The Connecticut Freedom Trail Runs Through My Family Tree

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First Sergeant
Aug 6, 2016

Connecticut Freedom Trail

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 made it a crime punishable by arrest if you were caught helping escaped slaves so anyone helping fugitive slaves were forced into secrecy. Eventually routes north were established as the “underground railroad” became active, providing a network of safe havens for fugitive slaves leading north towards their freedom.

As you drive north on Route 2 from the small southeast town of Pawcatuck, Connecticut, you will pass into the town of North Stonington. When fugitive slaves came through the underground railroad on their way north they came by foot, horse, or boat and those that came in through the southeast corner of the state either in New London, Connecticut or in near-by Westerly, Rhode Island, they would head to a location that is on (present day) Route 2 in the town of North Stonington.

The John Randall House


John Randall House
North Stonington, CT

Photo - Connecticut History

The John Randall house was built in the early 1720’s. (There are conflicting Dates on the building of this house. The land came into the family in the 1680’s.) During the 1830’s Reverend John Denison Baldwin {born in North Stonington 1809}, was a Congregational pastor and future United States Representative from Massachusetts (1863-1869). He was a graduate of theology from Yale Divinity School and in the 1830’s was serving churches in the state of Connecticut. It is thought with his knowledge of the area and his strong view against the institution of slavery, he was one of the leaders in establishing a network to help fleeing slaves. This house became one of the stops.

Today the house still stands, although it is currently inhabited. In the kitchen is the “hole” that leads to the cellar where the slaves would hide during the day until they could travel safely by night to points north; either into northeast corners of Connecticut, Worcester Massachusetts or to Montreal Canada. Each step along with way taking them a closer to freedom.

William Randall

Emancipated papers on file at the town hall in Stonington, Connecticut state - - -

On March 24, 1808, William Randall “emancipated and made free a Negro man named Jabe Slave being 29 years of age well and healthy.”

On March 11, 1807, William Randall freed “Rose, a 26-year-old Negro slave, who was well and healthy.” {2}

Darius H. Randall

I found this interesting history regarding Darius H. Randall’s civil war service and it lends credit to the family home was part of the freedom trail.

“The 1685* John Randall (1666-1720) House, according to tradition, was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Supporting evidence exists to lend credibility to this tale. Darius H. Randall (b. 1823) lived in the house at the time and possibly shared abolitionist sentiment. Randall was drafted during the Civil War and he served in the Union Army, despite his prosperity with which he could have paid for a substitute. Outraged at the treatment of black troops, he transferred to U.S. Colored Troop Regiment and served as a 2nd Lieutenant for the duration of the war. Given this demonstration of concern for the troops, it is possible that he assisted slaves on the route to freedom as well. A trap door to a small root cellar below the kitchen may have been a hiding spot. This house is privately owned and not open to the public.” {3}

My family was one of the early settlers (1680) of what was then the town of Stonington, and during the 1800’s when North Stonington was incorporated as its’ own town breaking away from Stonington. There are several locations where family cemeteries are located. While searching I came across connections that led me to discover the history of the John Randall house and the location of another family cemetery residing on the property. It's especially interesting when I see this side of the paternal line of my family and then look to my maternal line where my 2x great-grandfather from Kentucky fought with Morgan.

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byron ed

2nd Lieutenant
Mar 22, 2017
Cool story, and likely for that area most of it true. They weren't prone to writing anything down 'cause it was in fact breaking Federal Law to assist freedom seekers anywhere in the Country.

However the cellar thing, or the tunnel or secret room thing, was not really necessary in the case of single-family homes up North, since slave-catchers could not enter or search a family residence without first obtaining a warrant -- a hard thing to do in politically anti-slavery areas of the country. So merely keeping drapes shut was all that was typically necessary, that and to keep the freedom-seekers moving.

In other words up North, in single-family homes, there was little need to put human beings into dark and damp cellars, tunnels or secret rooms for hours or days on end. Needlessly cruel. Typically cellars were merely intended used for food storage, and tunnels for access to cook-houses, outbuildings (barns etc) or river landings in the northern climes, for use in deep Winter. Chimneys were typically architecturally boxed-in, by default leaving dead spaces, often accessible via removable or swinging panels -- but none of those things designed that way to hide people.

Bottom line; most stories of purpose-built UGRR cellar rooms, tunnels or secret rooms in family homes up North are myth. They were family stories that became family history, then community history. I might add cupulas to supposed UGRR purpose-built structures. Many Victorian homes had them.

That's not to say such spaces weren't needed in boarding houses or Inns, where rotating visitors could not be vetted for secrecy. In that case freedom seekers did have to be stuffed into hiding spaces within the building or tunnels between buildings, hopefully for short periods.

Another myth is that most freedom-seekers had to rely on white "conductors." Instead many of them relied only on their own wits or trusted only fellow blacks. After all, most slaves were keenly tuned in to the ways of white men, and used that to their advantage in avoiding capture. Newspaper accounts meanwhile tended to focus on white conductors for the "morality" of the stories; "white men of religious conviction providing selfless service to the downtrodden negro" etc.

Those that found their own way to freedom weren't concerned if their stories ever became public, but we have hints that there were many of them. For one thing black settlements in Canada were larger than can be accounted for by public record or newspaper reporting.
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Forum Host
Silver Patron
Mar 15, 2013
Fascinating story. Thanks for sharing it!
Here's a few references to Darius Randall I found from the Norwich Bulletin.

Norwich Bulletin., January 21, 1911, page 9.


Norwich Bulletin., January 02, 1909, page 9.



Norwich Bulletin., July 23, 1914, page 5.
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First Sergeant
Aug 6, 2016
Thank you for the links to the Norwich Bulletin. It is my understanding that after men enlisted from the area, they went to a camp in Norwich and then were sent to point south.
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