Who Was William Lanson? [Monday Memo]

This week’s Monday Memo is about William Lanson, a man who escaped enslavement turned self-taught engineer, land developer, business owner and entrepreneur in 1820’s New Haven. He designed and built Long Wharf, sections of the Farmington Canal, and played an essential role in New Haven’s ability to import and export on the harbor.

While the historic Wooster Square neighborhood in New Haven is traditionally known for its Italian heritage, a 2014 article from the New Haven Independent details how this part of town was originally built for Lanson’s workers, a predominantly black population with not quite as much segregation as we see in this part of town today:

“The work crews who built those mansions and labored for Lanson in harbor and canal lived in housing he owned in a section of town adjacent to and north of the new square...Irish laborers lived nearby in a section called Slineyville. Both white and black often associated in groceries, hotels, and stores owned by Lanson.”

Lanson was a big advocate for integration and believed people of all races could and should work side by side and share community equally.

For more of this article, click below:

“King of The Colored Race” of New Haven Revealed | New Haven Independent

Peter Hinks, who details Lanson’s life in the article above, gives further information on ConnecticutHistory.org

How will Lanson be remembered?

There is currently a movement to replace the Christopher Columbus statue that came down in Wooster Square Park in New Haven back in June, and/or to rename the park to pay homage to Lanson.

A request for proposals for a statue commemorating Lanson along the Farmington Canal was issued by the city of New Haven back in November 2019 with plans for it to be unveiled in late September:

Statue Readied to Honor “Black Governor” | New Haven Independent

What will be the fate of the empty statue mount in Wooster Square has yet to be announced.

Further reading:

William Lanson: The Slave Who Helped Build New Haven | The Hartford Courant (2001)


William Lanson by Katherine J Harris

Monday Memos were revived at Clifford Beers to shed light on issues of race, inequality, history, to celebrate our differences and provide resources to self-educate. We believe in eradicating racism and prejudice through education and release these memos both internally to our staff and to the public via our website and social media.

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