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Chicago man uncovers family ties to Prudence Crandall's School for Black Girls

After visiting the Prudence Crandall Museum in Canterbury, Piper learned he was related to Sarah and Mary Harris, Mary is his great-great-grandmother.

CONNECTICUT, USA — Prudence Crandall is known as the state’s heroine, she was a fearless leader in education, advocating for young Black women to get an education long before the country’s schools would be integrated.

Mary Harris was one of 27 students to receive instruction from Crandall before her school shut down.

Harris’ legacy lives on through her family in New Orleans and other parts of the country.

Charles Piper of Chicago, Illinois, recently found out about his family’s origins in Connecticut.

Piper and his wife Judy began digging into genealogy records, revealing some of his family members in New Orleans.

After sorting through documents in Louisiana, they worked together to find out how Pelman Williams, also an educator, and Mary H. Williams were connected.

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Census records revealed the pair lived and were married in Canterbury, Connecticut in 1845.

During a business trip to Connecticut, the Pipers conducted more research on the Williams’ which led them to make the connection to Prudence Crandall.

After visiting the Prudence Crandall Museum in Canterbury, Piper learned he was related to Sarah and Mary Harris, Mary is his great-great-grandmother.

Piper said the revelation brought on a lot of emotions, especially because this story hadn’t been shared with his family.

“We were humbled, I think, is a word I'd use in terms of thinking about what these people, the girls at the school, my ancestors also what they went through at that time to enable themselves and to try to extend this this gift of education to other at that time, freed Black people.” Piper said.

Charles described the women as being driven and persevering.

He also learned they were protected by a Freedman’s Association and the Union Army as they taught freed Black people in New Orleans.

His family’s ties grew in New Orleans as other members of his family were renowned in the community because of their work as educators, activists and musicians.

This wasn’t the only big discovery for Charles, he also did not find out about his own Black lineage until later in life.

“My mother, on the other hand, and my father lived in fear of that discovery, coming to light in Wisconsin because that was not the most forgiving racial environment that we lived in and it would change,” Piper said. “Depending on when it happened. It would change my life significantly, and their lives as well. We have come into a closed rural community as outsiders, and you know, you don't become part of that community very quickly. So, it took a years before we were accepted in the community”

Since making the connection to his family’s roots in Connecticut, the Pipers have gained extended family members in Connecticut, Illinois, California, and Detroit.

Symphonie Privett is an anchor and host of The Buzz at FOX61 News. She can be reached at sprivett@fox61.com. Follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.


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