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Vira (1776-) | Litchfield Historical Society

Name: Vira (1776-)
Variant Name: Elvira

Historical Note:

Vira, or Elvira was born in 1776. An enslaved African American, she was owned by Henry Champion of Westchester, CT. Champion gave Elvia to his daughter Dorothy at the time of her 1781 marriage to Julius Deming. Champion, however, kept legal ownership of Elvira. The Demings came to Litchfield, where Julius, a merchant,  became one of the town's wealthiest men.

The Deming-Perkins Memorial, a family history held by the Litchfield Historical Society, recounts Vira's life.  Henry Champion died in 1798, freeing his three male slaves and leaving Vira to his daughter Dorothy Champion Deming.  His will stated, "... as I am not an advocate of slavery it is my desire that [she] be set free at twenty-six years of age."

Vira left Litchfield in 1798 and went to New Haven where she worked for the wealthy Hillhouse family, which had many ties to Litchfield.  In 1799, Julius Deming, Jr. wrote home of seeing Vira, saying her child was "a very handsome brat, its name is Alfred."  Nothing is known as to Alfred's father.

In 1799 Vira went to New York.  Julius Deming filed her emancipation papers with the Town Clerk in 1801.  A year later she was back in New Haven, doing laundry for Yale College.  She had been in Litchfield as she wrote little Alfred was "homesick."  After this she went to New York and "started the famous restaurant known as 'Elvira's,' adjoining the Park Theater."  The restaurant was said to be "the resort of actors and pucks of those days."  The family history also states Vira came to visit in Litchfield as an elderly woman.

A letter written by Vira, along with several documents referring to her, can be found in the Deming, Perkins and Quincy families' papers.

Sources: Deming, Perkins, and Quincy families' papers; Deming-Perkins Memorial
Note Author: Lynne Templeton Brickley

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