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Chronicling Black Lives in Colonial New England

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Among them was Quamony Quash, who was just 15 in 1775 when he took up arms under the command of his owner, Col. Theophilus Cotton. In 1781, Cotton promised Quash his freedom if he reenlisted for three years.

Eye-opening exhibitions

This scenario was repeated throughout New England, a fact highlighted in the exhibition, "A Struggle from the Start: the Black Community of Hartford 1639-1960." According to its curator, Stephen Ray, "this was really an eye-opener, particularly in New England where [fighting in the Revolutionary War] becomes a touchstone for identity.

Similarly, McShelle Clarke hopes to use a recently discovered 18th-century black graveyard in Kingston, N.Y., to instill a sense of pride in the city's African-American population. In seeking funding for archaeological investigation and a memorial, she argues that "the bottom line is that every last one of those people was instrumental in building this city and rearing the grandparents of the people who run it."

This sentiment is also at the core of Sherrill Wilson's work as director of the African Burial Ground project in Manhattan.

Visitors to the project's headquarters learn that in New York, 18th-century blacks worked in fishing, trade, shipbuilding, dock work, and construction; in short, "in everything that goes into making a city," as archaeologist Marie-Alice Devieux puts it. Visitors also learn that such contributions took a heavy toll. The burial ground contains an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 graves dating from 1697 to 1795, and the skeletons studied so far attest to severe physical duress, violence, malnutrition, and a high infant-mortality rate.

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