Household Names

U ntil last week, the names Pink and Stepna Primus existed only in the depths of census and church records. They weren’t written or spoken as part of the oft-told history of the Pardee-Morris House, the 18th-century home of the family for whom Morris Cove was named. That’s because the Primuses were enslaved by Amos Morris, two among an estimated 10,000 or more slaves who toiled in Connecticut between the mid-1600s and 1848, when slavery was outlawed in the state.

“We teach the big names,” Khalil Quotap, director of education and engagement for the New Haven Museum, told a crowd of Foote School seventh-graders and their teachers and guests. Following an earlier ceremony for students from Cold Spring School, they were gathered on the lawn of the Pardee-Morris House to recognize the Primuses, whose names are less prominent but whose lives were equally important, Quotap says. Thanks to both Foote and Cold Spring students’ research via the Witness Stones Project, the pair are now memorialized on plaques embedded in the earth beside the entrance to the house.

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“This gives us the opportunity to start different conversations with people when they come to the house,” Quotap says. Though few details are known about Stepna and Pink Primus’s lives, the couple’s 1791 marriage was logged in the books of the East Haven Congregational Church. Stepna, whose name is alternatively spelled Stepner, Stupner and even Stephan in various records, was emancipated on November 15, 1796, by a later owner, Enos Heminway. Pink was freed in 1800.

The Primuses managed the difficult task of becoming property owners, but, ultimately, they struggled. Stepna died on March 6, 1818 of “consumption.” In 1829, Pink sold her property measuring “ten rods more or less” to Samuel Forbes and Isaac H. Townsend for $55. They sold it back to her in 1832 for $1, and a week later she sold it to Jesse Mallory for $92.15. Those favorable transactions weren’t enough to keep her and her daughter, Chloe, out of the almshouse, where she is believed to have died around 1850.

Inspired by a project in Berlin remembering victims of the Holocaust, the Witness Stones Project was created in Guilford in 2017 and, so far, has worked with schools and historical societies in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey to research and honor the lives of more than 70 enslaved people with small bronze plaques installed at the sites where they labored. Each plaque notes the person’s name, occupation and whether they died enslaved or free, along with any known dates. Quotap hopes other schools will contact the museum and join the project in order to learn more about and remember the lives of other enslaved people who lived in greater New Haven.

Following a series of speeches and poetry by students and educators at the Pardee-Morris event, several dozen people crowded around the house’s entrance to see Pink’s witness stone laid beside that of her husband. The logo of the Witness Stones Project, former state legislator Patricia Wilson Pheanious told the students, is a bird called a sankofa, which is looking back over its shoulder as if looking into the past. From the African language Asante, the word literally means “to return and get,” Pheanious told the students. They had done the work of returning to the past and bringing it forward, she told them—work she hoped would “help to shape the way you think” and, ultimately, shape the future. She advised them: “Make it a future that you won’t want to hide from your children.”

Pardee-Morris House
325 Lighthouse Rd, New Haven (map)
Sun noon-4pm through summer
(203) 562-4183 | education@newhavenmuseum.org
www.newhavenmuseum.org/visit/pardee-morris-house

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg's associate editor. She's also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Her perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the green and a coffee milkshake.

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