Tag Archives: Henry Munroe

Friday Flashback #77

February is Black History Month.

It’s a time to celebrate the many contributions and accomplishments of African Americans — and to reflect on our country’s often tortured relationship with race.

It’s a time to think about how Americans treat every person in our country.

And it’s a time to look back at how we did so in the past.

Alert “06880” reader — and amateur historian — Mary Palmieri Gai made an astonishing find recently. The Town Crier of December 15, 1949 ran this photo:

The caption reads:

For the first time in Westport history, a Negro attended one of this community’s town meetings. The group was especially interested in the debate on public housing.

It’s amazing — and embarrassing — to see what qualified as “news” nearly 70 years ago.

It’s also probably quite wrong.

Among Westport’s most historic homes is 108 Cross Highway. Built in 1805, it’s one of a few dwellings in town documented as being built by “a free black.”

Henry Munroe, a farmer, bought the land from John Burr in 1802. Munroe’s descendants were members of Green’s Farms Church.

Black families lived here throughout the 1800s and early 1900s. Some were servants and housekeepers. But others — like Munroe — were farmers, shopkeepers and businessmen, with a vested interest in town.

I can’t believe that 1949 was the first time a “Negro” attended a town meeting.

And I’m surprised that the Town Crier did not even dignify him with a name.

Which is one more reason why Black History Month remains vitally important today, for all of us.

108 Cross Highway: The Sequel

Last month, “06880” reported on the proposed demolition of 108 Cross Highway.

The “Henry Munroe House,” I wrote, is one of the few dwellings in town “documented as being built by a free black.”

Henry Munroe, a farmer, bought the land from John Burr in 1802. His descendants were members of Green’s Farms Church. One was the housekeeper for Peter Sturges, at nearby 93 Cross Highway.

As America celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, Westport prepares to obliterate a house that predates that conflict by half a century. And was built by someone who himself was historically significant: a free black Westporter.

Or not.

An anonymous commenter just posted (on the original story’s “comments” section) that a descendant of the Munroes is disputing the Connecticut Freedom Trail information about the family — the reference to them being black, which led to a townwide controversy over the fate of the house.

108 Cross Highway

The commenter noted the words of the family member, who identifies himself only as “Mike.” On the Freedom Trail website, Mike has written:

I am a decenent [sic] of this Munroe family listed … as African Americans.

This is not correct. The term African American did not exist in that time era. The terms used were Colored, Black, Mulatto, Indian. My family has even been listed as Blackish on the census. People keep changing their race description to African American which is historically incorrect and in fact the family are American Indian.

….This is how history gets changed!

The person who posted on “06880” added, parenthetically, about the fact that the Munroes may have been Indians, not blacks: “Not that it matters or anything.”

But does it not matter? If the Munroes were not black, does that change the discussion about demolishing the 207-year-old house?

If they were Indians — or had mixed blood — does that make a difference?

“06880” readers: What do you think?