Hidden History: Dinah



At ‘This Place in History’, Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins brings us to Windsor, Vermont.

“We’re exploring the curious case of Dinah, who was a slave in Vermont, which was a free state. So we’re standing in front of this house which was owned by Stephen Jacobs, an early Supreme Court Judge in Vermont. There were a number of Vermonters who we’re pretty sure owned slaves openly and the community really didn’t seem to care. A very prominent judge owned this slave from 1783 until at least 1801. We know about this because there was a Vermont Supreme Court case dealing with what happened to this slave after she got blinded, infirm and couldn’t work for him anymore. We have a number of very interesting documents at the Historical Society that deal with this case, so why don’t we head back there  and check those out,” began Perkins.

“This is a very early printed copy of the Vermont Constitution, printed in 1777, the year it was ratified. This is one of the foundational documents of this case and it’s referenced a lot. Chapter one Section one says that all men are born equally free. And it goes on to say that no male person born in this country or brought from overseas ought to be holden by law to serve any person as a servant, slave or apprentice after he arrives, to the age of 21 years. It goes on for the same for women as well, with a slightly lower age. This outlaws slavery by Constitution in the State of Vermont starting in 1777. Remember we talked about Dinah, a slave living in Windsor from 1783 to 1801,” said Perkins.

“In this folder we have a very rare document. This is a true copy of a receipt for a human being. It reads, “I, Jotham White of Charlestown, in the county of Cheshire, in the state of New Hampshire, gentleman, for and in the consideration of the sum of 40 pounds lawful money to me, in hand, paid by Stephen Jacob, Esquire, of Windsor, in the county of Windsor, in the state of Vermont, do hereby sell and deliver to the said Stephen Jacob, my Negro woman slave named Dinah, about 30 years of age,” read Perkins.

“So this is a person living in Vermont, where it is illegal to own a slave, going to New Hampshire, buying one and we know he brought her back with him. So this is the final piece of our puzzle. This is the Supreme Court record from when Royall Tyler was Assistant Judge with the Vermont Supreme Court. The main evidence in this case was the bill of sale, that he bought Dinah and kept her in Vermont.”

“The argument was that this evidence should be thrown out because slavery is illegal by the Constitution. So he threw out this bill of sale, ignoring that this man owned a slave and said, nope slavery is not allowed, so we don’t have to try this case; a very sad outcome for Dinah. It’s probably one of the darker years of the Vermont Supreme Court. Ultimately, the people of Windsor stepped forward and took care of Dinah throughout the rest of her life and she was cared for within the town,” concluded Perkins.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.

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