Weekly Update 2.10.19

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
Frederick Douglass,
American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman

     We hope this email finds you well, WeCAN readers. During the month of February we are sharing African-American history from within Windham County, Vermont; this week’s offering centers around Frederick Douglass and his trip to Brattleboro.

From an article by Anne Dempsey, in the Brattleboro Reformer February 8, 1994:  
     Before and during the Civil War, former slave and black orator Frederick Douglass traveled the speakers' circuit for the anti-slavery movement. By January 1866, the nation faced new challenges. The war had ended. Lincoln had been killed. Vice President Andrew Johnson had taken over the helm. Many newly freed black people found themselves homeless, hungry and unemployed. Douglass had new issues to address.
     On Jan. 4, 1866, Douglass spoke at Brattleboro's town hall. Before a full house, he stressed the importance of voting rights for the black population. He eulogized Abraham Lincoln for his signing the Emancipation Proclamation, winning the war against slavery and supporting the Freedmen's Bureau. He criticized Johnson, who opposed the black vote and supported southern states that instituted racist laws (called Black Codes). Johnson also restored to former Rebels land that the Freedman's Bureau had promised to newly freed blacks.
     Both Brattleboro papers supported Douglass' praise of Lincoln, but sidestepped his criticism of Johnson. The Vermont Phoenix described him as "modest in demeanor, quiet in manner," while expressing "his thoughts with grace and force." The Vermont Record noted "his sentiments were. . .endorsed by hearty applause." It also remarked that Douglass was a "radical," wanting too much too fast, "but radical men are useful in preparing the public mind for great questions and great changes."
     Over President Johnson's protests, Congress did adopt a number of reforms Douglass had publicly advocated, in Brattleboro and elsewhere. During the summer of 1866, Congress began dismantling the Black Codes. Black males gained voting rights in 1870. But for most former slaves, the dream of owning 40 acres and a mule never was realized. A runaway slave himself, Douglass gave these thoughts on his escape in "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave Written by Himself":

     ‘The thought of leaving my friends was decidedly the most painful thought with which I had to contend. The love of them was my tender point, and shook my decision more than all things else. Besides the pain of separation, the dread and apprehension of a failure exceeded what I had experienced at my first attempt. The appalling defeat I then sustained returned to torment me. I felt assured that, if I failed in this attempt, my case would be a hopeless one -- it would seal my fate as a slave forever. I could not hope to get off with anything less than the severest punishment, and being placed beyond the means of escape. It required no very vivid imagination to depict the most frightful scenes through which I should have to pass, in case I failed. The wretchedness of slavery, and the blessedness of freedom were perpetually before me. It was life and death with me. But I remained firm and according to my resolution, on the 3rd day of September, 1838, I left my chains and succeeded in reaching N. Y. without the slightest interruption of any kind.’"

     To discuss the life and works of Frederick Douglass in more depth, we recommend attending the Reading Frederick Douglass 2019 Event on Monday, February 11th at the Rockingham Free Public Library in Bellows Falls at 6pm (details are below, in the body of this email). We look forward to seeing you there!

 

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Weekly Update 2.18.19

"People do not appreciate how far we have fallen from normal standards of presidential accountability. Today we have a president who is willing not only to comment prejudicially on criminal prosecutions, but to comment on ones that potentially affect him. He does both of these things almost daily. He is not just sounding a dog whistle; he is lobbying for a result. The president has stepped over bright ethical and moral lines wherever he has encountered them. Every day brings a new low, with the president exposing himself as a deliberate liar who will say whatever he pleases to get whatever he wants. If he were "on the box" at Quantico, he would break the machine."
Former FBI Director Andrew McCabe,
from his book The Threat: How the F.B.I. Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump 

     Hello WeCAN readers. We'd like to call your attention to an emergency action scheduled for this Monday, February 18th (President's Day). Our community will be gathering in Pliny Park in Brattleboro at 5:00pm to raise our voices against the xenophobic border wall and Trump's "national emergency". Details below. We hope to see you there.

