DEERFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Historic Deerfield unveiled 19 memorial plaques at 12 different locations on Wednesday.
Historic Deerfield, in partnership with Witness Stones Project, unveiled 19 memorial plaques along the museum’s mile-long street. Inspired by the Stolpersteine Project in Germany which commemorates victims of the Holocaust, this project’s purpose was to further acknowledge and recognize those that were enslaved. The Witness Stones memorial is a 4 by 4 brass plaque identifying the enslaved person where they lived and worked.
Historic Deerfield Historian Barbara Matthews told 22News, “Placing memorials that were helping to restore the history and the honor and humanity of those enslaved individuals that helped to build our communities.”
In the middle of the 18th century, over a third of the households on Deerfield’s mile-long street owned at least one slave. The memory of this project even lives on through the descendants of those that were enslaved on the land.
Dennis Culliton, a middle school teacher and executive director and co-founder of Witness Stones, had discovered through documents after years of research one of the descendants of a slave that was memorialized through the project. He called a Connecticut State Representative to tell her the astonishing news. Pat Wilson Pheanious was found to be the 8th generation of an enslaved person from Guilford, Connecticut.
“The significance of finding my families history was profound. If you don’t know your full history, you cannot know your full value and that is as true for a nation as it is for it is an individual,” said Pheanious. It thrills her that she now can know more about her history and that everyone is welcome to come see the 19 plaques at 12 locations in historic Deerfield.
Historic Deerfield President John Davis says “We are very pleased to be part of the Witness
Stones Project, which has enabled us to share a more complete picture of Deerfield’s history. As
the first site in Massachusetts to join this initiative, we hope that our participation will not only
highlight the lives and contributions of enslaved individuals but will also encourage others in our community to get involved with the project.”
Traditionally, the Witness Stones Project works with different schools to do research and then deliver the curriculum to the students after the research is complete. It was the first time that the host will deliver the curriculum in an open-air museum.
“It was a new and wonderful experience working with an educational institution such as Historic Deerfield, which has already done so much research to help make this project possible,” said Dennis Culliton, the Executive Director of the Witness Stones Project.
The Witness Stones Project is an educational initiative whose mission is restoring history and honoring the humanity of the enslaved individuals who helped build our communities. Historic Deerfield is a museum of early American life that’s in an authentic 18th-century New England village on the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts.