September 26, 1795|
|Died||June 19, 1857
|Spouse(s)||Mercy Ladd Merrill|
Alexander Lucius Twilight (September 26, 1795 – June 19, 1857), born free in Vermont, was the first African-American person known to have earned a bachelor's degree from an American college or university upon graduating Middlebury College in 1823. An educator, minister and politician, he was licensed as a Congregational preacher, and worked in ministry and education all his career. In 1829 Twilight became principal of the Orleans County Grammar School. There he designed and built Athenian Hall, the first granite public building in the state. In 1836 he was the first African American elected to public office as a state legislator, serving in the Vermont General Assembly.
Early life and education
Alexander Lucius Twilight was born September 26, 1795, at Corinth, Vermont. His father Ichabod Twilight was free, of mixed-race, and a Revolutionary War veteran. His mother Mary, also free, was described as white or light-skinned.
Twilight worked for a neighboring farmer in Corinth, starting around 1802 when he was eight years old. For the next 12 years he read, studied, and learned mathematics while working in various farm labor positions.
He enrolled in Randolph’s Orange County Grammar School in 1815 at the age of 20. From 1815 to 1821, he completed all secondary school courses as well as the first two years of a college-level curriculum. He then attended Middlebury College in 1821, where he graduated in 1823. His baccalaureate degree made him the first African American to receive a degree from an American institution of higher learning, although this fact was not made widely known until Amherst College claimed to have awarded the first bachelor's degree to an African American to Edward Jones in 1826.
Twilight studied for the ministry with the Congregational Church and served several Congregational churches. His career was in ministry and education, fields which were considered closely allied at the time. His first job was teaching in Peru, New York.
While continuing to teach, Twilight studied theology, the church and the ministry. He occasionally led worship services and preached. The Champlain Presbytery of Plattsburgh licensed him to preach.
In 1829 Twilight was hired as principal of the Orleans County, Vermont Grammar School in Brownington, the only secondary school in a two-county area. He also served as minister of the Congregational Church, building a house for his family shortly after arrival, which still stands.
Wanting to ensure a place for students from out of town, from 1834-1836 Twilight designed, raised funds for, and had built a massive four-story granite building which he called Athenian Hall. The first granite public building in Vermont, it served as a dormitory for the co-educational school, also known as the Brownington Academy. Both buildings are today part of a recognized historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
He left his job as headmaster in 1847.
After his death on June 19, 1857, Twilight was buried in the churchyard in Brownington.
Marriage and family
After they came to Brownington and built a house, they used the second floor to house students who needed a place to board for school.
Legacy and honors
- Alexander Twilight House (1830), still stands across the street from the hall, and serves as headquarters for the Orleans County Historical Society. It is within the Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).
- Athenian Hall (1834–36) is now operated by the Orleans County Historical Society as the Old Stone House Museum, and anchors the Historic District of Brownington. It was the first granite public building in Vermont.
Howard Frank Mosher, Vermont Life Magazine, Autumn, 1996:
"I like the way the Stone House still looms up on that hilltop, where the wind blows all the time. There it sits, unshaken and monolithic, as I write this sentence and as you read it, every bit as astonishing today as the day it was completed. What a tribute to the faith of its creator, the Reverend Alexander Twilight: scholar, husband, teacher, preacher, legislator, father-away-from-home to nearly 3,000 boys and girls, an African American and a Vermonter of great vision, whose remains today lie buried in the church-yard just up the maple-lined dirt road from his granite school, in what surely was, and still is, one of the last best places anywhere."
- The Alexander Twilight Auditorium at Lyndon State College is named in Twilight's memory.
- Alexander Twilight Hall at Middlebury College was named in Twilight's memory.
- The Aspire Alexander Twilight College Preparatory Academy in Sacramento, CA was named in Twilight's memory. It opened in Fall 2009.
- "Alexander Twilight", Black Past, accessed 15 Dec 2008
- Old Stone House Museum.
- "A History of Amherst College".
- "Alexander Twilight House", Old Stone Museum, accessed 15 Dec 2008
- "Athenian Hall", Old Stone House Museum, accessed 15 Dec 2008.
- He was the second Afro-American to be elected to any office, behind Wentworth Cheswell of New Hampshire.
- Northeast Kingdom Civil War Roundtable newsletter, March 2009.
- Aspire Alexander Twilight College Preparatory Academy.
- Hahan, Michael T. Alexander Twilight, Vermont's African American Pioneer. The New England Press, Inc.: 1998. ISBN 1-881535-31-2.