Stones honoring the lives of formerly enslaved people now line Lyme Street in Old Lyme. The fourteen plaques are called "witness stones" and are designed to help people learn about and honor the enslaved people who lived in town.
“To help people understand the true history of their town because you lose things when you forget," said Pat Wilson Pheanious.
Wilson Pheanious is the co-chair of the board of directors for the Witness Stones Project. The project has helped communities across Connecticut, including Guilford and New Haven, remember those who have gone unrecognized for so long.
“It’s never too late to remember," said Wilson Pheanious. "No one’s contribution should be discounted.”
In Old Lyme, several community partners came together to bring the stones to town. Lead historian Carolyn Wakeman has been studying the history of enslaved people in Old Lyme for a decade. According to Wakeman, enslaved people lived in Old Lyme for about 150 years. She estimates that 50 enslaved people lived on Lyme Street alone.
“Parts of the past that have never been explored before, never been acknowledged and, for most people, have never been known," said Wakeman.
The fourteen plaques in Old Lyme are placed, roughly, where the person used to live. The stones contain factual information about the person including when they were born and what their title was.
Students also participated in the project. About 100 seventh graders helped research and learn about two enslaved people. The research was included in their curriculum. Next year's seventh graders will research two different enslaved people.
“I had no clue before this unit," said Andrew Taylor, a seventh grade student. “Now I understand who they were as people and how they were treated.”
Old Lyme has plans for more witness stones in the coming years.
"I hope that just like our seventh graders with these a-ha moments people who are visiting the town or walk Lyme street on a daily basis are able to have those same a-ha moments and do their own research," said Michelle Dean, director of curriculum.
More information on the Witness Stones Project Old Lyme can be found here.