Brief Biographies

By Allison Golomb and Katherine Hermes

The Carney Family

On May 26, 1805, the Rev. Enoch Huntington performed a marriage ceremony between Jacob Carney, an African-American man living in Hartford, and Sylvia (or Silva) in Middletown. Sylvia was once enslaved, first to Henry Seymour and then to Philip Mortimer, Esq., but eventually she became a free woman. Mortimer, the largest slaveholder in Middletown, died in 1794; in his inventory, the administrators valued Sylvia at £1. Sylvia lived in the same household as Prince Mortimer, an enslaved man who lived to be 110 years old. Like him, she may have come from Guinea in Africa.[1] When Sylvia died, sometime between June 1805 and May 1815, she may have been buried in the Ancient Burying Ground. Hers would have been one of the last burials. Jacob also had an unnamed child who died of unknown causes at the age of two on July 30, 1815. It is probable this was Sylvia’s child.

CT Wills and Probate Record, 1609 – 1999 for Jacob Carney

Lynda Light became Jacob’s second wife on May 4, 1815. Jacob Carney and Lynda Light are remembered in Lucius Barnes Barbour’s Families of Early Hartford. The details are slim, but the Carneys are one of the few black families to have a place in this important tome. Barbour was not sure that Lynda was “colored,” as he put it, and it is possible she was a white woman, or a woman who appeared to be of European descent, who married a man of color. In Connecticut, no laws explicitly prohibited interracial marriage.[2]

Jacob Carney died at the age of 59 on Oct. 20, 1817, in Hartford. In all likelihood, Jacob was buried in the new cemetery in the north end of the city, not in the Ancient Burying Ground. In 1818, after Jacob’s death, the probate court completed an inventory of his estate. He owned two pieces of land that added up to about two acres. One parcel abutted the Mill River (now Wells St. to Trumbull) and the Work House Lane (now Pearl St.). Both parcels had small houses on them. Among his belongings were farm tools such as a pitchfork, hatchet and shovel, as well as clothing, a feather bed, a teakettle, and a looking glass. There was also material such as silk, cotton and gingham, suggesting Lydia may have been a seamstress. They owned six Windsor chairs, which may suggest the size of the household. His widow was given support for her family, a further indication there were other children.[3] What happened to the Carneys thereafter remains unknown at this time.

The Curtiss (Cutas) Family 

1790 U.S. Federal Census for Aaron Cutas

Aaron Cutas appears in the 1790 Federal Census, the first census in the nation’s history. His name, spelled “Cutas,” was probably written phonetically. In other records he appeared as Curtiss. His wife Betsey died at age 60 on July 7, 1791, but Aaron lived until September 19, 1806, dying at the advanced age of 83. In the 1790 census, Aaron was listed as the head of household and thus was a free man; he lived with 2 other family members, one of whom was Betsey. The other person is a mystery. A Lydia Curtiss lived in Hartford, formerly enslaved by Nathaniel Patten. She may have been Aaron and Betsey’s daughter. Under the law, if Betsey had belonged to Patten, so would her children, even if Aaron were free or belonged to a different master. Many people of color who formed families were unable to live together in one household and had what were called “abroad marriages.”[4]

The family was entirely free by 1790. If Lydia were single and (as was likely) over forty when she was manumitted, she may have been too old to start a family of her own. Federal censuses for 1790 and 1800 show no enslaved people or non-family members in the Patten household, but in 1810 the family had one non-white free person living with them. Perhaps, if she had been living in Aaron’s household, after his death Lydia may have gone to live with the Pattens as a servant. Betsey Curtiss rests in the Ancient Burying Ground; Aaron may be there as well. Lydia almost certainly is not, but what her fate was remains unknown.

The Peter Family

When Hannah Peter married Fortune in 1794 in Hartford’s Second Congregational Church, she was a free woman. Whether she was enslaved at some point in her life is not clear, but by 1784, when the Gradual Emancipation Act was passed, she was 17 years old.  Hannah only lived 33 years when she died of dropsy on June 18, 1800. Dropsy is an old term for edema, a condition in which fluid is trapped in soft tissues. Hannah had a daughter, also named Hannah Peter, who died in 1790 before she married Fortune. Hannah and Fortune then had a child in 1795 who died as an infant. Hannah and her children were buried in the Ancient Burying Ground.

Diseases like dropsy were common among enslaved populations. On one plantation in North Carolina, 7.1% of the enslaved people died of the condition. One study showed that many more blacks died of dropsy than whites. Hannah’s “dropsy” may have been beriberi, which is caused by a vitamin B1 deficiency and results in swelling and bloating. A diet of mostly white rice without enough protein can contribute to beriberi. It is also not unusual to see beriberi in prison populations. Although Hannah was not enslaved at the time of her death, the effects of enslavement and the poor conditions in which newly freed people lived could have contributed to her early death. [5]




[1] Denis R. Caron, A Century in Captivity: The Life and Trials of Prince Mortimer, a Connecticut Slave (Lebanon, NH: University of New England Press, 2006), 3.

[2] Ellen Hartigan-O’Connor and Lisa G. Materson, eds., The Oxford Handbook of American Women’s and Gender History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 220.

[3] Connecticut, Wills and Probate Records, 1609-1999,

[4] Frances Smith Foster, ‘Til Death Or Distance Do Us Part: Love and Marriage in African America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 22-23.

[5] Edwin Pond Parker, History of the Second Church of Christ in Hartford (Hartford:Belknap & Warfield, 1892), 357, 384;  Anne S.,Lee,  and Everett S. Lee, “The Health of Slaves and the Health of Freedmen: A Savannah Study,” Phylon (1960-) 38, no. 2 (1977): 170-80, doi:10.2307/274680; Richard H. Steckel and Richard A. Jensen, “New Evidence on the Causes of Slave and Crew Mortality in the Atlantic Slave Trade,” The Journal of Economic History 46, no. 1 (1986): 57-77,; D. Robson, E. Welch, N. J. Beeching, G.V. Gill, “Consequences of Captivity: Health Effects of Far East Imprisonment in World War II,” QJM: An International Journal of Medicine 102, no. 2 (February 2009), 87–96,