John Ashley’s Homestead of Sheffield, Ma, contains some historical parallels for our study of Gay Manse. The two towns accommodated the spirit to support the Boston Tea Party. In fact, both towns wrote through committee and published in 1774 Resolves/Resolutions in the subsequent months following the tea party. Though we do not know the extent in which Reverend Gay participated in the 1774 Resolves that Suffield published (though we have not asked that research question enough), we do know that John Ashley headed the committee “that wrote the fiery Sheffield Resolves in late 1773.” Both houses relied upon the labor of five slaves in 1773.
Similar to Reverend Gay, John Ashley acquired tracks of land throughout the second half of the 18th century. Both men also improved their wealth with male and female slaves working inside their households as well as in their fields and pastures. During our visit today, we were unable to determine where exactly the slaves lived in the house. This is a very important aspect for our study of Gay Manse, as we have no documented proof yet where exactly the slaves lived. Compelling in my mind is last year’s visit to the Joseph Webb House in Weathersfield when Bob Romer asked for (and did not get) the documented support for creating an installation of slaves in the attic. A return visit this summer when there are some interesting programs scheduled with scholars will be fun and productive. Nevertheless, today there were great interpretative posters throughout the barn. Today was also a great discovery of this African American trail: http://www.uhvafamtrail.org/
The resolution committee talk that Elizabeth Freeman overheard at the Ashley homestead kindled her own pursuit of freedom that culminated in the five mile walk she made to Sedgwick’s law office to petition a suit for her own freedom. She won her suit in 1781, and the case was one of the factors influencing the State Legislature of Massachusetts to outlaw slavery in 1783. Connecticut’s General Assembly never passed such a law before the Civil War to outlaw slavery. Such a narrative compels us to ask what was the impact of the spirit of revolution in Suffield upon the 37 slaves listed in 1774 Census from the Colony of Connecticut? Suffield later sent a significant force to respond to the call to Lexington and Concord call to arms. Old Ti’s father, Titus Kent, served in the Suffield Militia. What effect did this call to arms and this revolutionary spirit have on Old Ti’s disposition and attitude towards slavery?