Trinity’s Confederate Memorial: The USS Hartford Cannons

4 min read

Savannah Brooks ’26

Managing Editor

Not many Trinity students know that the College currently has a Confederate memorial right in the middle of campus. In fact, it is quite possible that students walk by it every day without realizing. Trinity’s founding in 1823 means that there are several alumni who served in the Civil War (105, to be exact). Twenty four of these men served in the Confederate Army.

The cannons mounted on the main quad that are oft-described as pointing towards Wesleyan College or Amherst College (in reality, they do not point towards either) were donated by the City of Hartford to Trinity College in 1950 at the request of then-President G. Keith Funston ‘32. The cannons came from the USS Hartford, a Civil War steam-powered sloopof-war (a type of warship) that was the first ship in the U.S. Navy to be named after Hartford. The USS Hartford and her cannons saw combat in the Battle of New Orleans and the Siege of Vicksburg during the Civil War. Due to the significance of the USS Hartford, President Funston chose to dedicate the cannons Trinity received to the College’s Civil War veterans. On one cannon, he installed a plaque that reads:

“In memory of the Trinity men who fought for the principles in which they believed with the Union and Confederate forces in the Civil War and of those who gave “the last full measure of devotion.”

President Funston made a concerted effort to ensure that these cannons served as a memorial for both Union and Confederate veterans. In the 19th century, according to past Trinity archivists Glenn Weaver and Peter Knapp ‘65, Trinity was known as a safe space for Southerners who were against the abolishment of slavery to go to school. Other New England institutions of higher learning at the time were generally much more anti-slavery than Trinity.

In the fall of 2021, Trinity’s Student Government Association (SGA) motioned to remove the plaque from the cannon and move it to the Watkinson Library archives. However, the plaque still stands. Confederate memorials are not unique to Trinity’s campus — in 2020, the University of Mississippi moved a large statue of a Confederate soldier from the most prominent part of campus to a campus cemetery. In the same year, the University of Alabama removed plaques commemorating Alabama students who served in the Confederate Army from their main library.

Other than the cannons, controversy has also surrounded the names of Wheaton Hall (now Trinity Hall) and Seabury Hall. Wheaton Hall was named after Nathanial Wheaton, Trinity’s second president and a known slave owner. In 2021, Wheaton Hall was renamed to Trinity Hall. Seabury Hall was named after Samuel Seabury, another slave owner whose name readers may recognize as a villain in the musical “Hamilton.” Seabury was a loyalist who owned several enslaved people and was hardly associated with Trinity College beyond proposing an idea for an Episcopalian college in Connecticut, long before the founding of what was then Washington College. While Seabury Hall was a centerpiece of the push to rename campus buildings in 2020 as part of the Umoja Coalition’s demands, it was found that a key treatise cited to be proof of Seabury’s support of slavery was actually written by his grandson, Samuel Seabury III. The name of the building stands as Seabury Hall to this day, even though there are numerous primary sources, such as Seabury’s personal journal and census records, proving he owned enslaved persons.

Trinity has a long history with slavery and racism, but these cannons (both literally, given their place on campus, and figuratively, given their historical importance) serve as the centerpiece.

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