Austin F. Williams (1805-1885), a leading abolitionist in Farmington, was a member of the defense committee that worked to secure the freedom for the Amistad captives in 1841. Before returning home to Africa, the Mendi captives stayed in Farmington (March through November, 1841) while funds were raised for their return journey. Williams constructed a building on his property where the male members of the group lived. The building was later used by Williams as a carriage house. The picture below shows the west side of the carriage house-the section visible from Main Street-which was not added until after the Mendi departed from Farmington.
At the corner of Church and Hart Streets in Farmington is the old Farmington Academy building, also called Union Hall. It was constructed in 1816 by builder Samuel Dickinson and served as a community assembly hall (Union Hall), a chapel for the Congregational Church and the Farmington Academy, a school operated by the church until the 1840s. In the years before the Civil War, the building’s second floor hall was rented out to both abolitionist and anti-abolitionist groups. Women who were church members gathered here in 1841 to sew clothing for the Africans of the Amistad. Later in the nineteenth century, the building was used as town hall, library and meeting place. The Academy building originally stood next to the church, where the Sarah Porter Memorial Building stands today. It was moved a short distance in 1900 to make way for the Porter Memorial and again in 1917 to its present site to make way for the Barney Library. From 1900 to 1917 it was used to house a school for girls run by Theodate Pope. More recently, the building has been home to the Farmington Art Guild.
The house at 27 Main Street in Farmington was built for Samuel Smith in 1769. It was later the home of Horace Cowles (1782-1841) and his wife Mary Ann (1784-1837). In the years before the Civil War, they were stationmasters on the Underground Railroad who his fugitive slaves in their home. One day they had to go out and they left their young daughter, Mary Ann (1826-1899), in charge. She sat at the front door all day long and refused to let anyone enter, including a slave catcher from the South who had to leave empty handed. One of the three Mende girls from the Amistad stayed with the Cowles family when the captives from that ship were staying in Farmington. After Cowles died, his son, Samuel Smith Cowles inherited the house and continued his father’s work aiding fugitive slaves. He also edited an anti-slavery newspaper, The Charter Oak. Samuel Smith Cowles also became Treasurer of the Farmington Savings Bank.
Born in Farmington in 1795, John Treadwell Norton (d. 1869) became successful in the hardware business in Albany, New York. Treadwelll, who had been a surveyor and engineer for the Erie Canal, returned to Farnmington to construct a feeder canal that would supply water to the Farmington Canal from the Farmington River in Unionville. On land inherited in 1824 from his grandfather, he built a Georgian-style mansion at 11 Mountain Spring Road in Farmington in 1832, where he lived as a gentleman farmer. The house of his grandfather, John Treadwell (1745-1823), who served as Governor of Connecticut, had been a station on the Underground Railroad. John Treadwell Norton was also an abolitionist. He was one of the first people to visit the Amistad captives who were confined in a jail in New Haven. He played a major role in bringing the captives to Farmington, where they lived for 8 months before returning to Africa. The property was later owned by Austin Dunham Barney and was called the Barney House. For a time, the house was a used as a conference center and bed and breakfast by the University of Connecticut. In 2001, it was sold to its current owners, who have returned to calling the house its original name of Glenbrook.
Samuel Deming‘s father and uncle built the store he later ran in Farmington in 1809 which sold local goods and imported items. The store originally stood next to Deming’s house on Main Street, but was moved to Mill Lane in the 1930s, when a new town hall was built (now the site of a fire station). John Hooker, attorney and husband of women’s rights activist Isabella Beecher Hooker, rented an office on the store’s second floor in the 1840s. It was also on the second floor that the African men from the Amistad stayed during their first two months in Farmington in 1841. The space was then used as a school, where the Africans attended classes for five hours a day, six days a week. Today, Deming’s store is still a private commercial establishment called “Your Village Store.”
Faith Congregational Church, located on Main Street, across from Spring Grove Cemetery, in Hartford’s North End, was originally built as the Windsor Avenue Congregational Church in 1871. The Romanesque Revival and High Victorian Gothic style church was constructed by the Pavillion Congregational Society, organized in 1870. Among the church’s ministers was Charles E. Stowe, pastor from 1883 to 1890. Stowe was the son of Harriet Beecher Stowe, who attended church there regularly during her son’s ministry. Since 1953, the church has been the home of Faith Congregational Church, a congregation formed from a merger of Talcott Street Congregational Church and Mother Bethel Methodist Church. Talcott Street Congregational was Hartford’s first black church, founded by the African Religious Society in 1826. Members of the Society had become weary of being assigned seats in the rear of churches and wished to found a church where there would be no assigned seating. The church became an important institution for Hartford’s black community and a center for abolitionist activity. An early minister was James W.C. Pennington, who had escaped slavery in Maryland. Rev. Pennington feared being dragged back to slavery, until John Hooker, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s brother-in-law, purchased his freedom from the estate of his former owner. The African Religious Society also founded Hartford’s first black public school in 1829. Faith Congregational Church is a site on the Connecticut Freedom Trail.
The Thomas Hart Hooker House, on Main Street in Farmington, was built in 1770 by Judah Woodruff for Hooker, a descendant of Thomas Hooker and of Stephen Hart, one of the founders of Farmington. Hooker had married Sarah Whitman Hooker in 1769 and in 1773 they moved to what is now West Hartford. The house was later owned by Samuel Deming, an abolitionist who used his home as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Deming also joined with Austin Williams and John Treadwell Norton in bringing the Africans from the Amistad to Farmington in 1841. The house, now owned by Miss Porter’s School, is on the Connecticut Freedom Trail.