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Historic marker to honor Princes

A slate of speakers will reflect on Lucy Terry Prince, the nation’s first African American poet, and husband, Abijah

GUILFORD—The Brattleboro Words Trail is collaborating with community partners to host an official dedication of a state historic marker recognizing the achievements of Lucy Terry Prince, considered the nation’s first African American poet, and her husband, Abijah Prince.

The Princes, early Black landowners in Guilford and Sunderland, Vt. in the mid-1700s, eloquently advocated for civil rights.

A drummer and special speakers will commemorate the placement of the marker at the Guilford Welcome Center (Exit 1 on Interstate 91) Tuesday, Oct. 19 from 11 to 11:30 a.m.

Speakers will include:

• Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, a former Guilford resident who wrote the Pulitzer Prize–nominated book Mr. and Mrs. Prince: How an Extraordinary Eighteenth-Century Family Moved Out of Slavery and into Legend. An alumna of Marlboro College, she’s been a tenured full professor at Vassar College, Barnard College/Columbia University, and Dartmouth College, and she currently chairs the biography program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

• Shanta Lee Gander, Brattleboro-based multimedia artist who has written about and portrayed Lucy Prince dramatically as an Advisory Team Member of the Brattleboro Words Trail, including ongoing efforts to establish the historic marker. She will perform Lucy Terry Prince’s one and only known work “Bars Fight.”

Gander and Desmond Peeples produced the Lucy Terry Prince audio story for the Brattleboro Words Trail.

• Curtiss Reed, executive director of Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity and founder of the Vermont African American Heritage Trail, on which the Prince memorial will eventually be a first stop.

• Lissa Weinmann, Brattleboro Words Trail co-founder and executive producer, who will welcome attendees.

• Verandah Porche, poet and vice chair of the Guilford Selectboard, who will emcee the event.

• Laura V. Trieschmann, state historic preservation officer, who will present the Vermont Roadside Historic Site as the administrator of the program and as a representative of Gov. Phil Scott.

Other local elected and town officials will also be on hand for the dedication.

Sayon Camara, of Guinea, West Africa, a current Vermont resident, will perform on African drums.

Lucy Terry Prince is recognized as the United States’ first known African American poet, a truth teller and bearer of witness of the famed Deerfield Massacre involving colonists and indigenous inhabitants of the area. Her poem “Bars Fight” survived in oral tradition for 100 years before being published on the front page of the Springfield Republican upon her death in 1821.

The Brattleboro Words Trail submitted the application for a historic site marker for the Princes at the Guilford Welcome Center to share this important Vermont history with almost 800,000 people estimated annually. The Guilford Historical Society and the Guilford Selectboard both voted in support the marker.

“Lucy and Abijah Prince, an African American family, were among the very first settlers in Vermont,” said Gerzina. “It’s so important that Vermonters know this history, which may surprise many and should revise the way people imagine Vermont history and the way that it’s taught.”

The event is co-hosted by the Brattleboro Words Trail, the town of Guilford, and the Guilford Historical Society.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #634 (Wednesday, October 13, 2021). This story appeared on page B4.

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