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Rev. John Southmayd

John Southmayd (1675/76-1755) was the son of a Middletown, Connecticut, mariner, William Southmayd. According to legend, William at one point allowed a “negro boy belonging to him” to escape from his boat. Middletown, located on the Connecticut River, was active in the slave trade with Barbados as early as 1661.

Rev. John Southmayd moved to Waterbury in 1705 and was ordained as the pastor of the Congregational Church. He was a highly respected member of Waterbury’s community. He inherited a large amount of money from his father, and eventually became one of the largest and wealthiest land-owners in Waterbury. His life was not without misfortune, however; he outlived his wife and all his children.

By the time of his death at age 80, Southmayd “owned” two people--a woman named Fillis and a man named Sampson. Southmayd’s will declared that “my negro man” and “my negro girl” were to take care of his grandchildren until the youngest one was 12; at which point, if they were “faithful, careful and industrious” in this, they could be “free” and able to choose which member of the Southmayd family they would live with following their freedom. This is reminiscent of Mingo’s fate following the death of Deacon Clark. The enslaved were permitted to make limited decisions about their lives, but it was assumed that they would always work as servants.

Rev. Southmayd retired from his duties as pastor nearly two decades before his death. His successor, Rev. Mark Leavenworth, became a close associate of Southmayd’s and was the executor of his will.

In the 1890s, the remains of Rev. Southmayd were disinterred from the Grand Street Cemetery. His body was reburied in Riverside Cemetery, but his skull was examined by Dr. Walter H. Holmes, who published an article in 1891 in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal comparing Southmayd’s skull with that of a Native American. Southmayd’s skull then found its way into the private collection of Rev. Joseph Anderson, minister of Waterbury’s Congregational church, and editor of an 1896 History of Waterbury. Holmes and Anderson both commented, in their separate publications, on the unexpected shape of Southmayd’s skull, which had a relatively low brow. Many people in the late 19th century believed that someone's intelligence and personality was directly related to the size and shape of their skull.

Southmayd’s ear bones were placed in a glass bottle which was put on display at the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury during the early decades of the 20th century. It is not known if the skull remained with Joseph Anderson or if it was re-interred with the rest of the body.

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Map of the Village of Mattatuck
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Map of the Village of Mattatuck (detail)
Map depicting the early village that later became Waterbury. John Southmayd's home was located on West Main Street, near the corner of what is now Meadow Street. Illustrated in Henry Bronson, The History of Waterbury, Connecticut, published in 1858.

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