Princes and Free Men
It’s well-known that Vermont is one of the whitest states in the Union. And so the stories of African American Vermonters can sometimes get forgotten, no matter how important they have been to our state’s and our nation’s history.
Mural of Martin Freeman by Will Kasso Condry and Zarai Zaragoza.
This Episode’s Featured Object:
Lotting Map of Sunderland, VT
Paul Carnahan: On one of the lots is written the word “Negro.” Most of the map only has numbers on the lots. Someone has felt it’s significant to note that this was land owned by a Negro man.
Ryan Newswanger: And do we have a sense of whether that was indeed the Prince family?
Paul: Well, I haven’t studied the Princes extensively, but people who have do believe that’s the land that they owned.
Images: Shanta Lee Gander dressed as Lucy Terry Prince for the Brattleboro Words Project.
“Twilight Girls” Esme Kimber (left) and Gabby Anzalone with their display about Alexander Twilight for Vermont History Day.
The Old Stone House Museum in Brownington, Vermont, the former site of the Orleans County Grammar School. It was built in 1836 by Alexander Twilight, the nation’s first African-American college graduate.
Images: Middlebury professor William Hart.
Martin Henry Freeman.
Freeman historical marker in Rutland, Vermont.
[Recitation of Bars Fight poem]
Shanta Lee Gander strides down Abijah Prince Road in Guilford, Vermont, reciting a poem. She’s wearing a white homespun blouse and a red skirt. It’s Fall.
[Bars Fight poem]
The poem is called “Bars Fight,” and it describes a raid by the French and their Abenaki allies on a European settlement in Deerfield, Massachusetts, in 1746. It is considered the oldest known work of literature written by an African American.
Lucy Terry Prince was the author of “Bars Fight.” She was born in Africa but ended her life as a Vermonter. Shanta has worked with the Brattleboro Words project to help Lucy’s poetry come alive.
Shanta Lee Gander: When we look at the roots of our country, it’s usually through the lens of white men and, you know, those who had power and land and slaves. I’m hoping that the story of Lucy and Abijah Prince helps shift the narrative.
It’s well-known that Vermont is one of the whitest states in the Union. And so the stories of African American Vermonters like Lucy Terry Prince can sometimes get forgotten, no matter how important they were to our state’s and our nation’s history.
Before Your Time is presented by Vermont Humanities and the Vermont Historical Society. This episode was produced by Ryan Newswanger and Erick Eisenbiegler.
Thanks to our guests: Shanta Lee Gander, Paul Carnahan, Esme Kimber, Gabby Anzalone, Molly Veysey, and William Hart. Thanks to the Brattleboro Words Project and Reginald Martell for letting us use their recording of “Bars Fight.”
Music is by Michael Chapman and the Woodpiles, Euchmad, Abbas Premjee, and Hemlock.