Readers of this blog know that I love Norwalk’s “Let Freedom Ring” program. I love its focus on the true origins of Independence Day, on Norwalk’s part in the American Revolution, and on bringing today’s community together. This year was no exception; in fact, we probably had our biggest crowd yet!
The program opened with Madeleine Eckert of the Norwalk Historical Society giving a talk called “Discovering 18th Century Norwalk Black History.” She and her husband Ed have done extensive research into Norwalk’s black population in the 1700s: from simple census counts to identifying names in probate records (either first, last, or both) to newspaper accounts. Mrs. Eckert then went into detail about Norwalk blacks who not only assisted the Patriot cause during the American Revolution, but also those who became loyalists.
Information was coming at me so fast that it was hard to capture it all. Basically, there were some blacks who served as soldiers in integrated troops. Some slaves also helped save homes during the 1779 Burning of Norwalk. I did manage to capture the names of the black patriots:
- Ned Negro
- John Roger
- Solomon Soutice
- Onesimus Brown (there was a photo of him!)
- Dover St. John
Those who supported the Loyalist cause probably did so under the promise of gaining freedom (in fact, they were included among those who received land grants in Nova Scotia). Some Norwalkers included:
- Pleasant Lockwood
- David Raymond
- Dorras Scudder
- Cato Cannon
What an eye-opening talk it was!
After a short break, the “Let Freedom Ring” ceremony began. Mayor Harry Rilling spoke of his favorite passage in the Declaration of Independence (“we hold these truths to be self-evident…”). Senator Bob Duff emphasized that the Declaration was “not a love letter” but a list of grievances, and that we too should speak up and make our voices heard in government.
Town Clerk Rick McQuaid, in traditional Revolutionary garb, read many excerpts of the Declaration of Independence (I swear, he does it better every year!). The children present were then invited to help ring the bell as Mayor Rilling read off the names of the thirteen original states.
Zachary Anderson, Nathan Brenn and Richie Cordero, three graduates from Norwalk High School’s music program, performed a moving rendition of the National Anthem.
We were then introduced to our special guests, the Sable Soldiers. Ludger Balan told us that day they were representing Glover’s Marblehead regiment, of whom 40% were people of color, be it African-American, Native American, etc. He spoke of gratitude for knowing where we’ve been as a people, and how that has contributed to who we are today.
Indeed the people re-enacting the Marblehead regiment had an intimate knowledge of the history of the regiment, from the motives behind the Marbleheaders joining the Revolutionary cause to the logistics of colonial warfare. When the crowd moved outside, stories were shared about the regiment and the battles it took part in (the most notable was the Battle of Trenton). Even the younger children were captivated by the stories!
Finally, the soldiers gave us an unloaded demonstration of how some of their weapons worked. I won’t go into all the details here (please – see a demonstration of your local reenactors if you can), but I will share some of our modern expressions that stem from Revolutionary-era weaponry:
- lock, stock and barrel
- flash in the pan
- half cocked
- kick the bucket
In conclusion, I would say that my eyes have been opened about how all people have taken part in establishing our country. They may not have been in history books, but their names and roles are slowly being rediscovered by people like the Eckerts and the Sable Soldiers.