Connecticut Judicial Branch Law Libraries   Books

Tapping the Scales of Justice - A Dose of Connecticut Legal History

Prudence Crandall - State HeroineGavel

In 1833, Prudence Crandall Prudence Crandallestablished an academy for African-American girls in Canterbury, Connecticut. Several months later the state legislature passed what became known as the "Black Law," targeted to prevent the school from operating. The preamble to the act stated in part, "...establishment of literary institutions in this State for the instruction of colored persons belonging to other states and countries would tend to the great increase of the colored population of the state, and thereby to the injury of the people..."

Crandall was arrested and placed on trial. The superior court judge, Honorable David Daggett, in his instructions to the jury stated that Negroes were not citizens within the meaning of the term as used in the Constitution of the United States. Crandall was convicted after trial and then appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court of Errors. In her appeal, she argued that the Connecticut law was contrary to the Constitution of the United States. However, the Connecticut Supreme Court did not decide the constitutional questions. Rather, it reversed her conviction because it found the language of the charging documents to be insufficient. Thus, it left for future courts and generations the constitutional questions of individual rights and states' rights.

Faced with harassment by the local townspeople, Prudence Crandall closed the school and moved out of state. In 1886, the State Legislature granted her a small pension, and followed more than a century later with the designation of State Heroine in 1995.

  See: Crandall v. The State of Connecticut 10 Conn. 339 (1834)

Doses of Connecticut Legal History