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Fayerweather Family Papers, 1836-1962

Biographical note

The Fayerweather name is well known in South County history. Several generations of the Fayerweather family, descendants of slaves, served the village of Kingston and the surrounding countryside as blacksmiths throughout the nineteenth century. Ironically, however, the Fayerweather name is most often remembered for a person who acquired it through marriage rather than by birth.

Sarah Ann Harris Fayerweather, wife of George Fayerweather III, achieved her place in history at the tender age of twenty-one in the small village of Canterbury, Connecticut. Sarah, a native of Connecticut, was born in Norwich in 1812 and moved with her family to a farm in Canterbury in early 1832. Hoping to pursue a career as a teacher, she enrolled in Prudence Crandall's "select school for girls" in the fall of 1832, the only black girl admitted to the school. Her admission caused an immediate uproar in Canterbury, during the course of which the parents of most of the white students withdrew their children from the school.

Undaunted by this setback, Crandall kept her school open to "young ladies and misses of color," including Sarah Harris, recruited from around the country. Crandall's earlier problems were nothing compared to the storm that erupted in the wake of this decision. The citizens of Canterbury responded by pelting the students and the school building with eggs, stones, and assorted other brickbats. Local merchants refused to do business with the school. The response of the Connecticut legislature was, if possible, even more insidious. The legislators enacted a so-called "black law" which made it illegal to establish any school for "colored persons who are not inhabitants of the state." Crandall ignored the law, was arrested and imprisoned by local authorities, tried, and convicted of violating the "black law." Her conviction was later overturned on a technicality.

Despite local harassment and state opposition, Crandall tried to keep her school open and received support in her effort from a number of prominent abolitionists, including William Lloyd Garrison and Rev. Samuel May. She became convinced of the futility of her crusade, however, when on the night of September 9, 1834 a local mob surrounded the school, broke all its windows, and attempted to set the building afire. Fearing that any further attempts to operate the school would needlessly endanger her pupils, Crandall closed the school, sold the building, and left Canterbury.

While the crisis still hung fire, but after Sarah had withdrawn from the school, she married George Fayerweather III on November 28, 1833. They remained in the Canterbury area for a short while after their wedding before moving to New Haven where they lived until 1855. George carried on the family trade of blacksmithing while Sarah bore six children: Prudence Crandall (born 1834),Sarah (born 1835), Mary (born 1837), Isabella (born 1839), George IV (born 1842), and Charles (born 1846).

In 1855, the Fayerweathers sold their home in New Haven and returned to the Fayerweather family home of Kingston. George, Sarah, and the children moved into the Helme House, half of which Sarah had purchased for three hundred dollars on 1853. George's widowed mother continued to live in Fayerweather cottage, the family homestead. George joined two of his brothers in running the family blacksmith shop and Sarah retained her interest in the antislavery movement. She corresponded frequently with Prudence Crandall and the Garrison family, as well as being a regular subscriber and diligent reader of Garrison's Liberator. She was also a frequent visitor to antislavery rallies in New England and New York.

George Fayerweather died in 1869 and Sarah followed him in death nine years later in 1878. The Fayerweather name lives on in Kingston, however, gracing the names of two buildings in the area. The Fayerweather family homestead, vacant and deteriorating for a number of years, was acquired by the Kingston Improvement Association and renovated for use as a community craft center. In 1970, the nearby University of Rhode Island named its newly constructed residence hall after Sarah Harris Fayerveather.