In Celebration of Black History Month

By Natalie L. Coolidge

Who is the first person you think of when you hear the words “Black History Month?” Probably Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be your first answer. Well, we have our own person of note right here in the northeast corner of Connecticut. She had many adversities to overcome yet accomplished good things in her lifetime.

Her name is Felicia Terry born on January 25, 1888. She was one of twelve children born in Brooklyn, CT, to a slave from Culpepper, VA, and a Native American from Brooklyn, CT. Her parents, Albert Terry and Charlotte Fagin, were married in 1872. Albert was a peddler and laborer and Charlotte was a laundress. Felicia’s maternal great-grandmother lived in the Plainfield area and was a member of the Plainfield Congregational Church in the early 1800s.

Felicia graduated from Killingly High School in the Class of 1906. The class photo shows her to be a beautiful young girl. She then attended the Normal School (a teacher’s college) in Willimantic and received her certificate to teach school. She was hired by the Town of Canterbury to teach in a one-room school. After teaching there one or two years, she was asked to leave “under a cloud.” Because she was black, she really was not wanted in any school, so some excuse was evidently found to get rid of her.

According to the 1910 Census, Albert Terry was living apart from his family and Felicia’s mother, Charlotte, died in 1916. Therefore, Felicia was forced to find some other means of sup-porting herself. She was hired to do housework by the parents of Dorothy and Florence Blake of Brooklyn. She also was a correspondent for the Norwich Bulletin.

To quote from an article published in 1914 it states, “Miss Felicia Terry has written a history of Brooklyn that is intensely interesting, not only to the residents of that town who have been reading it, but fully as much so to the residents of the towns about Brooklyn. . . Miss Terry has not only shown discrimination in selecting from a mass of data the most valuable and highly important historical facts, but has exhibited commendable literary skill in assembling them in useable review of the early settlement and founding of the township and of the customs and conditions under which its first families lived. Brooklyn has a proud history and many are getting much pleasure out of reviewing it, as set down by Miss Terry.”

Felicia was a member of the Trinity Episcopal Church in Brooklyn. The Rev. Norman P. Dare, rector of the church, and his wife took Felicia under their wing. They were great community workers and looked after Felicia’s welfare. Mrs. Dare would often visit with baskets of food. In return for their kindness Felicia attended church, helped wait tables at church suppers and helped keep the church clean.

Felicia was also active in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and had strong convictions about “Demon Rum.” A story related by Myrtle Morse illustrates this. Felicia had always been friendly to Myrtle until one day she met Myrtle coming out of a package store with a bottle of wine. After that she would avoid Myrtle and never spoke to her again. (The funny thing was that Myrtle was buying the wine partly for herself but half of it was for the church!)

Felicia was preparing to write a biography of Prudence Crandall and had accumulated piles of material concerning Prudence and her school. Felicia lived on Providence Road (Route 6) in Brooklyn in 1957 and had an antique shop there.

During some sort of struggle with her nephew after he threatened her for some reason, a lamp was overturned (there was no electricity in her home) which quickly caught the papers on fire. The house burned down and Felicia died in the fire. Everything she had was destroyed.

Felicia Terry was buried in South Cemetery, Brooklyn, in an unmarked grave.

References:

  1. Pasay, Marcella Houle. Full Circle, A Directory of Native and African Americans In Windham County, CT, and Vicinity, 1650-1900, 2 vols. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, Inc., 2002.
  2. Killingly High School Yearbook, 1906.
  3. Morse, Myrtle. Interview. Formerly of Brooklyn.
  4. Booth, Dick & Nancy. Executors of Felicia Terry’s Estate.
  5. Norwich Bulletin, May 14, 1914.