West Hartford’s town historian set out to find out the names of every slave owned in West Hartford, and that’s when she learned one man actually served in place of his owner in the Revolutionary War. Now, “Prut,” as he’s called, is etched in West Hartford’s history thanks to a group of local fifth graders.
“Not a lot of people only a couple people knew,” explained Landon Schlossinger, a fifth grader at Renbrook Elementary School.
Prut’s sacrifices were nearly forgotten until Tracey Wilson uncovered information about the man’s service to America while researching local slavery. Instead of relaying the news, Wilson wanted students to discover it for themselves.
Over two months Hannah White and Landon Schlossinger, along with their fifth grade class at Renbrook combed through church records and other accounts to piece together what Wilson had uncovered.
“We discovered lots of things,” said White.
The most important was that Prut was sent to serve in the Revolutionary War in place of his owner. This lesson, about a man fighting for the freedom of a country that held him captive, left a lingering question in White’s mind.
“Why would you want to have a slave if you were fighting for your own freedom?” White wondered.
Wilson said the Revolutionary War featured the most integrated fighting forces until Vietnam.
“Unlike the Civil War and World War I and II black people were actually integrated into the militias and into the troops that they didn’t have separate colored regiments,” she explained.
These pint-sized historians were also tasked with convincing council members to add Prut to the town’s war memorial. The name was unveiled during the town’s Memorial Day ceremony Monday.
“I think he took away a big lesson in slavery in America, the American Revolution, and how towns and town councils work,” said Landon’s mother Julie.
“I think she now understands in the greater scheme of things not only the importance of recognizing the past as it pertains to the future but also the fact that she can participate in community services of this nature,” added William, Hanna’s father.
Now, Prut’s name sits alongside other men who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their nation.
“He deserves to be on there just as much as every other single person on there,” said Hannah after the ceremony.
“Now that we put him on the plaque everyone now can recognize him and know who he is,” added Landon.
Historians believe Prut died of disease at Fort Ticonderoga, near Lake Champlain, in 1776. His owner joined the militia the next year.
Later this week, stones bearing the names of West Hartford slaves will be installed by eighth graders in the old Central Cemetery.
This project started with 29 names and has expanded to 62. So far, Prut is the only slave from West Hartford known to have died serving in the Revolutionary War.