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Weekly Update 2.25.19

"See, we (African Americans) didn’t come from nowhere. We have a background, and that background can be traced right down to the roots."
Daisy Turner (1883-1988)
American storyteller, poet, and Vermonter

     We hope you are having a fantastic weekend, WeCAN friends. We would like to continue our glimpse into African American history in Windham County this week with a look at renowned storyteller Daisy Turner (1883-1988) and the Turner family of Grafton, VT.
     Daisy Turner was born in Grafton, one of thirteen children born to parents who were former slaves. Turner's great-grandmother was shipwrecked while traveling from England to Africa on her honeymoon during the early 19th century. She was saved by an African chieftain's son, and had a child with him (Daisy's grandfather, Alexander). Alexander was captured by a slave trader and eventually taken to a plantation in Port Royal, Virginia. There, Daisy's father, Alec, was born a slave. Alec was taught to read by the master's granddaughter and later escaped, joining the Union Army during the Civil War. After the Civil War, the Turner family moved north, where her father worked in a saw mill and raised enough money to purchase a 100 acres in Grafton and build Journey's End Farm. The land where Alec Turner and his wife, Sally, built their home was wild and uninhabited. When the family first arrived, Dairy Turner later said, “there wasn’t a place big enough (for) two chairs to set, for the lumber and the trees.”
     The family and its farm grew, though, as did the Turners’ reputation in Grafton and their role in town life. Information recently compiled by local preservationists says the Turners “had three pews” at the Baptist church in Grafton and also sang at the Phelps Hotel, now the Grafton Inn. Both Alec Turner and his daughter Daisy were known as vivid storytellers. Her stories have been immortalized both in print – “Daisy Turner’s Kin” by Jane C. Beck was released in 2015 – and in recordings made by the Middlebury-based Vermont Folklife Center, which maintains a Daisy Turner exhibit.
      The Turner family history also has a strong and growing presence in the village of Grafton. There’s a Turner exhibit at the Grafton Historical Society’s museum, and a volunteer group working under the auspices of the Windham Foundation recently created the Turner Hill Interpretive Center in town. The museum and interpretive center are listed as a stop on the Vermont African American Heritage Trail as is the Turner Hill Wildlife Management Area, a sprawling state-owned property that includes the former Turner homestead. Much of what the Turners built has disappeared, unfortunately. Their main house, constructed in 1886, burned to the ground in 1962 and several other structures are no longer standing. 
     Birchdale Camp, erected in 1911, is a 1½-story cabin that was “an important source of revenue” for the family because it was rented to “summer boarders and fall hunters,” according to a VT archaeological survey; it is the only original structure left standing on the Turner property. 
     The cabin is located at the top of a steep hill with one lane access. Plans are in action, though, to make the structure and the area surrounding it accessible so that people can visit.
     Daisy Turner was proud of her family heritage, and was a strong, outspoken woman from childhood to her death at the age of 104. 
Daisy is remembered as a gifted storyteller and family historian. She is the subject of the Vermont Folklife Center's Peabody Award-winning audio documentary, "Journey's End: The Memories and Traditions of Daisy Turner". Stories from her life have also been the subject of two Vermont Folklife Center books, "Alec's Primer" and "Daisy and the Doll".

The Turner family homestead is located on the "Daisy Turner Loop", a biking trail near Grafton Pond. You can find more information about the Daisy Turner Interpretive Center here: https://www.turnerhillgrafton.org and you can learn more about the Vermont African American Heritage Trail, of which the Vermont Folklife Center is a stop, here: http://vtafricanamericanheritage.net/Visit/.

 



References: http://vtafricanamericanheritage.net/Visit/, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daisy_Turner_(storyteller), https://vermonthistory.org/research/vermont-women-s-history/database/turner-daisy, https://historicsites.vermont.gov/sites/historicsites/files/Documents/African-American-Heritage-Trail-2017-laura-web.pdf, https://www.turnerhillgrafton.orghttps://vtdigger.org/2017/08/13/grafton-black-history-rooted-landscape/ 

 

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Weekly Update 3.4.19

"Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women…know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled…in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish.”
Audre Lorde (1934-1992)
American writer, feminist, womanist, librarian, and civil rights activist best known for technical mastery and emotional expression in her writing; her poetry expressed anger and outrage at civil and social injustices she observed throughout her life

