This Place In History: Early Black Settlers

HINESBURG, Vt.

 

This Place in History heads to Lincoln Hill in Hinesburg, Vt. with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society, Steve Perkins.

"We're looking at a really interesting piece of Vermont's history, African Americans and freed slaves from 1795 to the 1940s. What was their life like? How did they work with the people around them? What was this community and what did it mean to Vermont?"

Elise Guyette is a Vermont historian and author of "Discovering Black Vermont: African American Farmers in Hinesburg, 1790 to 1890".

"I first find the Clark family who moved to the top of the hill from Monkton in 1795. A few years later, the Peters family moved down here, " said Guyette. Gesturing to the land on either side of Lincoln Hill Road at the base, she added, "This was all their property. They had 100 acres and they had some on the other side, as well"

Often, Vermont has a reputation as a more racially tolerant region of the country. Guyette found in her research, that was likely the case for the first black settlers who came to Hinesburg.

"The first who came, that was right after the Revolution. That was a period of freedom and justice for all. There were more enslaved people freed during that Revolutionary Era, until the Civil War. After awhile, I think the white world was not comfortable with the number of freed blacks. When they were first here, they were very successful. The Clarks at the top of the hill were very successful until the Civil War. I see things that happen later that shows they were part of the wider world; that Vermont was part of the wider world, and started treating blacks differently" explained Guyette.

"These were fairly well-off families, relatively speaking, because of the land they owned. They didn't sell and were here for generations," said Perkins.

"They were here for generations. The Peters are still around. They've probably been here for several hundred years. The Clarks at the top of the hill were here for about seventy years. They ended up leaving right after the Civil War. They sold their property and bought in other places, in South Burlington and Williston, and farmed there for the rest of their lives," confirmed Guyette.

Evidence of the community is hard to see, now.

"On the hill there is an abandoned cemetery. We can still see a fieldstone and some shards from vandalized stones. There's a house up there that was built by the second generation. There are signs here and there, cellar holes, stone walls and some houses. I was really excited to find that."

"As historians, we try to connect with what's going on today. Are there takeaways from the research you've done that we could look to today," asked Perkins.

"The first is that this community existed and for so long. Vermont doesn't really have a great track record with faxing our history and writing the history of people of color. That was the most amazing thing, from the beginning," responded Guyette. She added, "Secondly to see the ups and downs. That's what history is, ups and downs, and their lives follow that.

To see all of our This Place in History stories with the Vermont Historical Society, click here.

Explore more of Vermont's history! Click here for a map of Vermont's roadside historic markers.


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