Witness Stones at The Country School

Over the course of the 2019-2020 school year, 8th Graders engaged in the Witness Stones project, seeking to restore the history and honor the humanity and contributions of enslaved individuals who helped build our local communities. Working with Dennis Culliton, co-founder of the Witness Stones Project, students dug through wills, deeds, birth and death records, and other primary source documents found in local archives to learn about, and ultimately share, the unexplored history of enslavement in Madison. The inaugural year of the Witness Stones project at The Country School has been made possible by a grant from Teaching Tolerance.

Exploring records in the Probate Court archives.

The project began with an exploration of the broader history of enslavement in the region, as students began poring through primary and secondary source documents to consider such themes as the economics of slavery, treatment of the enslaved, dehumanization, paternalism, and agency and resistance. They then narrowed their research to focus on one individual, a woman named Lettuce who was enslaved and later emancipated by Rev. Jonathan Todd, minister of the 1st Congregational Church of East Guilford (now Madison).

Part of the project calls for civic engagement, and so before digging too deeply into the history of Lettuce's life, students reached out to local town and church officials and other stakeholders to gain their support for the project.

Students speak before the public at a Board of Selectmen Meeting.

The records related to Lettuce’s life are scant, and yet the 8th Graders were able to reconstruct a narrative that illustrates some of the major events in her life and how she contributed to our town. Students will share Lettuce’s story and honor her legacy at a forthcoming installation ceremony (check back for details), when a brass memorial — or witness stone — is installed in her memory on the green in front of the First Congregational Church of Madison, near where she lived, worked, and raised her family. The installation ceremony will incorporate narratives, poetry, music, and visual art inspired by Lettuce’s story. Students also built a website to more easily share their learning with the broader public.

This will be be the first of several witness stones Country School students plan to install as, each year, 8th Grade English and history students research another enslaved individual in town.

Thank you to Teaching Tolerance for making this work possible this year.

A Collection of Student Writing

A Witness Stones slideshow

Feedback from Students:

We have the chance to uncover people's stories that are untold and we're making it possible to know those stories.
I'm looking forward to seeing what the whole story ends up being like at the end. I think it's important because we're starting something and other grades will follow.
I think it's cool how we're bringing out her story. We're not bringing her back to life but at the same time, we're making her a little more known because she didn't get that [during her own lifetime].
Looking back on the past becomes more interesting, because you see how the events connect and how the entire economy depended on slavery, even if you thought it was immoral.