“My friends, if we never free a slave, we have at least freed ourselves in the effort to emancipate our brothers.”
–Wendell Phillips, Abolitionist
By Renée S. Gordon
Connecticut was granted statehood in 1788, 155-years after the Dutch settled in the area the Mohegan’s called “Quinnehtukqut,” meaning “Long River.” In 1638 Reverend John Davenport, merchant Theophilus Eaton and 400 Puritans established an independent religious colony on Long Island Sound after purchasing land from the native Quinnipiacks.
The original form of government, a plantation covenant, was changed in 1639 to a theocracy, rule by Biblical scripture. In 1640 the Quinnipiac Colony was renamed Newhaven and the town’s Green, designed by John Brockett, was the central portion of the nine-square grid village plan. The name was chosen because it was to be a sanctuary from political and religious oppression. In the 1660s New Haven was annexed with the Connecticut Colony. www.newhavencvb.org
A visit to New Haven is close to idyllic in terms of the number of attractions, historic sites, shopping, entertainment, accommodations and dining options. The city has an extremely diverse population that contributes to its vibe and, because it is walkable, you don’t have to miss a thing.
The Study at Yale is a 128-room boutique hotel situated on the edge of the campus and within walking distance of all of the sites listed. The hotel provides excellent service, incredible views and collegiate chic designed rooms. The lobby offers books written by Yale alumni, comfortable seating and a mini-art gallery. The Heirloom Restaurant on the premises serves coastal cooking made from local ingredients. Specials and packages are available on the web. www.studyhotels.com
Blacks, as slaves and indentures, were present in the colony from its inception, as evidenced by laws enacted to govern their activities and socialization. The first documented mention of slaves in New Haven was in 1644. In 1730 the state’s black population was 700 and by 1776 it had grown to 6,462, the largest in New England. In the state a Gradual Emancipation Act was passed in 1784 declaring that all persons born of slave parents after that year were to be freed at the age of 21 and in 1788 the slave trading was banned.
The first official attempts to alter the conditions of the enslaved in New Haven began with the 1838 founding of the Antislavery Association and the African Improvement Society. In 1839 Simeon Jocelyn, Joshua Leavitt and Lewis Tappan created the Amistad Committee to provide a legal defense for the 43 Africans captured aboard the Amistad.
In January of 1839 Sengbe Pieh, Cinque, and 51 other Mende were kidnapped by Spanish slave traders. They mutinied and seized control of the ship off the coast of Cuba in July and in late August were captured and imprisoned in New Haven for murder. The 3-year trial ended with the Africans regaining their freedom and returning to Africa in 1841.
The Cinque Memorial Statue, Make Us Free,” is located in front of New Haven City Hall on the site where the Africans were imprisoned. The 14-ft., 3-sided column, depicts the leader of the Amistad revolt in Africa, in prison and in freedom. The statue was sculpted by Ed Hamilton and dedicated in 1992.
A replica of 140-ft Amistad is both the Flagship and Tall Ship Ambassador of Connecticut. The wooden ship’s homeport is New Haven Harbor’s Long Wharf Pier. The ship is today known as the “Freedom Schooner Amistad” in reference to its ongoing schedule of international educational missions.
Two early New Haven churches were very important in African American history, Temple Street Church and Varick AME Zion Church. Varick was founded in 1818 when 35 slaves and Rev. Jeremiah Jacobs split from New Haven’s First Methodist Church. The female congregants designed the regimental flag for the 29th Connecticut Colored Corps in 1864 and Booker T. Washington gave his last public speech here. The current building dates from the early 1900s.
Two ministers, the white Rev. Simeon Jocelyn and the black Rev. Amos Bemen, established the Dixwell Congregational Church. Founded in 1820 it became known as the Temple Street Congregational Church in 1829. The church functioned as an Underground Railroad station.
New Haven’s biography and most tours begin on the 16-acre Green laid out in 1638. The land was once a cemetery housing thousands of bodies, all the headstones but one were moved to Grove Street Cemetery, but not the bodies and for that reason the Green has a ‘no dig’ law. It continues to be owned by the heirs of the original families and has been designated a National Historic Landmark (NHL).
