NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — The story of a formerly enslaved Black man who is considered responsible for turning New Haven from a small town into a vibrant city has been brought to light.
William Lanson was a self-taught engineer. He led the extension of New Haven’s Long Wharf in 1810. That allowed the Elm City to compete with the Port of New York for commerce. He then built sections of the Farmington Canal in 1825.
Lanson also bought land in what is now Wooster Square to shelter free Black people, enslaved Black people, and poor white people. And he was an advocate to allow free Black people the right to vote.
However, everything was then taken from him.
New Township, part of present-day Wooster Square, was purchased by a white New Haven man. A hotel that the man ran in the area became the site of ostensible crimes and police harassment.
Lanson ended up dying in a poor house in 1851.
On Saturday, the City of New Haven unveiled a statue honoring William Lanson. The statue can be found at Canal and Lock Streets. New Haven also declared Sept. 26 as William Lanson Day.
“The hate and discrimination did not stop Mr. Lanson from making a lasting impact on this community. Literally giving everything he had. And local authorities worked hard to take away his financial resources, at times his freedom, and his good name,” New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said. “On behalf of the City of New Haven, I apologize for the indiscretions, humiliation, discrimination, and false accusations bestowed on Mr. Lanson.”
Sculptor Dana King said, “This history is vital. People need to know the strength, the courage, and the dedication that African descendants gave to New Haven and continue to give to New Haven.”