Farmington, Connecticut, the Colonization Society, and African American Periodicals

Phebe Janes lived in Farmington, the wife of Elijah Janes (1758-1823), whom she married in 1791. She was the daughter of Fisher Gay (1735-1776) and Phebe Lewis (1735-1772). She was admitted to the church on Oct. 22, 1837, from Lansingborough, NY. She died at the age of 83 on Jan. 8, 1850. (Connecticut, U.S., Church Record Abstracts, 1630-1920 gives her age as 83.) (US Census, 1840 gives her birth year as 1767.) She was also a benefactor of the American Colonization Society.

“Eighteenth Annual Report, Annual Report of the Colonization Society of the State of New York •  
December 21, 1850 • 10

Phebe Janes left a will, written in 1848. She made several bequests to benevolent and charitable organizations. Far from having a “small estate,” Mrs. Janes’ worth at the time of her death was calculated at $4985.16.

Phebe Janes, Probate Packet, Connecticut, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1609-1999,

Mrs. Janes is just one of numerous, white Farmington residents to appear in the pages of African-American periodicals in the 19th century. These publications ran the gamut, from mouthpieces of Liberian colonization by free Blacks in America, to magazines for Black readers. Research is just beginning to uncover Farmington’s African-American history. Often focused on abolitionists, or the Amistad captives, Farmington’s larger Black history is often obscured by select tales of heroism or benevolence. According to the African Repository, six free Blacks from Farmington emigrated to Liberia between 1850 and 1855. (African Repository March 1, 1856)

The Rev. Noah Porter’s congregation in Farmington, Connecticut was a regular contributor to the Connecticut State Colonization Society. The African Repository and Colonial Journal, published in Washington, D.C., faithfully recorded contributions from various states’ churches and individuals. Founded in 1816 to encourage African Americans to colonize the region of Africa which became Liberia, it remained in publication until 1892.

“Contributions,” African Repository (Washington (DC) • November 1, 1830, vol. VI • iss. 9, 286.
“Contributions,” African Repository, December 1, 1841 •vol. XVII • iss. 23, 367.

Charles Prince of Farmington was an agent for the Mirror of Liberty, the first magazine edited and owned by Blacks for Black readers, published from 1838-1840. Its purpose was decidely different from the African Repository. The magazine was owned by David Ruggles, the son of free people of color. Ruggles was born in Norwich, Connecticut, but spent most of his life in New York City, “where he ran a Temperance Society grocery, a printing business, a reading room, and a bookstore.” Charles Prince, a resident of Canton, married Hannah Seignor on Nov. 24, 1825, the Rev. Noah Porter, presiding. He was the son of free people of color, Charles and Tabatha Qummenor. There is little written about Charles Prince. (The Connecticut Historical Society lists in its collections a book by Abiel Brown, Genealogical History, With Short Sketches and Family Records of the Early Settlers of West Simsbury, Now Canton, Conn. Hartford: Case, Tiffany, 1856.  A “Chapter on the Black Citizens of West Simsbury” includes biographical sketches of James Baltimore, London Chester, Charles Prince, Simon Fletcher, and Caesar Wilcox (pp. 139-142) which probably describes Charles Prince, Sr.) In 1830, according to the US Census, Charles, Jr. lived with 5 others, including two children under 10, in Farmington. One son, Charles, died at age 3, in October, 1837, and another at age 1 in the same year. The children died two days apart. Another son, also named Charles, died in 1841, at the age of one year. Charles himself died in 1844, aged 42. When Hannah appeared in the US census in 1880, she lived with her son, George.

Connecticut, U.S., Church Record Abstracts, 1630-1920,

In 1850, according to a search of the US Census, there were at least 60 Black heads of households in Farmington. Freemans, Hills, Kellys, Lemings, and Warrens were among the common surnames of the African-American population in the town. While the white citizens of Farmington often supported sending the free people of color to Liberia, the majority remained right where they were. There is a great story to tell.

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