A Terrifying Glimpse of CT History Not in Textbooks: Anne Farrow Connects Slave Trade to State Aristocracy
Connecticut author Anne Farrow will tell a tale of two harrowing journeys while at the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum. The first began in 1757, as a ship owned by an affluent Connecticut merchant sailed to Sierra Leone, West Africa, to take on fresh water and slaves. On board was the owner’s son, learning the trade. In 2004, when Farrow began investigating the logbooks of that voyage, she thought she was scrutinizing the son of an obscure farmer. What she uncovered was a direct connection between slavery and a member of one of America’s, and Connecticut’s, most famous early families. Farrow’s thought-provoking presentation will be held in the Webb Barn at the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum, 211 Main St., Wethersfield. The free lecture will be preceded by a wine reception (by donation) at 6 p.m., and followed by a signing of Farrow’s newest book, “The Logbooks: Connecticut’s Slave Ships and Human Memory,” to be published by Wesleyan Press in October.
Farrow discovered that the slave-ship logs she was studying were written by the descendent of aristocrats, Dudley Saltonstall, the brother-in-law of Silas Deane. At about the same time, Farrow’s mother was diagnosed with dementia. As she bore witness to the impact of memory loss on her mother’s sense of self, Farrow also began a deeper journey into the world of the logbooks and the Atlantic slave trade, eventually retracing part of the long-ago voyage to Sierra Leone. As her narrative unfolds, Farrow explores the idea that if our history is incomplete, then collectively we have forgotten who we are—a loss that is in some ways similar to what her mother experienced.
In her presentation at the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum, Farrow will detail the odd and compelling life of Dudley Saltonstall. In his nearly four decades at sea, Saltonstall encountered disaster, disease, and defeat, as well as success, honor and fortune. He was given one of the Continental Navy’s first captain's commissions based on the recommendation of Silas Deane, who served on the Naval Committee of the Continental Congress. He was also a privateer, and a trader in both Caribbean trade goods and human beings. Farrow will also note Saltonstall’s contradictory record: John Paul Jones, who served as one of his officers during the American Revolution, thought Saltonstall was a snob and slow to action; others regarded him as a competent commander who should not have been blamed for the 1779 Penobscot Bay expedition, considered the worst naval disaster in American history prior to World War II.
As the 18-year-old chief mate on a slaving voyage to Africa, Saltonstall learned early about an ugly reality of that era, a reality into which his logbooks offer a terrifying glimpse. “The Logbooks: Connecticut’s Slave Ships and Human Memory” explores the documentation by the young Saltonstall as it also unearths new realities of Connecticut’s slave trade and questions how we could have forgotten this part of our past so completely.