ESSEX, Conn. (WTNH) — It’s haunting and beautiful music, written by a man named Sawney Freeman who lived in the late 1700s.
“He was a sailor, he was enslaved, he was freed and he was a musician,” Reverend Kate Wesch of St. John’s Episcopal Church said, explaining that the musical pieces were part of a recent special service.
“We used that as an opportunity to bring in the past year and a half of research that’s happened with the Witness Stones project,” she said.
Recently, the church dedicated its first Witness Stone, honoring a woman named Violet who was baptized at St. Johns when she was enslaved by founding church member Noah Scovell, named on a baptismal bowl, used for years.
“It is complicated, it is messy,” Wesch said of our past.
The Witness Stones Project, based in New Britain, aims to raise awareness and honor the enslaved individuals that helped shape our communities.
“So, over about 150 years we know there were about 150 documented formerly enslaved people but we’re constantly coming up with more names the more we dive into research,” Melissa Josefiak, Director of the Essex Historical Society who is helping with the project, said. “Everyone’s history is important and the more we learn about the former enslaved we realize how large a footprint they left on Essex’s history.”
More of Freeman’s music played as folks left church.
“He has a voice because when you hear his music played, it’s like you’re hearing his voice,” Wesch said.
Parishioners then headed to the garden to give Violet a voice by telling her story by the stone that bears her name.
As bells rang in honor, the former slave, who ran away at 27-years-old, is remembered.
“At the bottom of this stone it says SX 1, so, that means the first one in Essex and our hope is that there will be many more, as we’re just getting started,” Wesch said, noting that there’s been tremendous interest in the project.
The historical society is always looking for more volunteers to help with research.
Additionally, a history class at Valley Regional High School will be studying the project in the spring.