Although our consortium goes by the name “Universities Studying Slavery,” it has long since expanded in multiple ways. It has expanded thematically to include institutions coming to terms with their pasts, including human bondage and racism in school history. It includes both colleges and large universities, as well as community colleges, doing this work. In the last few years, it has begun to expand into secondary schools. These are welcome signs of USS’ growth and of the power of institutional truth-telling as an educational endeavor. Today, we are excited to announce that the Loomis Chaffee School in Connecticut has joined our growing movement.
The Loomis Chaffee School project began in the fall of 2020 when history teachers Eric LaForest, Karen Parsons, and Harrison Shure came together to ask the question of what more they can do at Loomis Chaffee to tell a more complete story about the school’s origins. The research process began the summer of 2021, when Elliott Dial joined Eric, Karen, and four rising seniors to work together to investigate the presence and impact of enslavement and anti-Black racism in eighteenth-century and antebellum Connecticut and Charleston, South Carolina. They investigated the lives of people of color enslaved by families linked to the founding of the school as well as the historical contexts in which they lived. Again, one need look no further than the genesis of the Loomis Chaffee project to be reminded of value of research, education, and truth-telling as central to an school’s mission and vision.
That committed, collaborative student-faculty research in online archival collections of public and private records–and their consultation of many scholarly sources in print and digital media–has allowed Loomis Chaffee to recover and tell new stories about these enslaved persons’ experiences and to identify and begin to construct more fair and equitable narratives that remain frustratingly uneven and incomplete.
At the end of the first phase, the Loomis Chaffee team produced three products: an extensive working bibliography; a timeline on the social, political, and economic contexts of enslavement and anti-Black racism in Connecticut, Charleston, and the United States; and a collection of eighteen biographical narratives of persons held captive by the Chaffee, Loomis, or Hayden families.
Each of the eighteen biographical narratives centers on an individual enslaved by these founding families. Essential evidence was drawn from U.S., Connecticut, and South Carolina records, including census returns, church records, bills of sale, court documents, manumission papers, newspaper advertisements, and secondary sources.
During the 2021-2022 year, a student pursuing a computer science independent study project converted their timeline data into this interactive page: http://www.loomischaffee.org/chronology. Also in May of 2022, the team shared their findings with the Loomis Chaffee’s board of trustees, who were eager to see the team continue and deepen this work in the years ahead. They have received full support from the Head of School and her administrative team.
The project has grown at the school as they asked for new volunteers from the rising junior class. Indeed, build the educational model, fearlessly examine the school’s past, and the student will come. They saw an increase in students interested in the project as they headed into 2022. For the summer of 2022, the project has added seven more students and has received funding from the school to travel to Charleston, South Carolina to conduct archival research and to meet with local experts. They will also be adding to the school’s official history and will build a website to host the team’s timeline, to feature student work, and more. They will use that site as a basis for designing curricular tie-ins and community events for the next academic year.
Everyone at Universities Studying Slavery (USS) should be watching the fine work at Loomis Chaffee as it continues to unfold. All of the collegiate institutions will be looking for Loomis Chaffee students to join their student bodies in coming years!