In honor of Black History Month, Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins takes us to the Wolcott United Methodist Church to learn more about Reverend George S. Brown.
“George S. Brown was a reverend of African descent who ended up here in northern Vermont, in Wolcott, in the 1800s. He built this church. Reverend Pat Thompson, who’s done a lot of research on Brown, is inside to tell us more,” said Perkins.
“George S. Brown was born in Newport, Rhode Island in 1801. By 1827, he ended up in Kingsbury, New York, near Glens Falls. In his words, he was recovering from the effects of many years of carousing,” explained Thompson.
“By 1833, he had been issued a license to preach by the Troy Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, that covered northern New York and western Vermont at the time. As far as we know, that was the first license to preach issued to an African American in the Troy Conference.”
“Now we don’t know how he happened to come to Wolcott. The Burlington Free Press reports that in 1855, there was a revival here and in Elmore, and several conversions. It’s my guess that the presiding elder sent [Brown] here to see what he could do. On April 29, 1856 members voted that they needed to have a church building,” added Thompson.
“We’re talking pre Civil War. You had a black minister in Wolcott, Vermont, far into the countryside, pulling together a congregation to build a church,” elaborated Perkins.
In examining the church’s collection of Brown documents, Thompson explained their significance.
“This is the original class lists in George S. Brown’s handwriting. That is his signature. He kept lists of each class, the Village Class, Town Hill Class and East Hill Class. Then, we have the minutes of the April 29, 1856 meeting. A motion to build a house carried unanimously. Trustees were appointed by the chairman, which would have been George S. Brown. It is amazing to me that in 1856, any group of white men allowed a black man to appoint them as the trustees,” said Thompson.
To view our This Place in History series, and throughout Black History Month, Hidden History series, click here.
For a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.