“We’re going to be talking about Jeffrey Brace,” Vermont Historical Society executive director Steve Perkins said. “Jeffrey Brace was an amazing individual who lived a fraught, but very fruitful, life. He was kidnapped from Africa as a young man, enslaved in Barbados and then later in Connecticut. He fought in the French and Indian War, then the American Revolution, freed, lived as a free man in Vermont and lived long enough to tell his story.
“He was blind at the time,” Perkins continued. “He entitled it ‘The Blind African Slave, or Memoirs of Boyrereau Brinch, Nick-named Jeffrey Brace’. The story was told by Brace to a young lawyer in St. Albans (and was published locally in 1810). This is an insanely rare book at this point — very few copies known.”
“Solomon Northup, who a lot of us might have become familiar with about a decade ago from the screen version of his memoir, ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ — this predated Solomon Northup’s own autobiography by many decades, actually,” Mike Hoey said.
“Jeffrey Brace was taken as a teenager, so he remembers his time in Africa,” Perkins noted. “He remembers some of his language that he learned growing up. As far as scholars can tell based on the book, he probably was taken someplace in the area of modern-day Mali. (Brace was) sold to a ship’s captain named Isaac Mills, and Isaac Mills ended up using him as a soldier-sailor and he fought in the French and Indian War on the British side, and ended up joining the American Revolution. He fought on the side of the ultimate victors, the colonists. That service resulted in his manumission, and he made his way to Vermont — which was a place where one could get land relatively uninhabited — and he bought a piece of land right here in Poultney.
“He married when he got here,” Perkins added. “They had problems here in Poultney over time with neighbors who didn’t like having Black neighbors. One of them in particular would tap his maple trees, put cattle on his land and — in his words — even tried to take his children.”
Hoey asked, “For anybody that may be interested in learning more about Jeffrey Brace beyond what they might encounter in ‘The Blind African Slave’, what kinds of resources can all of you at the Vermont Historical Society point people to?”
“Go to the Vermont Historical Society’s website and our curriculum support site, Vermont History Explorer, that has a page on Jeffrey Brace,” Perkins answered. “Both websites do, and both have further resources, but there is a modern (2005) version of it now and has been transcribed, so you can find it. You can buy that book by (former UVM English associate professor) Kari Winter with an excellent essay, an introduction to the narrative.”