Hopes and Expectations

The Origins of the Black Middle Class in Hartford

By Barbara J. Beeching

Subjects: African American Studies, American History
Paperback : 9781438461649, 296 pages, July 2017
Hardcover : 9781438461656, 296 pages, January 2017

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Table of contents


1. Migrant of Necessity

2. Growing Up with the Community Expectations Rising

3. Family Life amid Racial Turmoil

4. Beyond Uplift: A New Spirit of Resistance

5. A Black Middle Class Takes Shape in Time of War Expectations at Work

6. Nelson Primus: The Artist in Boston

7. Rebecca Primus: The Teacher in Royal Oak

8. Addie Brown: The Working Girl in Hartford Expectations Deferred

9. Growth and Decline

10. Loss and Persistence


Appendix A. Blacks in Hartford 1830–1880
Appendix B. Primus Timeline with Pertinent Historical Events


Describes in rich detail African American daily life among free blacks in the North in the 1860s.


Winner of the 2017 Homer D. Babbidge Jr. Award presented by the Association for the Study of Connecticut History

Based on a treasure trove of more than two hundred personal letters written in the 1860s, Hopes and Expectations tells the story of three young African Americans in the North. Living on Maryland's eastern shore, schoolteacher Rebecca Primus sent "home weeklies" to her parents in Hartford and also corresponded with friend Addie Brown, a domestic worker back home. Addie wrote voluminously to Rebecca, lamenting their separation and describing her struggle to achieve a semblance of security and stability. Around the same time, Rebecca's brother, Nelson, began writing home about his new life in Boston, as he set out to make a name and a career for himself as an artist. The letters describe their daily lives and touch on race, class, gender, religion, and politics, offering rare entry into individual black lives at that time.

Through extensive archival research, Barbara J. Beeching also shows how the story of the Primus family intersects with changes over time in Hartford's black community and the country. Newspapers and census tracts, as well as probate, land, court, and vital records help her trace an arc of local black fortunes between 1830 and 1880. Seeking full equality, blacks sought refinement and respectability through home ownership, literacy, and social gains. One of the many paradoxes Beeching uncovers is that just as the Civil War was tearing the nation apart, a recognizable black middle class was emerging in Hartford. It is a story of individuals, family, and community, of expectation and disappointment, loss and endurance, change and continuity.

Now retired, Barbara J. Beeching spent many years working in public relations in Connecticut and received a PhD in US history in 2010.


"This is a powerful book and a truly important story. Beeching provides a richly detailed survey of life in Connecticut, the political and racial climates at various historical moments, and the web of intraracial and interracial networks that informed the Primus family experiences. Multifaceted and thoroughly absorbing, Hopes and Expectations will reintroduce people to a New England that they thought they knew. " — Lois Brown, author of Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins: Black Daughter of the Revolution