museum strives to create school programs, exhibitions, and programs that are inclusive and representative of the entire community. We know that this is a work in progress and that we have much more to do. We believe that by bringing people together to better understand that complex history and its legacy, we can create a more empathetic and equitable community for all.
Below are a list of recommended resources from the Fairfield Museum and History Center’s archives, programs, exhibitions and beyond. We highly recommend exploring Talking About Race, by National Museum of African American History and Culture. Talking about race, although hard, is necessary. The National Museum of African American History and Culture provides tools and guidance to empower your journey and inspire conversation.
Understanding Black History in Fairfield
Guide to African American Records at the Fairfield Museum and History Center
This guide describes historical records and files in the Fairfield Museum library that relate to African Americans. This includes the status of free blacks, examples of slavery and names and family information of African Americans who resided in the Town of Fairfield or Fairfield County during the Colonial period up through the 19th Century of U.S. History. Compiled by Judith Polizzotti, Southern Connecticut State University, Graduate Intern.
The Fairfield Slavery Project
The Vincent J. Rosivach Register of Slaves in Fairfield, Connecticut (1639-1820) is a database of enslaved individuals in colonial and post-colonial Fairfield. The Register uses primary source documents, like church records and newspaper advertisements, and museum archives in an attempt to identify this often-overlooked history by providing real record of birth, death, marriage, family, and service as best available and appropriate as possible. This database tracks projection of slave-holding families, enslaved networks and families, as well as movement across households and other important information. While there are some distinct contrasts between Northern and Southern slavery, one of the key similarities is the lack of proper record-keeping of these enslaved individuals’ identities. In several cases, we were able to piece together entire families, identifying a lineage previously scattered across countless documents. This database was Dr. Vincent Rosivach’s passion project, and a culmination of almost 30 years of work. When he passed away in April of 2018, the research team continued to work to complete the project at the Fairfield Museum and Research Center and the Town’s archives.
1779 Petition for Freedom
This petition of 1779 is found in the Revolutionary War papers at the Connecticut State Library. The signatories of the 1779 petition are named Prime and Prince. Prime, who was evidently literate, was owned by Samuel Sturges, while Prince, who was illiterate, was owned by Captain Stephen Jenings, both of Fairfield, Connecticut. It seems that this petition was written by its witness, Attorney Jonathan Sturges. It is interesting that Jonathan Sturges owned an enslaved woman named Phyllis, probably his housekeeper, and her children. Both houses subsequently rejected the petition.
The Promise of Freedom: The Emancipation Proclamation
September 23, 2012 – February 4, 2013
Commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, this exhibition explored the quintessential ideals that have defined America. Key historical documents from private collectors included Lincoln’s signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, a signed Thirteenth Amendment, and historic broadsides and political cartoons that revealed Lincoln’s struggles with the issue of slavery and the Union. This was the only exhibition in New England that focused on this anniversary, placing the Emancipation Proclamation at the center of understanding American history from the Civil War to Civil Rights and today.
- Background Information and Classroom Kit
- Slavery Timeline, Connecticut
- Suggested Resources – Teaching and Understanding Slavery
1832 Maria Stewart Speech
In 1832, Maria Miller Stewart gave a speech in Boston. From Hartford, Connecticut, Stewart is the first known Black woman to speak publicly to a mixed gender audience on political issues, especially on slavery and women’s rights. Suffrage was closely tied to the abolitionist movement and together they called for universal rights, not restricted by race or sex.
Understanding Native American History in Fairfield
Documenting and Interpreting the Battle of Pequot Swamp (1637)
In partnership with the National Park Service, the Fairfield Museum has lead an exciting research project to discover details of the Battle of Pequot Swamp (also known as Munnacommock Swamp) which occurred in 1637 in present day Southport, Connecticut. The battle was the last engagement of the Pequot War and was an important catalyst for English settlement of Fairfield and Southport, as well as the patent for Connecticut Colony. The project is part of the state-wide Battlefields of the Pequot War project that is identifying and preserving similar battlefields associated with the Pequot War (1636-1637) across Connecticut.
- Education Materials for K-12 Teachers about the Pequot War are located on the Battlefields of the Pequot War website.
The Mary and Eliza Freeman Center for History and Community
The Mary and Eliza Freeman Center for History and Community is located in Bridgeport’s Historic South End. Historically “Ethiope” later “Little Liberia,” it was a seafaring community that coalesced in 1821 and comprised of free Blacks, runaway enslaved persons from southern states, and Native Americans. By 1853 the village’s success was such that a leading New York African American businessman constructed a four-story hotel replete with wrap-around verandas and a rooftop belvedere to overlook the harbor and Long Island Sound. Learn more about Mary and Eliza Freeman, businesswomen and residents of the community, who overcame significant obstacles as women of color in 19th century America. The Center restores, preserves, and ensures the viability of the Mary and Eliza Freeman Houses, teaches the history of Connecticut Blacks, as well as revitalizes the surrounding South End community.
Understanding Immigration History in Fairfield
An American Story: Finding Home in Fairfield County (2017-2018)
They have no idea what it is like to lose home at the risk of never finding home again, have your entire life split between two lands and become the bridge between two countries. — Rupi Kaur, Milk and Honey (2014). This 2017 partnership exhibition at the Fairfield Museum and History presented with the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants provides an intimate look at the stories of refugees and immigrants who have come to this area from Cambodia, Congo, Cuba, Hungary, India, Rwanda, and Syria, seeking safety and opportunity like generations of immigrants before them. Although their journeys have been quite different, the individuals featured here share the experience of rebuilding their lives and finding new homes in the Fairfield area. Despite the difficult paths that brought them here, as their stories portray, they each possess remarkable optimism and determination. Many have also been moved by a desire to help other immigrants and to educate the communities in which they live about their experiences.
Understanding 19th and 20th Immigration History in Fairfield
The “melting pot” of cultural traditions and religions that distinguish American life began in earnest in the mid-1800s, as successive waves of European immigrants arrived on America’s shores. The chance for a better future attracted farmers and peasants whose lives were tied to poverty by feudal land ownership, or battered by political upheavals. In Fairfield, the declining population of founders’ descendants was infused with newcomers from Ireland, Sweden, Italy, and Eastern Europe who saw in the town their land of opportunity.