‘Witness Stones’ school project highlights Lyme-Old Lyme’s history of slavery ahead of Juneteenth

New London

OLD LYME, Conn. (WTNH) — Ahead of Juneteenth this year, students at Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School are learning about the town’s history of slavery through poetry.

“I was worked like an animal in a cage on a leash,” 7th grader Anne-Marie Hinckley read Monday from a poem she wrote about Lewis Lewia, a man enslaved in the Lyme-Old Lyme area in the late 1700s. “The church records speak as if I was an object. ‘Lewis negro servant to Col. Marshfield.’ He was his own person unlike me.”

The poems along with Witness Stones tell the stories of 14 enslaved people who once lived along Lyme Street in Old Lyme.

“I always thought it was in the south more,” said 7th grader Ben Goulding. “Up here north where we live I never thought of slavery.”

These students at Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School learned a lot with this Witness Stones Old Lyme project, which combined work in their Social Studies and English classes.

The students researched documents provided by the town historian like a 1790 Census.

“All the way over here you can see the number of enslaved people that William Noyes had and Jenny Freeman was one of them,” explained English teacher Olivia Hersant.

Freeman’s name does not appear on the census but it does in William Noyes’ will.

“She was going to be inherited by one of William Noyes’, her enslaver’s, children,” said 7th grader Maddie Trepanier.

“We’re all human and we deserve to be treated equally but they were just treated like objects just because of the color of their skin,” said Hinckley.

“Honestly disgusted considering the fact that people were getting killed and stuff here,” said 7th grader Thomas Kelly.

The stories of the slaves have brought history to life for these students.

“I never knew a slave lived there,” said Hinckley. “This is my neighbor’s house and I just never knew someone was treated that awfully in there.”

The gold-colored plaques may also bring the stories of the slaves to life for those who stop to read them.

It is estimated that there were about 200 enslaved people who lived in Lyme and Old Lyme so certainly this project is expected to continue with other 7th grade classes to come.

“They had no control over what they could do,” said Kelly. “They had nothing they owned.”

“We owe it to the history of our town and to our students to have a full history,” said Hersant.

Even if some parts of that history are at times dark.

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