Hidden History: Alexander Twilight

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BROWNINGTON, Vt.

In honor of Black History Month, Vermont Historical Society Executive Director Steve Perkins takes us to the Old Stone House Museum in Brownington to learn about Alexander Twilight.

“We’re going to explore Alexander Twilight, an amazing Vermonter, a lot of firsts, an incredible mind. Also, we know now he was of African American descent. We’re going to go inside the Old Stone House Museum, which is one of the buildings he built here on the property.”

“Executive Director Peggy Day Gibson is here to inform us and let us know all of these great things about Alexander Twilight,” added Perkins.

“Alexander Twilight was the headmaster of the Orleans County Grammar School from 1829 when he came here, until he died in 1857. And he is well known now to have been the first African American college graduate in the United States. He graduated from Middlebury College in 1823. He was also the first person of African American descent to be elected to public office in the United States. He was hired to be the representative from Brownington to the Vermont State Legislature in 1836,” said Gibson.

“The Old Stone House was built to be the dormitory for out of town students to the Orleans County Grammar School. And Alexander developed the school to such a high level and it was so well regarded that people were sending students from eastern Quebec, from southern Vermont and New Hampshire.”

“We now know that Alexander Twilight was of African decent. But at the time in Brownington, the census listed him as white. Do you know anything about how the community worked with him, what they saw him as? Or was he just another educator here in town?” asked Perkins.

“I think they saw him as a brilliant man and better educated than most around here. And they didn’t see him as a black man, he was of mixed race. He was at least half white, if not three-quarters white, and I think at the time it was to his advantage not to raise an issue about his black heritage. In fact, I think that when this all came to light in the 1950s, that he was of African American descent, a lot of people around here were shocked. They had no idea,” responded Gibson.

To view our ‘This Place in History’ series, and throughout Black History Month, ‘Hidden History’ series, click here.

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