The Carringtons were an African-American
family living in Norwich, CT in the late nineteenth and twentieth
centuries. What we know of them comes from photographs, family
letters and documents, census records, and Norwich town directories.
Alexander Carrington was born in
1851 in Virginia and his wife Manzella was born in Maryland in
1857. In those years before the Civil War, both Maryland and Virginia
were slave states, although it is not known whether Alexander
or Manzella were born as slaves themselves.
In the 1870s Alexander and Manzella
moved to Norwich, CT, then a town of 21,000 people which was accessible
by railroad, steamboat, or stage coach from other parts of Connecticut,
New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. The Carringtons had
two children, a daughter named Nannette born in 1887 and a son
named Alexander Harrison born in 1888.
Starting in the 1880s, the family,
including Manzella’s mother Eliza Williams, boarded in a two-family
home at 50 Fountain Street, which was owned by Dennis and Lucretia
(or Lititia) Walker. Fountain Street was a residential street
not far from the Norwich steamboat wharf and the railroad station.
Although most of the Carrington’s neighbors on Fountain Street
in 1900 were Irish immigrants or the children of immigrants, there
were at least two other African-American families living nearby.
While the Carrington children were
growing up and going to school, Alexander worked as a cook, and
his wife worked as a servant cook in a private home. They spent
some of their leisure time visiting friends and relatives in the
area and probably made frequent trips to the coast during the
summers. One summer, at least, Manzella purchased a season ticket
on the steamer Ella, which transported passengers between Norwich
and the beach areas of New London and Watch Hill.
In 1905 the Carringtons either
inherited or purchased the house at 50 Fountain Street when Lucretia
Walker, by then a widow, died. Also in 1905, Alexander H. moved
to Storrs, CT, where he was a student at the Connecticut Agricultural
College, later the University of Connecticut.
In the following year Alexander
Sr. was offered a job as a cook at the North Hotel in Augusta,
Maine. The job paid $70/month plus all expenses (like room and
board,) and was a year-round position, unlike many other jobs
at resort hotels. The opportunity was good enough that Alexander,
like many other working people of the time, left home for over
a year to pursue it. Alexander Sr. returned to Norwich in 1908,
and soon after got a job as a chef at a local hotel.
Over the next several years Alexander
H. worked a variety of jobs, from waiter at a local hotel to bookkeeper
and clerk. Like his father, Alexander H. moved around to find
work. He spent time in Amherst, MA and Boston but also lived and
worked in Norwich on and off for several years. Eventually he
moved to New York, where he worked as a postal clerk. Nannette
started her own business, working as a hairdresser out of the
family home on Fountain Street. Manzella continued to do housework
for two well-to-do or older women living on Washington Street,
and even went to live in the women’s home for part of one year.
Alexander Carrington Sr. died on
July 30, 1923, leaving Manzella as the head of the household at
50 Fountain Street. Manzella died sometime in the 1930s. Neither
Alexander H. nor Nannette ever married. Nannette continued to
live in the family home, working as a hairdresser and later as
a corsetiere (a person who makes and sells corsets, girdles, and
brassieres.) She lived at 50 Fountain Street until her death in
1977. Alexander H. returned to the family home on Fountain Street,
where he lived to the age of 104. He died on March 19, 1993, more
that 120 years after his family first arrived in Norwich.