Connecticut's "Black Governors"
Evidence of the tradition among African
Americans of electing black governors or kings can be found in several New
England colonies throughout the eighteenth century. In Connecticut, the
practice appears to have started in the mid 1750s. It is thought that
slaves, who accompanied their owners to Hartford for the yearly election of
the colony's governor, chose a person to become a leader of their community
as well. The first black governor mentioned in historical sources is London,
who was a slave of Captain Thomas Seymour. He was elected in Hartford in
As the black population in the colony grew and expanded to
other towns, the journey to Hartford to cast votes became difficult. Whether
actual ballots were cast in the neighboring towns and then sealed and
brought to Hartford to be counted, or whether the African Americans in their
respective towns reached an agreement as to who to support before sending a
representative is not known, as no official statement of votes was
tabulated. The position of governor very soon became localized as black
residents began to elect a person who lived nearby to lead their
communities. Elections are known to have occurred in the towns of Derby,
Durham, Farmington, New Haven, New London, Norwich and Seymour, as well as
The elections themselves generally took place the
second Saturday in May, a week after the election of the colony's governor.
A large parade and festive celebration for the newly elected official would
follow. The person chosen was most often a strong, respected, and
influential member of the African American community. He was also, in many
cases, a servant to a wealthy and influential family. Sam Huntington, who
was a black governor in the town of Norwich, was a servant of Samuel
Huntington, who was Governor of the state of Connecticut at the same time.
A black governor could be called on to perform important functions within
his community, and the position commanded respect from both black and white
residents. In many towns, the governor meted out punishments and upheld law
and order among the African American inhabitants. He also acted as a
mediator between the black and white communities. Black governors often
appointed a lieutenant governor and deputies to help carry out these tasks.
Despite these functions, most of the men who were selected to be black
governors were still enslaved. It is thought that many in Connecticut
supported the elections because it was a way to further control the African
American population by ensuring that they conformed to the colony's rules
and regulations. If a black governor was responsible for inflicting
punishments on his fellow citizens, the threat to the colony's authority was
minimized. Nevertheless, the position allowed African Americans to have some
voice within their community. For example, in New Haven, there is some
evidence to suggest black leaders worked together with reformers in an
effort to become more integrated into society.
Many black governors
served multiple terms. For example, Cuff, who served as governor in Hartford
before the American Revolution, held the office for ten years. The custom
itself lasted about one hundred years although after 1830 it was most
prevalent in New Haven County. The last black governor in Connecticut is
considered to be Wilson Weston, who served as governor in the town of
Seymour in 1856.
A list of known
can be found on
The Hartford Black History Project
Anthony, Billie M. "African American Monument in the Ancient Burying
Ground." Hog River Journal
vol. 2, no. 4 (2004), pp. 38-39. Hartford:
Hartford Public Library, 2004 [CSL call number F 104 .H3 H64].
Beeching, Barbara J. African Americans and Native Americans in
Hartford 1636-1800: Antecedents of Hartford's Nineteenth Century Black
Photocopy. Hartford: Connecticut State Library, 1993 [CSL
call number F 104 .H39 A24 1993z].
Burpee, Charles W. Burpee's The
Story of Connecticut
. vol. 1. New York: American Historical Company,
Inc., 1939 [CSL call number F 94 .B87 1939].
Clark, George L. A
History of Connecticut: Its People and Institutions
. New York: G.P
Putnam's Sons, 1914 [CSL call number F 94 .C59].
Johnston. The Negro in Colonial New England, 1620-1776
. New York:
Columbia University Press, 1942 [CSL call number Offsite H 31 .C7 no. 494].
Please note: this item is housed
and may not be available on a same day basis.
Governors Among Many to be Honored by Monument
." Hartford Courant
July 4, 1998, p. B5.
Neyer, Constance. "Black Governors in
Connecticut? There were many, but they are buried in history". Hartford
February 1, 1998, p. A1.
Norton, Frederick Calvin. "Negro
Slavery in Connecticut" The Connecticut Magazine: An Illustrated Monthly
vol. 5, no. 6. (June 1899), pp. 320-328. Hartford: The Connecticut Magazine
Co., 1899 [CSL call number F 91 .C625 v.5 1899].
Rollin G. Three Centuries of New Haven, 1638-1938
. New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1953 [CSL call number F 104 .N657 O83 1953].
Orville Hitchcock. "Negro Governors." Papers of the New Haven Colony
Historical Society. vol. 6 (1900), pp. 315-335. N
ew Haven: Tuttle,
Morehouse and Taylor Co. Printers, 1900 [CSL call number F 98 .N49 v. 6].
Stuart, Isaac William. Hartford in the Olden Time: Its First Thirty Years
Hartford: F.A. Brown, 1853 [CSL call number Cage F104.H357 S88 1853].
Trumbull, James Hammond. Memorial History of Hartford County,
. vol. 1. Boston: E.L. Osgood, 1886 [CSL call
number F 102 .H3 T8 1888].
Warner, Robert A. New Haven Negroes, A
. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1940 [CSL call number
F 104 .N69 N4 1940].Prepared by the History and Genealogy
Unit, Connecticut State Library, Feb. 2005. © 2005