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“Witness Stones” teach of Guilford’s slaveowning past

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GIULFORD, Conn. (WTNH) – A big crowd walked around downtown Guilford today, all due to some small stones. As small as the stones are, what they represent is huge. They are called Witness Stones.

They are similar to stones that sit in front of houses in Germany that belonged to Jews murdered in the holocaust.

“They talk about the person and what they did and where they lived and their date of birth,” explained Adams Middle School social studies teacher Dennis Culliton, one of the organizers behind the Witness Stones.

Eighth graders from Adams Middle School are studying the United States’ national tragedy: slavery. They found there were slaves bought and sold right in Guilford. A whole family in fact. Montrose and Phillis were bought by a family living where Guilford Savings Bank is now. That is where one of the Witness Stones now sits. Students found out Phillis was brought here from Africa in 1728.

“At the home of David Naughty and his wife Ruth, Phillis worked as a spinner and a cook,” said 8th grader Hana Greif.

Phillis also had eight children. The third was named Candace. She was forced to serve the Parmalee family in what is now the Hyland House Museum. On her stone, it says she was freed in 1793, which is when the Parmalees died.

“Candace was freed when she was 38 years old,” said 8th grader Theo Freeman. “After being freed she washed things and made wedding cakes.”

Candace had a younger brother named Moses.

“Due to the laws and traditions of the time, because Moses was the son of the slaves Montrose and Phillis, he would also become a slave,” said 8th grader Dominik Dadak.

His stone reads “King” which meant Moses became a leader and mediator between the white and African-American communities. He lived in a house where Town Hall is today. Now, if you want to look back at that sad part of Guilford’s history, you just have to look down. Culliton wants to make the Witness Stones a yearly tradition.

“So we might have 30 stones in Guilford 10 years from now, and I think that would change the way people think about our community,” Culliton said

The three stones installed today and the first here in Connecticut, but there could be more in coming years, and more states have signed on as well. They have sponsors in at least 5 others.

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