The Connecticut League of History Organizations presents Awards of Merit annually to institutions and individuals who demonstrate the highest of professional standards and who enhance and further the understanding of Connecticut history. The purpose of the awards is to recognize the care, thought and effort invested in these contributions and to inspire and encourage others by acknowledging exceptional contributions to state and local history. Action over and above the ordinary call of duty is prerequisite for an Award of Merit. This year the Connecticut League of History Organizations is happy to acknowledge worthy seventeen recipients.
The Connecticut League of History Organizations presented an Award of Merit to the Deep River Historical Society for its recent publication Billy Winters – One Man’s Journey to Freedom written by Rhonda Forristall at their annual meeting on April 16, 2019. The awards committee was most impressed with the publication’s extensive use of primary sources and efforts to tell this interesting story to a young audience. The awards ceremony took place at the Mark Twain House and Museum Auditorium in Hartford, CT. There was a reception at the Katherine Day House immediately following the presentations for all award recipients.
Billy Winters – One Man’s Journey to Freedom is the story of a self-emancipated slave who traveled on the Underground Railroad and made his home in Deep River, CT. The story comes from a rare first-hand account of his travels that was published in the New Era in 1900 shortly before Billy Winter’s death. Rhonda Forristall, Curator at the Deep River Historical Society was able to use this first-hand account as a guide to delve deeper into the story, revealing new information to give us a better insight into this man who became an inspiration to many.
Now in its second printing, the publication continues to receive words of praise. Susan Rooney, Director of the Deep River Public Library states that she has placed the book in both the adult and youth sections of the library and it is popular with many of the library’s patrons.
Angie Kingston, a teacher at the Deep River Elementary School writes “I am very grateful to Ms. Forristall for writing this book. Mr. Winter’s deserved to have his story told and she gave our community and our school children the gift of learning about a former slave who faced unimaginable adversity and succeeded at living his dreams through hard work, friendship and hope. I use this book in my classroom and the students love learning about Mr. Winter’s life. Their eyes light up when the learn that he learned to read as an adult from the local school children. This book is a wonderful gift to our children who are looking for guidance and role models in their life.”
Donald Perreault, Social Studies Department Coordinator for Valley Regional High School, adds these comments about the book. “I have taught a course dedicated to the history of Chester, Deep River and Essex for 28 years at Valley Regional High School. Within this course, we complete a unit on the role of these three towns in the Underground Railroad. There are few reliable sources available to tell the story of the runaway slave, Daniel Fisher, better known today as Billy Winter. His story has always been fascinating to our students as well as the residents of these communities. There is a feeling of personal, local connection to the Abolitionist Movement prior to the Civil War.
Regrettable, the only significant resource until now has been the Deep River New Era’s obituary of Billy Winters from November 23, 1900. This has all changed with the publication of Ms. Forristall’s book. The attention to detail and the extensive research beyond the obituary has taken Billy Winter from relative obscurity and placed him into the much larger abolitionist movement.
This expanded view is what makes Ms. Forristall’s book so important. As a teacher, the details of Billy Winter’s more complete life story have allowed me to spend time discussing Antebellum Plantation Life and the injustices of slavery. Further, the research into David Ruggles is the first-time research has been undertaken to build the connections between how Billy Winter came to Deep River and his desire to stay in Connecticut rather than venture further north for freedom. Additionally, the detail that Ms. Forristall has added to the formerly sparse story of Billy’s life has enriched these communities and through our school system, our students as well.”
Dr. Rick Hornung, Eastern Connecticut State University, writes “it is with great delight that I write on behalf of Billy Winters – One Man’s Journey to Freedom written by Rhonda Forristall and published by the Deep River Historical Society.
Ms. Forristall tells the story of how freed slaves banded together and built a prosperous, healthy and vital life in the ravines of Middlesex County. Her account of Winters’ life offers a concise and insightful portrait of the people involved, the challenges they faced and how they wove a supportive network of social and economic relations and connections that defied the attempts to isolate and impoverish blacks in the United States.
By tracing the arc of Winter’s birth into slavery, followed his flight north and settlement in Deep River, Forristall gives her readers an opportunity to see the intricate and often contradictory personal and public behaviors required to build a stable life rooted in a small Connecticut town. Forristall prompts her readers to reconsider how the stereotypes of race and class, competition and struggle are often skewed – how these stereotypes are born of ignoring the history that is right under our feet and directly in our gaze day after day, and week after week.”
Books can be purchased for $10.00 at the Deep River Hardware Store, The Stone House and Amazon. Rhonda Forristall is also available to speak at your event by calling 860-526-5086.