Uncovering the Past: A group of fifth graders discovered their town's secret history and honored a forgotten hero.

Betsy Flynn
Renbrook School is excited to share this article that appears in the April issue of Scholastic News. The article, "Uncovering the Past," tells of the Witness Stone Project completed last year by Renbrook fifth-graders who discovered their town's secret and honored a forgotten hero.
P-R-U-T. Dust flew through the air as these four letters were carved into a memorial in West Hartford, Connecticut, last May. More than 240 years after an enslaved man named Prut died in the Revolutionary War, he was finally being remembered. And it was all thanks to fifth-graders from the Renbrook School.

“By putting Prut on the memorial, we show people in West Hartford how enslaved people helped our community,” says Renbrook student Madeleine Vorchheimer.

Just two months earlier, most of the students hadn’t even known that enslaved people once lived in their town. But then they joined a research project at school and began digging into West Hartford’s history. They were shocked by what they learned.

“It really surprised me that in my little town, there were more than 60 enslaved people,” says Madeleine.

Stolen Away
Slavery is a painful part of American history. From the 1600s to the 1800s, millions of people were kidnapped from their homes in Africa. Once in America, African natives were seen as property, not human beings. They were bought and sold by new “owners” who forced them to do backbreaking work from sunup to sundown. Many were sent to work on plantations. Others worked in homes, as cooks and maids.

Honoring a Hero
One of those enslaved people was Prut. The Renbrook students learned that he died in 1776 at Fort Ticonderoga in New York. Prut, like countless other enslaved people, was likely sent to war in place of his owner. Or he might have run away to join the war after someone falsely promised him freedom.

But records didn’t reveal more than the date of Prut’s death and his owner’s name.

“Enslaved individuals were treated as objects, as things people didn’t really care about,”
explains Renbrook student Mikayla Grant. “People didn’t give much thought to when or
where he was born.”

Mikayla and her classmates wanted to make up for that. Last May, they asked the town council to add Prut’s name to the town’s war memorial. Just because enslaved people were treated poorly back then doesn’t mean we can’t be better people now, they said. The council members agreed.

“It felt great knowing we accomplished this amazing thing,” Mikayla says.

Nicole Tocco, Executive Editor of Scholastic News Edition said of the article, "Truly, it was one my favorite stories of the year. Your students were so well-spoken and passionate and informed on such an important topic. It was one of those that I wish I had 10 more pages to devote to!"

For a copy of the full article, CLICK HERE.
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