Gold Award Girl Scout Alexya of North Chelmsford made it her mission to educate her peers about the slavery that occurred on their school’s property centuries ago, and honor the lives of those enslaved through her project, “The Ground We Walk On: Remembering Local History.”
Alexya’s school, Innovation Academy Charter School in Tyngsboro, was built on land once owned by the prominent colonial Tyng family. During her historic archaeology class, Alexya began researching the family’s practices of slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries (with the help of her friend Jack and teacher Ms. Hinkle). The rest of their class joined in, locating new details and artifacts from the library, Ancestory.com, and even a PhD dissertation from the 1990’s.
Some stories they’d read before. A girl named Dinah Coburn who had been sold into slavery in 1756 at the age of five. A fiddle player and runaway named Robbin. Then Alexya stumbled upon two names she’d never seen before in historical records—Cornwall and Boston Tyng.
“We were able to discover that they were both soldiers in the Revolutionary War in the 7th Massachusetts Regiment, which fought in the famous Battles of Saratoga, the Cherry Valley massacre, and the Sullivan Expedition,” says Alexya. Her research also indicated both men survived the war and returned to the Tyng Mansion, forced back into their roles as slaves.
This also revealed to Alexya was how little her school knew about the history in their own backyard. “I was appalled that the stories and histories of the Tyng family were abundant in the history books but there was only on a very rare occasion any mention of slavery.”
Alexya dedicated her Girl Scout Gold Award project to changing that. She enlisted a team to help create a curriculum for middle school students—one that confronts the property’s ties to slavery. She conducted interactive lectures and tours of the campus. She supplied lessons plans to middle school history teachers for continued education, provided information for the school’s website, and discussed a memorial project with school leadership. Alexya also presented the research and historical artifacts to the Tyngsboro community at an exhibition night.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has put the curriculum and memorial projects on hold, Alexya (now a college freshman) is proud of what she accomplished. “I believe that it is important to know about the places where you spend your time so that you can connect with them and see history up close. I also believe that it is very important to recognize those who were enslaved instead of letting their history be forgotten.”