Ridgefield students to research stories of people enslaved by one of town’s founding families

Photo of Kendra Baker

RIDGEFIELD — Eighth graders in town will embark on a project-based learning experience next fall that not only teaches historical inquiry skills, but allows them to honor former enslaved residents whose stories have not been fully untold.

The students will work with the Witness Stones Project — an organization that works with schools and community groups to “restore the history and honor the humanity” of enslaved individuals in Connecticut — to tell the story of two enslaved people from Ridgefield’s past.

The project will be incorporated into next year’s eighth grade social studies curriculum at East Ridge and Scotts Ridge middle schools, according to Annie Tucci, the school district’s humanities coordinator for grades 6-12.

Witness Stones Project Executive Director David Culliton says the students will work with the organization and Ridgefield Historical Society to tell the story of two enslaved individuals held in captivity at the David Scott House, which serves as the historical society’s headquarters.

The saltbox-style dwelling on Sunset Lane originally stood on the corner of Main and Catoonah streets, where it was built circa 1712 by David Scott — an Irish immigrant and patriarch of one of Ridgefield’s founding families, who enslaved people.

In addition to the house, Scott sold a woman named Dinah and a boy named Peter “to be servants or slaves during the period of their natural lives” to his son-in-law, Vivus Dauchy, in the early-1740s.

Scott owned other people, including a man named Quash and a girl named Ann. A notice filed in 1748 stated that Quash would be freed upon Scott’s death, and a girl named Ann was listed as one of the probated possessions in Scott’s personal estate.

The middle schools do not yet know who their Witness Stones Project subjects will be, according to Tucci, who said it’s “still under historical inquiry.”

Witness Stones Project subjects are typically selected based on whether there are enough primary sources to “capture their story,” she said, and the Ridgefield Historical Society has been digging through archives and working with the Witness Stones Project to find individuals to memorialize.

“It happens through the inquiry process and the story develops over time,” Tucci said. “We can’t tell the complete story yet because the resources are still being compiled, but we’re excited to see what they find.”

One of the two individuals selected for Ridgefield’s Witness Stones Projects will be assigned to East Ridge Middle School and the other to Scotts Ridge Middle School, according to Tucci, and there will be professional development for teachers to study the materials before introducing the projects to students next fall.

“The historical society and Witness Stones Project are pulling the archives and primary sources, and our students will experience historical investigation in its truest sense,” Tucci said.

Over the course of several weeks, she said, the students will engage in a historical inquiry, through which they will use historical thinking skills like sourcing, chronological reasoning and analysis to “make connections and tell the stories of these individuals and their contributions.”

There will also be a focus on understanding historical context.

“It’s intended to be an authentic experience for our students, and I think the biggest goal is to make sure they learn how to understand the past,” Tucci said.

The project will culminate with a student-led ceremony at the Ridgefield Historical Society, where stones commemorating the two enslaved individuals will be placed.

There are seven Witness Stones in Fairfield County — the most recent of which was installed last month outside the Long Ridge United Methodist Church in Danbury.

The stone was placed in recognition of Nimrod Benedict, who was enslaved by a Danbury man and served in the Revolutionary War, following weeks of research by Wooster School seventh and eighth grade teams.