Way Back When … 1885
Updated 6:16 pm, Wednesday, January 11, 2017
As the day that U.S. citizens commemorate the birth of Martin Luther King Jr. approaches, it is a good time to learn about the history of African-Americans in Fairfield. African-Americans have been part of Fairfield’s history since the 1700s, when many of Fairfield’s more prosperous households included enslaved people. Early church documents show records of baptisms and marriages for some of those people, and family papers in the Fairfield Museum archives include documents where slaves were sold or emancipated. During the Revolutionary War, slaves from Fairfield petitioned the state legislature asking for the abolition of slavery, and in the decades after the war, former slaves make appearances in local account books, often with the surname “Freeman” describing their new status.
There are only a few historic images of African-Americans living in Fairfield. Ida Miller, who came to Fairfield from Virginia after the Civil War, lived on Round Hill Road with her husband William, a farmer. A photograph taken of her around 1885 at a studio in Bridgeport shows her wearing a fashionable bustle dress, an indication of the family’s comfortable economic status. The Millers were active members of the community and the Congregational Church.
Around the corner on Barlow Road lived Ida’s sister Lettie, and her husband Edwin Randolph, in a house built years earlier by Primus Burr, a freed slave. Edwin Randolph was the last former slave to reside in Fairfield. He died in 1934.
The Fairfield Museum recently received a donation of photographs and other materials from another African-American family, the Wards, who were connected to the Millers and the Randolphs. The Wards moved to Fairfield in the 1910s and lived in a house on Round Hill Road for several generations. Along with family photographs from the late nineteenth to mid-20th century, there are Sunday School attendance records, marriage certificates, mementoes from Harlem nightclubs, and records of military service. Taken together, such materials help us to piece together a family’s African-American past in Fairfield.
The Fairfield Museum and History Center is located at 370 Beach Road. The Ward family photos and documents can be viewed by appointment at the Museum Library. The Library is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday 12 to 4 p.m. Learn more about the history and culture of Fairfield, view rotating exhibitions and purchase Fairfield-themed gifts at the Museum. For more information visit Fairfieldhistory.org or call (203) 259-1598. The Museum and Museum Shop are open daily, 10am to 4pm.