African Ancestry in Connecticut
Home > States > Connecticut

This site is hosted by: Dianne M. Daniels

  • Guide to African Ancestored Research
  • Genealogical Resources on the Internet

  • Jail Hill - Significant African-American Neighborhood (continued from CT Home page)

    Norwich Municipal Historian Dale Plummer continues - "The black community of Jail Hill consisted of a number of individuals of importance in the struggle for abolition of slavery and educational opportunities for people of color".

    In Pre-Colonial and early Colonial times, the summit of Jail Hill (which rises 223 feet from the Norwich harbor), was a strategic fort in the Mohegan Tribe's conflict with the Narragansett. Jail Hill was home to  people of color who were a vibrant counterculture to the white Congregational Church-dominated mainstream culture of the day. Lester Skeesucks and Sally Prentiss, both members of the Mohegan Tribe, married into the city's black community and were important members of the Jail Hill Community. 

    Since early Colonial times much of Norwich's commerce was with the West Indies, and early in the city's history, many slave owners existed in Norwich. A large free black population existed by the time of the American Revolution. Anti-slavery sermons were delivered from the pulpits of the city's churches as early as 1774. Because of the commercial connections between Norwich textile factory owners and Southern cotton plantation owners, and the fears of the white working class that black workers would threaten their jobs and reduce wages, there was also a pro-slavery faction in the city.

    One of the more notable residents of Jail Hill was James Lindsay Smith, who escaped slavery in Virginia and settled in Norwich. He overcame hardship and prejudice to build a home at 59 School Street on Jail Hill. James L. Smith was a shoemaker and a Methodist minister who wrote of the hardships and cruelties of slavery as well as the kindness - and the discrimination - he found in the North. This discrimination included losing his business to fire twice, and being denied the right to own property which he eventually did.

    Jail Hill was called that because the county jail was built on the summit of the hill in 1828. The entire area was once known as Kinney's hill, named for the Kinney family who built a home on the lower western slope. In the 1830's and 1840's many people of color built on the hill because the prison lowered property values. "There are indication that the Kinney's were abolitionists who purposefully sold land at fair market value to people of color" said Municipal Historian Dale Plummer. "There seems to have been a strong sense of community in the Jail Hill neighborhood."

    The community included David Ruggles, who was born on Jail Hill and served as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. He is credited with helping at least 600 slaves escape to freedom and worked closely with the abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass, also an escaped slave.

    An AfriGeneas


    AfriGeneas is a proud sponsor of
    The Millennium Project: "People working together to build an online database
    of African American genealogical material for the 21st century"
    Placed online: 26 Sep 1999 | Updated: 24 Jan 2002
    Questions or comments: Dianne M. Daniels
    Copyright © 1999-2002 by AfriGeneas. All rights reserved.