     Happy March, Friends, and happy Women's History Month as well! We'd like to continue our look into notable figures in Windham County with a look at Lucy Terry Prince (b.1724 - d.1821, in Sunderland, VT) and her extraordinary life as a freed slave turned unofficial lawyer, poet, and orator. She was the author of what is considered to be the oldest (and first) known printed work of literature by an African American, Bars Fight (pub.1855) and she successfully defended her family’s claim in a disputed land case in front of the newly formed U.S. Supreme Court.
     Lucy Terry was born in Africa and was stolen from her family and brought to the United States as an infant. As a young girl of about 5 years old she was moved to Deerfield, Massachusetts, where she was owned by Ebenezer Wells. By the time she was a young woman Lucy was held in esteem by her neighbors in Deerfield and was recorded as being the village poet and historian. In 1746 Lucy witnessed the terrible Native American (Indian) massacre, known as the Bars Fight (bars was the colonial term for meadow). Lucy was only sixteen at the time, but she wrote two poetic versions of the battle involving Native Americans and two settler families. It was called ’The fullest contemporary account of that bloody tragedy which has been preserved' at the time. In 1756 Lucy married Abijah Prince, a former slave to Reverend Benjamin Doolittle of nearby Northfield, Massachusetts who purchased Lucy from Wells. When Doolittle died he freed Bijah and deeded him land in a part of Northfield, MA that is now Vernon, Vermont. 
     Lucy and Bijah were married in Deerfield; their homestead became known during their time there as Bijah's Brook, and Lucy was called Luce (sic) Bijah. Here, her reputation as a storyteller and poet grew. According to Deerfield history she was popular with young people who would gather around her kitchen at night to hear her stories and original poems. 'Lucy was a noted character, and her house was a great place of resort for the young people, attracted thither by her wit and wisdom, often shown in her rhyme and stories.' 
     Bijah was never content to stay in one place for long and he seemed to have had a hunger for land. One of the first large parcels he owned was a 100-acre homestead in Guilford, Vermont, which was granted to him by Colonel David Field of Deerfield. He moved to Guilford with his family in 1764, but did not stay long. The Princes moved back to Deerfield for a while, and eventually to Sunderland, Vermont, near Bennington. Bijah was one of the original grantees of Sunderland, and the only one to actually homestead there. Unhappily, Bijah's claim to his land was contested by Colonel Eli Bronson and this led to a heated legal dispute which went all the way to the newly formed United States Supreme Court. Colonel Bronson hired two of Vermont's most prominent lawyers, General Stephen Bradley and Royal Tyler (later a chief justice of Vermont). The Princes hired Isaac Tichenor to draw the pleadings, but it was Lucy herself who argued the case in court! She not only won, but Samuel Chase, the presiding judge, was so impressed by her logic and passion that he claimed 'Lucy made a better argument than he had ever heard from a lawyer in Vermont.'
     Around 1780 the Princes returned to their homestead in Guilford. Bijah again ran into trouble with his land. His neighbors to the north, the Noyes, for reasons undetermined. burned his fences and hayricks. The harassment continued unabated until the Princes were compelled to take legal action. They appealed to the highest state tribunal of the time (1785), the VT Governor's Council. Lucy again lead the case. The Princes were judged 'much injured’ and the Governor recommended to the Selectmen of Guilford to 'take some effectual Measures to protect the said Abijah, Lucy, and family.’
     Lucy most likely lived to be over 100 years old. Sheldon commented in his book History of Deerfield, 'In the checked lives of Abijah Prince and Lucy Terry is found a realistic romance going beyond the wildest flights of fiction.' Lucy was lively and stubborn to the last. There is a story, probably apocryphal judging from her character, that when she returned to Deerfield, an elderly woman, to visit her former master, she refused to take supper at the family's dinner table, saying, 'No, no Missy, I know my place.' 
     As this account shows, Lucy never knew her place; instead, she made it.*

*Resources: https://www.guilfordvt.net/?SEC=25184677-0F84-4B60-B6CA-6B9B78CCB34B#D24AD6B0-4D45-441A-BE53-0F7C4045D43E, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bars_Fight, https://vermonthistory.org/research/vermont-women-s-history/timelines/women-1777-1900?id=852, https://vermonthistory.org/research/vermont-women-s-history/database/prince-lucy?tmpl=component&print=1&page=, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part2/2p15.html

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