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Community Historian Shares Stories of Wethersfield DMV's Past as Prison, Burial Ground

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Did you know that the spot where the Wethersfield Department of Motor Vehicles sits used to be the home to a massive state prison?

Right alongside it was a burial ground for inmates and other Connecticut citizens.

John Mills, a community historian and equity advocate is hoping more people will learn the story of the site and other hidden history in Connecticut.

“My work is to find these places, find information and hopefully leave a stone or some information," Mills said.

A software architect by day, he’s also a committed historian, and the story of the old Wethersfield state prison and one former inmate buried here is one he’s sharing. That inmate is a man named Prince.

“Prince Mortimer was a slave from Guinea who was brought here in 1730 when he was six years old… purchased by the Mortimer family of Middletown. Prince Mortimer was purchased to be a worker in that rope walk, make ropes for ships.  He spent most of his life doing that. Sometime around the 1770s and Revolutionary War, he is stated he was a servant to many officers including George Washington," Mills said.

There are no photos of Prince, but the story of how he came to be jailed in Wethersfield is one Mills wants more people to know.

“It’s said that he put arsenic in that master’s morning chocolate in an attempt to kill him so that he would finally be free.  That master believed it to be so … took it to the courts, he was imprisoned," Mills said.

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A marker stands in this field, telling people of the prison that once stood at the DMV site. But the life of Prince and the many more that lie in these grounds is something Mills is working with the Wethersfield Historical Society to better acknowledge.

“We’re looking to add more markers to our Wethersfield Heritage Trail. We have now 20 markers. We’re finding out more and more through research about forgotten people, people of color who lived and worked in Wethersfield. And we want those people to be remembered. Even if we don’t know their name, we know that they were here and we want to put that in people’s consciousness,” said Amy Wittorff, the society’s executive director.

They’ve already raised the funds needed to add a more complete marker here. For Mills, it’s a step toward telling the history of this state, and making sure the people who helped shape Connecticut are always remembered.

“I want it to be known that he was a veteran. And I want it to be known that he was more than just a criminal. I want it to be known that he had a plan and a path," Mills said.

"These people mattered. In my mind, they mattered. And leaving them unmarked with no mention, no information about their plight, I think it's just a disservice," he continued.

The hope is that all of the new and updated markers can be placed by 2023.

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