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On this week's Peace of History:
We return to southeastern Connecticut in the early 1960s to learn the various factors that helped form the Voluntown Peace Trust. As the summer schedule of protests, outreach attempts, and nonviolence trainings of Polaris Action wrapped up in August of 1960, it was decided that they should continue this work, extended their summer project into a permanent presence. Several participants made plans to stay on a full or part-time basis, joining Bob and Marj Swann (and their children) to continue and expand upon the activities. From “Prospectus for a History of New England CNVA” by Marj Swann: “Moving from the tenement which had been the living quarters for the summer project to a house in Norwich, owned by a supporter, several of the summer participants continued to staff the office, engage in interaction with workers at Electric Boat and sailors at the Navy Base, and began reaching out around the New England Region.” This group named themselves the New England Committee for Non-Violent Action (CNVA), became an independent affiliate of the national CNVA, and selected Bob and Marj Swann as Co-coordinators for their combined experience as peace activists. As others joined them, Marj Swann writes, “The office in New London was maintained, and the program expanded all around New England, with local groups springing up after the staff had conducted a vigil, a march, or a public education program at local high schools, churches, and universities.”
After a year and a half of sustained work and growth, the New England CNVA decided that they needed more space to effectively hold trainings and workshops, and neither the office in New London nor the house in Norwich, CT would do. A property in a nearby rural area, however, could serve the group’s needs much better. The solution was provided by Mary Meigs, who had joined the New England CNVA after her partner, Barbara Deming -- the subject of last week’s post -- joined the group. On May 8, 1962, for the sum of $17,000, Mary Meigs bought the 40-acre Campbell Farm in rural Voluntown, CT, northeast of New London and Groton. Just a few months later, on August 30, Meigs entered the property into a land trust with Gordon Christiansen and Marjorie Swann. Community land trust pioneer Bob Swann authored the agreement. The first three terms of the agreement are:
Putting the land in trust was both a commitment to the nonviolent economic structures being developed by Bob Swann, and a protection of the land for activists, many of whom were war tax resisters who did not want to own private property that could be seized by the government. The Voluntown Peace Trust was established to be the home of the Community for Non-Violent Action, renamed to reflect the permanence of the group in southeastern Connecticut. Bob, however, wrote the trust agreement to be dynamic and flexible, so that the land could be used for a variety of purposes. Called the “Peace Farm” in those early years, the flexibility written into the original trust agreement proved to have been a wise decision as the priorities, programs, faces and names of the Voluntown Peace Trust changed throughout the decades, while continuing to promote peace.
Next week: we will dig even deeper into the history of the Campbell Farm property, and into the history of the founding of Voluntown, Connecticut.