African-American Heritage

Plaque sponsored by the Gernon Trust

Located on 76 Church Street

In the late 1600’s and 1700’s, Norwich was an important colonial seaport trading with the West Indies. Slaves were imported to southeastern Connecticut from the West Indies during this period. They became personal servants, laborers, and craftsmen. By 1756, the black community numbered 223. Many had purchased their own freedom or had been freed by their owners. Former slave, Guy Druck, a blacksmith, build the house at 76 Church Street in the 1750’s. His skills were renowned and actively sought by ship builders for components such as anchors. Blacks from Norwich, such as Leb Quy, fought in the American Revolution. The first public outcry against slavery in Norwich was published in the Norwich Packet in 1774. Connecticut later passed legislation to gradually abolish slavery in 1784.

In the 19th century, black settlement centered on Jail Hill, where a thriving community existed by the mid-century. Discriminated against for employment in the mills, Norwich’s black residents worked on the docks, railroads, steamboats, and in hotels. Many, like escaped slave James Linsley Smith, a shoemaker, were engaged in crafts. Others owned restaurants and small businesses.

Norwich was on one of the routes of the Underground Railroad; the secret network helped escaped slaves from the south reach safety in Canada. David Ruggles, an important “conductor” based in New York, was native of Norwich.

In the 20th century, new immigrants from the American south and Cape Verde Islands settled in Norwich thus enriching the life of the community.