Boyrereau Brinch's Experience of Slavery in Connecticut
Here I bid adieu to the British fleet forever, as I was sold to a man belonging to Old Milford, west side of Oyster river. His name was John Burrell, a professed puritan. The snow was about two inches deep, and I had on a thin linen jacket and one pair of trowsers or sailor's kilts and no shoes. I was the first night put upon the naked hearth to sleep, but could not enjoy the sweets of repose….
My wounds, which I received [during the French and Indian War], broke out newly and I almost perished with cold and hunger, and as this puritan christian could not condescend to give me any thing to eat but old crusts and bones, such as people generally throw to their dogs, and nothing to sleep upon but a cold stove, not even a blanket or old quilt could be allowed. ...
[After yet another beating,] one Mr. Samuel Eals came and took me up, and very charitably led me into the house, told Burrell that such abuse was inhuman and unchristian; he also threatened to complain of him to the authority. They quarrelled for some time then he gave me his great-coat and sat me down by the fire, and went to one James Parker, got a pair of shoes and took me with him.
Often have I been caused to reflect upon the conduct of [Burrell] towards me, as he was one of the strongest professors in the church, and as strict in his family devotion as any man I was ever acquainted with; and he must have been a hypocrite, and never received that grace which worketh a change of heart...
[To people who say] I have no right to examine into the acts and feelings of white people to such I answer, If I have the same propencities and feelings, and endowed with the same intellectual reason, then where is the distinction? Is it the color or is it the power you have gained over me…? Do you not see some geniuses burst forth and rise above the tyrranny and oppression they are under, and stand as monuments of admiration?
At night Mr. Eals made me a straw bed, which was the first bed I had slept upon after I was taken into bondage, until this time. This humanity, and christian like act, opened my wounded feelings and brought my sorrows up a fresh to my view.
My mother's tenderness came to my recollection.... At night I dreamed that the good spirit came to me, took me by the hand, asked me to accompany him, which I did without the least hesitation. He ascended with me high above the earth, and wafted me through vast space--at length we arrived at the African coast and came in sight of the Niger, following its course up the river, about one hundred yards above the earth. ...The shades of night seemed to break away, and all at once he gave me a fair view of Deauyah, my native town. The people were all asleep, and we hovered about the town until it was light. We then descended and sat upon the grass before the church.
[But when I awoke, I] found myself still a forlorn slave. … Mr. Samuel Eals used me very well while I remained with him; but as soon as I was able to work, I was sold to one Peter Pridon [Prudden], son of the old priest Pridon, of Old Milford. I lived with him about two months, and got five severe whippings for crying nights.
From Pridon I was bartered away for some old horses to one Gibbs, who was a man of very inferior talents, possessing great pride and ostentation, always at work and in a hury. ... With this man I stayed about three months.... I have thought he took a peculiar delight in whipping me, as I uniformly received about four whippings per day. …
Next I was sold to Phineas Baldwin, of the town of Old Milford. I continued with him until summer, or rather spring, when I went to live with his son Phineas, who had two small children to tend. In his nursery I was engaged until the last of May, when I was sold to Jones Green, of the same place. Green did not whip me but about twice in a week, except now and then a kicking.
From Green I was transferred to one Murrier, a tanner, where I remained until September, at which time the widow Mary Stiles, of Woodbury, Connecticut, bought me.
This was a glorious era in my life, as widow Stiles was one of the finest women in the world; she possessed every christian virtue. This same woman was the mother of Benjamin Stiles, Esq. whose illustrious character is rewarded in the heart of every person living who knew him. ...
This good lady learned me to read. One day I was sent to school, where I was taught to read by the master. I could not speak plain, therefore when I came to [the letter] W I could not pronounce it and when I attempted so to do, I was understood to say devilyou. He thought I said so in order to insult him, and therefore was angry, and with his ferule [a flat stick like a ruler] struck me. The second time he struck me his ferule broke, and he ordered me to sit down; but I concluded I would not stay there to be whipped by a schoolmaster, therefore I walked out instead of sitting down. ...
At length I went in and Mrs. Stiles asked me what they had done to me, and how I liked going to school. She was questioning me as her grand children had told her what happened. … She questioned me for sometime with all the humanity of a saint, then generously told me I should not be whipped at school, for she would learn me to read herself.
When this lady died I descended like [property] ... to her son Benjamin Stiles, Esq.
Source: The Blind African Slave, or Memoirs of Boyrereau Brinch, Nick-named Jeffrey Brace (1810). https://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/brinch/brinch.html
Boyrereau Brinch was enslaved in Connecticut from about 1763 to 1784—nearly 20 years (5 of those years serving in the Revolutionary War).
Sometime in the 1750s, Brinch was captured in his homeland in West Africa. He was about 16 years old. He was taken by British slavers. His narrative, published in Vermont in 1810, details the harsh and cruel experience of his capture and the middle passage. As an enslaved man, he was first forced to work as a sailor on a privateer captained by Isaac Mills (or Miles) of Milford, Connecticut during the French and Indian War. The war ended in 1763.
After the war, he was taken by his owner, Captain Mills, to New Haven, Connecticut. (Read more about Mills HERE.) He was sold to John Burwell, also of Milford. Brinch tells us about his experience under cruel owners and owners who were more humane. He questions how these white slave owners could be so cruel. He dreams of his mother and his homeland, and his longing to return to home and family. He was sold many times during his first year in Connecticut before being bought by Mary Stiles. Stiles teaches Brinch to read and write. He was then a young man in his 20s.
In 1777 Brinch enlisted in the Connecticut militia in order to gain his freedom in exchange for his service. He was about age 35 and going by the name Jeffrey Stiles. Read a short excerpt about his service HERE. He was wounded in battle. He was honorably discharged from the militia in 1783 at the end of the Revolutionary War. By then Mary Stiles had died and he was owned by her son Benjamin Stiles. Benjamin Stiles granted his freedom. Brinch was about 42.
Brinch moved to Vermont where slavery had been abolished in 1777. There, he married, bought a farm, and raised a family. He adopted the name Jeffrey Brace. After experiencing racism and harassment in the southwestern Vermont town of Poultney, he and his family moved to northern Vermont. He died in 1827, about 85 years old. He told his story to a white abolitionist lawyer who published it in 1810.
Brinch went by several different names during his lifetime, including Jeffrey Stiles and Jeffrey Brace. As a free man he chose the name Jeffrey Brace.
Others Who Owned Brinch and How They Were Connected
Peter Prudden, son of the minister of the Second Church of Milford, great-great-grandson of the first minister of Milford's congregational church.
John Gibbs, son of Captain Isaac Mills's business partner Thomas Gibbs. John Gibbs was a merchant in the maritime trade and also did business with Mills.
Phineas Baldwin was father of Captain Mill's wife Katherine. His son Phineas was Katherine's brother.
Jonas Green was from Middletown. He moved to Milford in 1755. He was married to the sister of John Burwell's first wife. He was captain of the schooner Sarah Ann, launched in 1762. In 1776 he was surveyor of highways and collector of taxes in 1781.
Kari J. Winter, editor, The Blind African Slave, Or Memoirs of Boyrereau Brinch, Nicknamed Jeffrey Brace (University of Wisconsin Press, 2004)