AVON — There are few records documenting Leverett Holden's life in 19th-century Connecticut. He was born in 1825, lived in Hartford for a while and later moved to Avon. Little is known about what jobs he had, or whether he had a family. He died in 1877 at age 52.
Four years ago, a historian reawakened interest in Holden. Terri Wilson found a cryptic reference in town records that suggested a link to the 29th Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, a unit of African American soldiers that fought in the Civil War and helped change notions about the capabilities of black troops.
The unit was created in 1863 specifically to give African Americans a chance to fight in the war and help bring an end to slavery. Holden, Wilson found, was one of its 900 members.
Wilson, president of the Avon Historical Society, said she learned about Holden in 2010 while helping the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post research the graves of veterans in town so that they could be properly recognized.
Wilson found a list in the Avon Free Public Library of veterans buried in East Cemetery behind Avon Congregational Church, at the intersection of Routes 44 and 10. Wilson noticed a notation next to Holden's name that said "colored." The time of Holden's death suggested that he might have served in the Civil War, and that led Wilson to examine the records of the 29th Regiment. Holden's name was listed as one of the unit members.
Wilson's discovery prompted her to find out more about Holden. In February, she worked with members of the 29th Connecticut Colored Regiment C.V. Infantry, a group that memorializes the history of the regiment, to rededicate Holden's grave in East Cemetery.
"I call it a journey," Wilson said of her efforts to find out as much as she could about Holden, the only person from Avon to serve in the 29th Regiment. "His life was totally obscured."
The historical society used Holden's life to help illustrate the story of the 29th Regiment in a display that it mounted this winter on the unit and the experiences of the African American soldiers who fought with it.
Wilson's research, including census records, showed that Holden was born in Vernon in 1825 as a free black. By 1850, he had moved to Hartford and was listed on the census that year as part of the household of the Wadsworth Tavern at Prospect Road and Albany Avenue.
Sometime in the late 1850s, Holden moved to Avon, although why is not known. According to the historical society's biography of him, Holden first lived with a family in town, but then moved in with a woman named Martha Williams in a house on West Avon Road.
When Holden enlisted in December 1863, his occupation was listed as farmer. He signed his name with an X.
Holden returned to Avon after the war and resumed living with Williams, according to the society's biography. The only record that Wilson could find showing what Holden did for work was an 1869 entry in the ledger of a local church showing that Holden was paid $1.75 for cleaning some bricks.
Holden died in October 1877.