James Lindsey Smith House circa 1843
59 School Street Norwich, CT
Please note, this is a private residence and is not open to the public
James Lindsey Smith ( ~ 1816 – ~ 1884) was born into enslavement in Northern Neck, Northumberland County, Virginia. Trained as a shoemaker, he escaped from slavery with two friends in 1838. Crossing Chesapeake Bay in a sailing canoe, the freedom seekers made their way to New Castle, Delaware where they took a steamboat to Philadelphia. Along the way, Smith overcame separation from his companions due to a permanent leg injury suffered in childhood that slowed him down. He ultimately made it to Philadelphia where local abolitionists sent Smith to David Ruggles (Stop 1) in New York City. Ruggles arranged for Smith to stay with a Congregational minister in Springfield, Massachusetts.
After attending Wilbraham Academy, Smith married Emeline Minerva Platt in 1842 and settled in Norwich. He worked as a shoemaker in Franklin Square located downtown. He was also a founding member of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion church, where he served as a minister. Two of the couple’s daughters, Louise Amelia and Emma J. I. Smith, graduated from Norwich Free Academy. They became teachers in Washington, D.C. following the Civil War. In 1881, Smith published a remarkable memoir detailing the hardships and cruelty he experienced while enslaved and both the kindness and discrimination he encountered in the North. Copies for sale are available at Norwich’s Leffingwell House Museum.