Connecticut’s role in the American Civil War did not begin when the state mustered its first regiments to answer Mr. Lincoln’s call for volunteers in 1861; it began over 30 years earlier, as the home and haven for many of the first abolitionists. The story of these and other pioneers in the fight to end slavery in the United States is told in The Abolitionists, a three-part series airing on PBS beginning on Tuesday, January 8.
Torrington, for example, is the birthplace of the most famous – or infamous – of all of the Abolitionists: John Brown. Although his family moved to Ohio when he was a child, he came “back East” to attend school first in Plainfield, Massachusetts and then in Litchfield, at the Morris Academy. Brown also set up a business just over the state line in Springfield in 1846, where he lived at 51 Franklin Street and attended the Free Church (now St. John’s Congregational). Brown helped turn Springfield and other towns in Massachusetts and Connecticut (including Torrington and Canaan) into stops on the famed “Underground Railroad” – which was neither underground nor a railroad, but more accurately a series of safe houses (many of them barns) where runaway slaves could hide.
Brown is featured only briefly in Episode One of The Abolitionists, but plays a significant and eventually the leading role in the subsequent episodes.
Connecticut is also where the man who began the Abolitionist movement fled for safety after nearly being tarred and feathered in Boston. William Lloyd Garrison is the principal character in the first episode of the show, which extols his work in founding The Liberator newspaper and The American Anti-Slavery Society. Garrison’s wife, Helen Eliza Benson, was of a prominent merchant from Brooklyn, Connecticut, and he married her in 1834 – the same year he narrowly escaped from a Boston mob.
Yet a third Connecticut connection is featured in this, the latest in The American Experience lexicon of documentaries, Harriet Beecher Stowe. This author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the book President Abraham Lincoln once credited with starting the Civil War, was born in Litchfield and died in Hartford, where she was one of the founders of the Hartford Art School, one of the original pillars of the University of Hartford.
Episode One focuses heavily on Garrison and Angela Grimke, the daughter of a prominent, wealthy and aristocratic South Carolina slave-owning family who through her writings and lectures helped popularize the Abolitionist movement. While there are a number of professors and historians who provide commentary, most of the story is shown through reenactments with professional actors, with many scenes shot on location in places where they lived and worked. Actor Oliver Platt, known most recently for his roles in The Big C and Bored to Death, narrates.
A free public preview of Episode One is being sponsored by the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. Call (860) 522-9258 or go to http://www.harrietbeecherstowecenter.org/ for further information on tickets and seating. The episode is to be screened at the Wallace Stevens Theater at The Hartford on 690 Asylum Street at 6:30 P.M. Series producer Sharon Grimberg will join Stowe Center Director Katherine Kane, Trinity Professor Joan Hedrik and Wesleyan Professor Lois Brown for a discussion following the screening.
Connecticut Public Television (CPTV) will broadcast part one at 9 P.M. on Tuesday, January 8, and will repeat it on Sunday, January 13 at 10 P.M. Subsequent episodes will air at 9 P.M. on Tuesdays January 15 and 22, with repeat broadcasts scheduled for the following Sundays.
Mark G. McLaughlin is a Connecticut-based free lance journalist and game designer with over 30 years of experience as a ghost-writer and columnist. An author whose first published book was Battles of the American Civil War, and whose games include the Mr. Lincoln’s War set, Mark continues to be enthralled by stories from the age of Lincoln. To view and pre-order what will be Mark's 16th published design, the American Civil War Naval strategy game Rebel Raiders on the High Seas, visit http://www.gmtgames.com/p-238-rebel-raiders-on-the-high-seas.aspx
Mark’s latest work, the science fiction adventure novel Princess Ryan's Star Marines, is available on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle e-book formats at http://www.amazon.com/Princess-Ryans-Star-Marines-Save/dp/1466218487/ref...
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