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HARRIET BEECHER STOWE


SHARED FOUNDATIONS

One Parmelee family's slave helped mold the views of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin's' author -- and another turned her family's home into a tavern

While major cities tout her historic homes, Guilford, Conn., is where author Harriet Beecher Stowe's (1811-1896) connections to the Parmelee family lie.

John Parmelee Sr.'s (1584-1659) home lot at the north end of the Village Green, which now is the site of the First Congregational Church, became the property of the Benton family within a few decades of John's death. Lot and Catherine (Lyman) Benton, and her nephew, Lyman Beecher, whom they adopted as an infant, bought the house his grandfather, Caleb Benton Sr., had built on the property in 1740, from Caleb Jr.

Young Lyman would return to the house when on vacation from Yale, often with friend Ben Baldwin. The two young men liked to call on the large family at the neighboring Ward-Foote house. French and Indian War veteran Andrew Ward had taken in daughter Roxana Foote and her 10 children after her husband, Eli, had died of yellow fever. Ben was seeing one of the general's granddaughters, while Lyman was introduced to another, Roxana.

Lyman and Roxana wed in 1799, and he went on to became a controversial Congregationalist minister at the beginning of a revival called the Second Great Awakening. When parishioners refused to raise his salary in 1810, Lyman accepted a post in Litchfield, and there the Beechers' sixth child, named for one of her mother's sisters, Harriet, was born the following year later. After the arrival of a seventh child, Roxana died, and young Harriet took solace with books in her father's study, and in the parsonage kitchen, where indentured and free black servants worked, including Candace, a woman who was hired to help with laundry.

One of the most written-about slaves of colonial Guilford was Candace, born about 1751 to Montross and Phyllis, and owned by the widow Ruth Naughty. In her will of 1771, Naughty gave Candace to an aging Ebenezer Parmelee [1690-1777; Isaac, John, John] and his wife, the former Anna Cruttenden [1701-1789], who lived at the Hyland House, right, which still stands on the old Boston Post Road east of the green. Candace moved into the upper floor of the house, bringing along the items that Naughty had given her: a large iron pot and skillet, a brass kettle, four pewter plates and a basin, a looking glass, a Dutch spinning wheel, a new great wheel, Callimaneo and calico frocks, a white Holland apron, a light-colored Shallon quilt and broadcloth short coat, a chest of drawers, a trundle bed and bedding for it, and her bed, pillows and bedding. Upon the deaths of Parmelees, the will stated, Candace was to work for Hooker and Ruth Bartlett. But by the time Anna Parmelee died, the Bartletts were deceased and Candace was a free woman at 38. She married Clarence Bow and lived in a house on a plot of land given to her father by Naughty's husband, David, which bordered the Ward-Foote property. It's hard to believe the Footes wouldn't have known Candace next door, nor unreasonable to think she might have worked for them. An 1810 history by Guilford's Charlotte Weld Fowler describes Candace as a domestic, "going here and there for the accommodation of the public, sometimes washing, sometimes making wedding cakes."

In "Autobiography, Correspondence, etc. of Lyman Beecher," by Charles Beecher, the author writes of one of his sister's youthful recollections. Right after their mother had died, while a family prayer session was going on in the next room, Candace took Harriet into the kitchen where she "held me quite still till the exercises were over, and then she kissed my hand and I felt her tears drop on it. There was something about her feeling that struck me with awe. She scarcely spoke a word, but gave me to understand that she was paying homage to my mother's memory." This woman -- whether she was Guilford's Candace or another -- helped Harriet know how human Africans were. After the funeral, Aunt Harriet, who'd been nursing her ailing sister for six weeks, took Niece Harriet back to Guilford to live for a year. Eventually the girl attended Hartford Female Seminary, where her sister Mary taught, and would go on to write "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and other books. The novel depicting life for African Americans under slavery energized anti-slavery forces in the North and provoked anger in the South. Newspapers serialized the novel in 1851-52, after which it was published in book form, selling an unprecedented 300,000 copies in less than a year.

Meanwhile, father Lyman remarried in Litchfield, had more children, and then moved to Boston to take on the Unitarians. Occasionally he would return to the Guilford house on the green he inherited in 1818 when his Uncle Lot, but the distance proved too great. When the Congregationalists asked him to sell the homestead to make way for their new meeting house, he agreed -- eventually. A February 1828 church note reads: "Nothing heard yet from Dr. Beecher." The following January the committee was authorized to draw up a contract, and the cornerstone of the new church was laid June 5, 1829.

The previous month, Rossiter Parmelee [1783-1855; Nathaniel, William, Joseph, Isaac, John, John] bought a lot on the Great Plain, near the wharf on what today is Old Whitfield Street, and on the same day, mortgaged the property to his mother, Mercy, for $200. One day in late May, he moved the Benton-Beecher house and its stone chimney 1.3 miles to its current location with the help of 70 oxen. (Whether he used the money to buy the house or just to finance its move isn't known.) Annette Fowler, who was living in the house with her parents while their own was being built, said her mother was engaged in the arduous task of dipping candles when word came that the house was being moved. While others vacated with their belongings, she continued dipping candles until the dwelling reached the south end of the green. The procession became mired in mud in front of the Old Stone House, but eventually the oxen pulled it on down the street to the foundation that had been built for it. Rossiter obtained a license to sell spirituous liquors in 1840 and turned the house into a tavern.

Today, the remodeled four-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath home, right, sits on 7 3/4 acres at 485 Old Whitfield St. In 2014, it was on the market with an asking price of $915,000.