By Darlene DeVita
(The following is one in a series of sneak peeks at the upcoming People of Chelsea additions by Photographer Darlene DeVita. The new work will ultimately appear on the fence of the Chelsea Public Library (CPL) this fall in a collaboration between the People of Chelsea project and the CPL.)
Lee Farrington was in her mid-50s and was finally able to buy a place to live. She says that she always had a soft spot for Chelsea because she had interned here as a social worker.
“I did a lot of home visits and developed a deep respect for Chelsea’s working families and people from so many different countries that lived here. I always had it in the back of my mind to live in Chelsea. But there was always that bridge. And as a social worker, I always felt I needed to be centrally located because your constantly moving around. The bridge and the traffic jams stopped me.
But, when I was ready to move, my choice came down to Framingham or Chelsea. It took me 10 seconds to make that choice…I always knew that Chelsea would be very special. I moved into the historic Pratt Schoolhouse in Prattville.
I became fascinated with this idea that there were slaves in colonial New England in Chelsea. I had no idea. I thought we were the good guys; the abolitionists, and that the South was outrageous.
I began learning about Chelsea’s history. One of the first things I picked up was an old photograph of the last Pratt [family] house… unfortunately torn down in the early fifties. There was a shed next to it. The shed was in the forefront, and there was a little notation that the shed might have been where slaves were housed. That was really interesting to me. Then I began reading. I was lucky enough to pick up probably one of the last copies of the Cary Letters. They were put together, by a great-niece or granddaughter, or some relative, of the Cary family in the 1880s. She put together letters and oral history; it was a fascinating book. Once I got used to the old use of language, it was like reading a novel. There was a fair amount of information about a slave that lived most of her life with a family, Fanny Fairweather.
I found that she was buried in the Rumney Marsh burial ground. On my bucket list was always to go there. Now in this pandemic where we do more outdoor activities, I made my way there. I couldn’t find a gravestone for her, but I did find, much to my surprise, a Memorial to all the slaves and unmarked graves who were buried there. The Pratt name stood out. And I think that Cheever was part of them. We have a Cheever St. here, and Rumney Marsh was part of Chelsea. So were these were slaves who lived and enslaved in Chelsea.
Fanny’s isn’t listed among the slaves for some odd reason. I think she might’ve been one of the few enslaved people there, if perhaps the only one who had a tombstone. A couple of sources have said there was an epitaph saying she was of African descent, and it listed her approximate date of birth and death. Her tombstone is no longer there and will probably never be found. It was noted as being present in 1938, but no one knows what happened to it. It’s very sad. They did a wonderful job of restoring the cemetery physically, and they also continue to involve schoolchildren in it. They continue to have online tours on a regular basis of the cemetery. They work hard to make it part of the community. There’s much to be admired for the work of a few volunteers and their dedication, because it’s a real treasure.”