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The following letter was sent to the West Hartford Town Council on Jan. 8, 2021, and was shared with We-Ha.com for publication.
Greetings West Hartford Town Council:
In American history, the most common narrative is that only the Southern states contributed to the institution of slavery. We as a nation like to believe that only specific parts of our country chose to participate in this unforgivable system. The truth is, not only was the North complicit, but it also had an instrumental role in perpetuating slavery.
With recent research from the Witness Stones Project, we have discovered that there were about 70 people enslaved in West Hartford alone, which is double the number we thought it was four years ago. We excuse our complicity and inhumane actions by comparatively stating we were at least “better” than the South. With a history such as ours, there is no place to compare. It is objectively wrong to say that the North was a morally “better” region during this time, when we directly profited from slavery.
Although we continue to uncover more enslaved people in our town’s history, our recognition of them is minimal at best. To create a more realistic narrative and appreciate the Black members of our history, we propose that West Hartford rename New Street in Blue Back Square to celebrate one of these individuals: Peleg Nott.
Born around 1750, Peleg Nott was an extraordinary man for his time. His accomplishments display a powerful resistance to the countless obstacles in his life. He was a celebrated leader in town, and even earned the depiction of the “most independent man in the west division.” Peleg was a veteran of one of the most taught wars in our nation’s history, the American Revolution. It is estimated that there were around 400 black soldiers in Connecticut alone, yet they are barely recognized through our schools or important landmarks.
During the American Revolution, Peleg drove provision carts and provided essential supplies for troops. It is also speculated that he was bilingual, and learned French to communicate with other soldiers. Language is just one minor demonstration of a barrier Peleg was able to overcome. A few years later, Peleg was put in charge of his enslaver’s land, displaying his leadership by independently supervising 150 acres here in the West Division bounded by Prospect Avenue and Albany Avenue.
In addition, he was elected to the honorable position of Black Governor in 1780, a position that requires the community’s support and trust. He empowered his community by listening to their voices and advocating for them. From his hard work, he eventually became a free man, and his son Henry was born into freedom. In a life where the cards were stacked against him, Peleg was strong and intelligent enough to become successful and independent.
For such an impressive life, Peleg Nott does not have a single thing in town to honor him or tell his story. This is not unique to him, however. Enslaved people in West Hartford have, for the most part, been folded into the corners of history.
Peleg’s enslaver, Jeremiah Wadsworth, has an entire museum, the Wadsworth Athaneum, dedicated in his family name after his son Daniel financially contributed to the art museum, and others who benefitted from slavery have their names around town, such as Sedgwick School and Whiting Lane. Meanwhile, not even a street in West Hartford is named after a person of African descent.
his lack of representation is quite disappointing for a town that enslaved over 70 individuals. Without the contributions of enslaved people, this town would not be all that it is today. Naming a street after Peleg Nott would be a great next step to securing his legacy and telling the story of slavery in this town. Recognizing his historical significance would be the perfect sequel to the recent decision to rename Goodwin Green to Unity Green.
In light of this year’s events relating to the Black Lives Matter movement, renaming the street would be a way to let the people of the movement know that they are seen and heard, and that we are working to right our wrongs for them. After the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, protesters cried for everyone to “say their names,” and recognize their deaths and the injustices that caused them. We would literally be answering this call by “saying the name” of a victim of slavery, putting it on a street sign.
We cannot continue to ignore this narrative, and we must tell Peleg’s story.
A man of bravery, intelligence, and diligence, Peleg Nott has displayed everything necessary to be a man of honor, and in fact, has gone beyond that. Simply to subsist in a reality where you are not seen as a person but as property is a great feat, and for Peleg to surpass these restrictions and still find the goodness to serve the nation that disgraced him is remarkable.
He was respected as a leader in the eyes of both whites and blacks of his time. Somehow, he was able to meet the expectations others had of him and simultaneously break them without causing conflict.
Putting his name on New Street (which has been around for over a decade), would be a meaningful way we can keep his legacy and the overall narrative of slavery in New England known. Small changes like these are what make big differences in making people feel welcomed and valued. Let’s continue with the motif of unity to show appreciation for those who beat the prejudices others have of them, and name the street after Peleg Nott.
Aliza Sadiq and Regina Miller Kingswood Oxford Students