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Waterbury's Slave Owners
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Stephen Bronson

Stephen Bronson (1735-1809), a “thrifty farmer” and a deacon of the Congregational church, was the grandson of Rev. John Southmayd, Waterbury’s Congregational minister from 1705 to 1740. Bronson’s mother died when he was only 6 years old, and his father married Anna Hopkins, sister of Joseph Hopkins, four years later. Stephen’s father died of measles in 1759, when Stephen was 25. Stephen was the eldest son, and probably helped support his family -- he had six siblings who survived childhood.

Stephen married Sarah Humaston in 1764; the couple had seven children, three of whom survived to adulthood. Their youngest son, Bennet, suffered from a long illness when he was 12; his brother Jesse died of smallpox the following year, 1788. Bennet was now the only son left in the Bronson family, and, according to a story told later by his son, his parents wanted him to abandon his education in order to manage the farm. At the same time, in 1788, Stephen Bronson’s neighbor, the Episcopal minister and accused Tory sympathizer, Rev. James Scovill, left Waterbury to live in Canada.

Scovill had enslaved a man named Dick, who had been captured in Africa during his childhood. Bennet Bronson’s son, Henry Bronson, later wrote in his 1858 History of Waterbury that Dick was owned by Stephen Bronson as well as by Rev. Scovill, although the chronology of ownership is not clear. Dick was in his late forties when Scovill left Waterbury. Rev. Scovill’s son remained in the family home. Dick continued to work for him and for Stephen Bronson. He would most likely have worked the Bronson farm, allowing Bennet Bronson to return to his academic pursuits.

Bennet entered Yale College in 1793 and went on to study law with Noah B. Benedict in Woodbury. He married a relative of Noah Benedict’s in 1801 and opened a law office in Waterbury the following year. He eventually became one of the wealthiest men in Waterbury and was the first president of the Waterbury Bank. His son Henry Bronson, author of The History of Waterbury, published in 1858, had many fond memories of Dick, who had died 22 years earlier. Henry recalled that Dick was “always regarded as a member of the family.”

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Bennet Bronson, c. 1845
Engraving by Samuel Sartain based on a daguerreotype. Illustrated in Henry Bronson, The History of Waterbury, Connecticut, published in 1858.

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