Discovering Black Vermont
African American Farmers in Hinesburgh, 1790-1890
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: University of Vermont Press
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More than a dozen years ago, I discovered that a black family, the Williamses, had moved to South Burlington, Vermont, in 1865 and farmed land not far from where I lived. Having studied the Vermont census reports from 1790 to 1870, I knew that it was unusual for a family of color to own farmland in Vermont at that time. Only 4 percent of black farmers owned land, as compared to 32 percent for the total population....
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We drove slowly up the wooded dirt road, scattered with crumbling stone walls and arthritic apple trees barely visible through the underbrush, to what used to be called “the old Negro burying ground.” As I studied the landscape, I became increasingly excited about exploring the remnants of an older world that coexists with our contemporary one. This isolated Vermont...
1 | Founding Mothers and Fathers of the Hill, 1790s–1800s
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Shubael Clark paused his horse at the bottom of the Hill and studied the 2,000-foot rise that was darkened by a canopy of old-growth beech and maple trees, many six feet around, that prevented the sunshine from reaching the forest floor.1 Mushrooms and mosses grew profusely in the moisture that never leaves woodlands like this. He had ridden north from Monkton to Hinesburgh on a well-used path; the mud was a foot...
2 | Peaks and Valleys on the Hill Farms, 1810s–1820s
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From statehood to 1810, Vermont was the fastest-growing state in the union, increasing from a population of 85,000 in 1791 to about 218,000. Most migrants were farmers, and many, like the Clarks and Peterses, made permanent homes in the Green Mountains. However, as the once thick forest humus was burned, leached, and cropped off, the soil lost its fertility, and farms became less productive. As a result, Vermont became...
3 | Life and Death on the Hill, 1830s–1840s
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As the nineteenth century advanced, manufacturing in Hinesburgh flourished and life gradually became easier for those who could afford to buy the expanded services and products of the industrial age. In 1832, Rufus Patrick started an iron foundry to manufacture agricultural tools, making it unnecessary to travel the dozen miles south to Vergennes to purchase such implements. In the 1840s, Clark Whitehorn added another...
4 | Prelude to War, 1850–1860
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From statehood to 1850, Vermonters had experienced political, geographical, religious and socioeconomic transformation. The old-growth forest had almost completely disappeared, and larger dairy farms were replacing mixed agricultural plots as milk products became important to the state’s economy. Sizeable Greek revival homes graced the streets...
5 | The Civil War Years, 1861–1865
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If one believes in nature foreshadowing human events, an 1858 storm
in Hinesburgh and Huntington provides fodder for one’s imagination.
it had been dry and sultry for several days preceding the 3rd, and about 3 o’clock in the afternoon the storm which Nature had been brewing...
6 | The Post–Civil War Years
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After the Civil War, an exhausted nation began the task of reconstructing the destroyed South. Gaining suffrage for those recently freed became a priority of both blacks and northern whites. Historian Mia Bay claims that much of the Northerners1 eagerness for civil rights was based on their desire for blacks to stay in the South and grow cotton for Northern mills. Passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments...
Some Conclusions: Vulnerable Spaces
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While scholarship on urban black communities and identities is ubiquitous, rural areas have been so understudied that we cannot make generalizations about them. This story adds not only to our knowledge of rural black history but also to little-studied contacts between rural blacks and whites.1 Through intimate stories of small places we can start to understand real people, such as these Hill families, who often created...
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This project could never have been accomplished without the dedicated people who oversee archival materials, and I am indebted to them for their help: Vermont town clerks: Olga M. Hallock and Heidi Racht of Huntington, Melissa Ross and Cheryl Hubbard of Hinesburg, Helen McKinlay of Pittsford, Carmelita Burritt of Monkton, and Deborah Beckett of Williston. I am also indebted to the UVM Special Collections...
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Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2010