Three churches are located on the Temple Street side of the Green, the Georgian-style 1683 Center Church, the 1752 Gothic Revival-designed Trinity Church and the Federal-style United Congregational Church.
Center Meetinghouse was the first church in the city. In 1814 the fourth building was erected over a burial ground. A crypt beneath the church holds more than 130 remains and tombstones dating from the late 1680s. The interior showcases a Tiffany window comprised of 2,320 pieces of glass. Free tours are offered seasonally.
The first religious edifice in the city to be called a “church’ was Trinity. Records indicate that the first building, erected in 1752, was a 58-ft. by 38-ft. wooden structure.
The last of the three churches on the Green, United, was originally North Church built in 1815. After merging with Third Church in 1884 it took the name United Church. One of the founders of Third Church was the abolitionist Simeon Jocelyn who, along with attorney Roger Baldwin and other parishioners, was part of the Amistad Committee. They raised funds and supported the Africans throughout the case. An interpretive plaque on-site honors the contributions of the church to the case.
A collegiate school for the education of males in the field of ministry was established in 1701 in Killington, Conn, six years later it moved to Saybrook and in 1716 it was located permanently in New Haven. In 1718 the school was renamed to honor a donor, Elihu Yale and in 1745 it was chartered. In 1861 it became the first college in the country to grant the PhD and today it is the 3rd oldest college in the US. In 1874 Edward Bouchet a physics student, became the first African American to be awarded a Ph.D.
Bishop George Berkeley, an Irish philosopher, owned Whitehall Plantation in Newport, Rhode Island from 1728-31. Upon his return to England in 1731 he gave his land to Yale. Revenue from the plantation and its enslaved labor funded Yale’s first graduate scholarships for at least fifty years.
Yale’s campus encompasses 320-acres, 260 buildings and has an enrollment of 11,000 students. Guided campus tours are free and begin in the Visitors Center located inside the former 1767 Pierpont House, the oldest residence in the city. There are 50 sites on the central Campus portion of the tour. You can’t see it all in one trip but there are several places that are not to be missed.
An outdoor sculpture, ‘The Woman’s Table,” was designed by Maya Lin in 1993 to commemorate the 20th-anniversary of the first co-ed class.
The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library is one of the most beautiful buildings in the country and one of the world’s largest dedicated to rare books. It was constructed in 1963 of translucent Vermont marble slabs thick enough to let in light and still keep the UV rays out. It features 800,000 rare books, 150,000 of which are stored in a central glass cube. Highlights of the collection are displayed on a rotating basis. www.library.yale.edu/beinecke
Sterling Memorial Library is a replica of a Gothic cathedral with stained-glass windows showcasing scenes of the founding of Yale.
The Yale Center For British Art was built in 1930 and displays works from the Elizabethan Era to the present in 26 galleries. Works include paintings, sculpture, books and manuscripts and comprise the largest collection outside of Britain. www.yale.edu/ycba
Yale University Art Gallery, the oldest college art museum in the hemisphere has a collection of more than 150,000 works. www.artgallery.yale.edu
Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History is a repository of 12-million objects that interpret 4-billion years of Earth’s history. This is a world-class collection. www.peabody.yale.edu
The dining options in New Haven are staggering so, once again, I will just mention those that you dare not miss.
Opened in 1975, Claire’s Corner Copia is a gourmet vegetarian restaurant that promotes healthy eating as a preventive measure. The food here is delicious and Claire can charm you into becoming a true believer. She has published several cookbooks and recipes and tips are available on her website. www.clairescornercopia.com
Louis Lassen created the first hamburger sandwiches in new Haven in 1900. Visitors can still taste the “real thing” at Louis’ Lunch. Burgers are made to order and served on sliced bread. You’ll love it. www.louislunch.com
New Haven has been deemed the “Cultural Capitol of Connecticut” and It is accessible via I-95 by car or a 3-hour train ride. It’s a low-stress, cost-effective family vacation or romantic getaway. Information and reservations are available on the websites. www.infonewhaven.com/content/market-new-haven
I wish you smooth and peaceful travels!