Among Vermont’s early settlers, African Americans tilled the land, built homes and fought in the Revolutionary War. African Americans helped to establish communities in the new state of Vermont, and they fought to support the Union cause in the Civil War. They studied in Vermont schools and went on to become leaders in government, religion and education.
The Vermont African American Heritage Trail brings students to museums and cultural sites where exhibits, films, tours and personal stories illuminate the lives of African Americans for whom the Green Mountain State was part of their identity. Locations along the route chronicle eras, people and events significant in Vermont’s African American history.
“Vermont offers educational/student groups unique tour options,” said Karen Ballard, program manager at Vermont Tourism Network. “From history, to science, fun and teambuilding, it’s the perfect combination. The African American Heritage Trail offers groups the opportunity to explore African American history, combined with the iconic outdoor experiences Vermont is known for.”
Vermont Tourism Network
As a National Historic Landmark, Rokeby Museum is an unrivaled underground railroad site. Multimedia exhibits and guided tours share the stories of fugitives from slavery who were harbored by Vermont abolitionists. From 1793 to 1961, Rokeby was home to four generations of Robinsons — a family of Quakers, farmers, abolitionists, artists and authors. Fugitives at Rokeby stayed for months working on the Robinsons’ farm. Students can tour the Robinsons’ home, visit eight historic farm buildings and explore the walking trails.
Located in the Stephen A. Douglas Birthplace, the Brandon Museum offers exhibits, a film and a walking tour that explain how a small Vermont town became part of the national Abolitionist movement. The museum details Brandon history and the impact of the Civil War on the town. Students learn how Brandon native, Stephen A. Douglas (Abraham Lincoln’s presidential opponent in 1860) rose to national prominence and how his hometown resoundingly rejected his politics due to his stance on slavery.
Hildene, The Lincoln Family Home
Robert Lincoln, son of the great emancipator Abraham Lincoln, built his home in Manchester in 1905 during his tenure as president of the Pullman Company. At the turn of the 20th century, the company was the largest employer of African Americans in the country. The 412-acre estate was home to three generations of the president’s descendants. Hildene’s roster of school programs covers topics in natural science and history. Pullman Porters: Unsung Heroes is a program built around Hildene’s 1903 Pullman car and is adaptable for students of varying ages.
Old Constitution House State Historic Site
In 1777, the first Constitution of the “Free and Independent State of Vermont” was adopted at the Windsor Tavern. It was the first Constitution in America to prohibit slavery. The tavern is preserved as the Old Constitution House State Historic Site and looks much like it did more than 200 years ago. Exhibits recount the writing of the most progressive Constitution of its time and examine its effect on the politics of the young nation.
Old Stone House Museum and Brownington Village
Old Stone House Museum is the site of Alexander Twilight’s home, school and church, and the building he constructed to house students of the Orleans County Grammar School. With buildings dating from 1823 to 1848, the museum is located in the Brownington Village Historic District where Twilight’s dormitory — Athenian Hall — dominates the landscape. Reverend Alexander Twilight was the first African American to earn a bachelor’s degree from an American college or university. On-site tours begin in the Twilight House, located across from the museum, and usually last 60–90 minutes.