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by Max H. Peters

    Built in 1698, the David Humphreys House in Ansonia (up until 1889 Ansonia was part of Derby) is in the register as one of the 100 oldest houses in Connecticut.  It now serves as the main office of the Derby Historical Society.Furnished with authentic mid-18th century furniture, it is open as a museum weekdays 1-4pm, May through September.

The David Humphreys House today


Weaving room

A sign in front of the house says “Birthplace of DAVID HUMPHREYS  1752-1818. Soldier, Poet, Diplomat, Industrial Pioneer.” Interesting as historic homes go, but a little digging by this writer into David Humphreys’ life has revealed a story so shocking, so packed with long-range significance, it has changed the way I think about early American history.
   Humphreys was born in the house and lived there until he left at age fourteen to start his university studies at Yale. It would be many years before he came back to live there again.Upon graduating, he was offered and accepted the position as principal of the public school in Weathersfield, where he remained two years, two years during which fate put him in a position to be introduced to General Washington socially. Washington was so taken by the young schoolteacher he offered him a job as his aide-de-camp .  During the Revolution Humphreys became one of Washington’s best friends, some say the best friend he had in his life. After the Revolution was won, Humphreys lived at Mount Vernon to the end of the 1780s, working as Washington’s secretary. When Washington was elected the first president under the new Constitution, he took Humphreys along as his aide and speechwriter. Humphreys wrote Washington’s First Inaugural address and stood by Washington as he read it.
Pastor's Study
   Interesting enough, but there’s more. Washington’s correspondence with Humphreys when they were apart is voluminous; all of it resides in the Library of Congress today.     Washington, as we know, owned over two hundred slaves. Humphreys was a hard-core abolitionist. In his private talks with Humphreys Washington revealed his growing anguish about the immorality of slavery. Washington was particularly tormented by the memory of a social event that he helped organize in Virginia before the Revolution where a black child was auctioned off as a door prize.
    In his will, Washington not only freed his slaves but provided each of them with money enough to tide them over until they got back on their feet. The shocking thing is what Washington told some of his Virginia friends in his final years. Gripped by a prophetic vision of the future, Washington said that if the nation split over the issue of slavery he would  ”remove to the north.” Remove to the north!Think about it. A deeply rooted Virginian ready to turn his back on his people over a moral principle of justice. The Father of Our Country, not as a magnificent statue but, rather, a tormented, existential human being. And David Humphreys was right there, a major influence in the ways that mattered – and still matter-most.

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