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Black Heritage 

The Black Heritage Project centers on the history and people of the Talcott Street Church, Hartford’s first Black church and school for Black children, which was located on a site next to CT State Capital from 1826-1954.

"Who knew we had people right here in Connecticut that had an impact on Black History?"

Asharee Banks, ENG 1020, Fall 2023

Talcott St. Church

Shocked to learn that the center of Hartford’s Black community in the 19th century is currently an unmarked space in a defunct parking garage, four black students set about researching its history in published material and local archives. 

Who was James Pennington?

The question may be asked, Why I have published anything so long after my escape from slavery?

Rev. James W.C. Pennington was born in 1807. He was born a slave in Maryland to Tighlin Frisby after Frisby’s father passed away. He and his siblings and mother lived on one plantation and his father, Basil, on another. Pennington had witnessed brutal beatings both on his father and other slaves. Having had enough after his own savage punishment, on October 22, 1827, he escaped to freedom along the Underground Railroad, a harrowing journey in which he was captured more than once before finally making it to Pennsylvania. After taking shelter with a Quaker farmer who gave James his first reading lessons, he made his journey up north and advanced quickly in his ability to read, write and speak of God’s message. Soon after becoming a pastor, he was called on to officiate the wedding of Frederick and Anna Douglass. He later attended Yale Divinity School for four years as a non-matriculated student, the first black man to attend. He served as reverend at Talcott Street Church from 1840-1847, 1853, 1856-1857. He became a well known name in the community and abroad, preaching in various places in the United States and Europe. Pennington wrote his biography, The Fugitive Blacksmith, Or Events in the History of James W.C. Pennington, in 1849. Pennington’s call to the church coincided with the trial of the Amistad captives at the nearby State House, and he and his congregation assisted the captives throughout their stay in Connecticut, eventually raising funds for their return to Africa and sending several Talcott Church members with them.


Community Formation

In these foundational churches members found freedom, shared consent, and nurtured their religious and political authority, building vibrant Black communities in 19th- century Connecticut. Click on the following images to expand student-authored biographies and to visit related websites.

Please note: The following biographies were written by a student research team from the Liberal Arts Action Lab in Spring 2020. The students – Julian Hogan (Capital), Aliyah Freeman-Johnson (Capital), Armani Parnther (Capital), Mercy Unoh (Trinity) – were surprised to learn that the center of Hartford’s Black community in the 19th century is currently an unmarked space in a defunct parking garage. For this project, they researched the church's history in published material and local archives.

BHP Curriculum

More information is coming soon. 

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