Alexander Twilight

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Alexander Twilight
Alexander Lucius Twilight (daguerrotype).jpg
Member of the Vermont Legislature
from the district
In office
1836–1857
Personal details
Born (1795-09-23)September 23, 1795
Corinth, Vermont, U.S.
Died June 19, 1857(1857-06-19) (aged 61)
Brownington, Vermont, U.S.
Nationality American
Spouse(s) Mercy Ladd Merrill
Profession Minister (Christianity)

Alexander Lucius Twilight (September 23, 1795 – June 19, 1857) was an American educator, minister and politician. He is the first African-American known to have earned a bachelor's degree from an American college or university, graduating from Middlebury College in 1823. He was licensed as a Congregational preacher and worked in education and ministry 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 as a state legislator, serving in the Vermont General Assembly; he was also the only African-American ever elected to a state legislature before the Civil War.

His house and Athenian Hall are included in the Brownington Village Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).

Early life and education[edit]

Alexander Lucius Twilight was born September 23, 1795, at Corinth, Vermont.[1] Both his parents were free and mixed race, of African and English descent. It is unknown if they were born free; they were likely descendants of African slaves and English ancestors. His father Ichabod Twilight was a Revolutionary War veteran. His mother Mary was described as 'white' or 'light-skinned,' implying she was of partial African descent.[2] His parents were both listed in the Corinth town history as “the first negroes to settle in Corinth.”[3]

Starting around 1802 when he was eight years old, Twilight worked for a neighboring farmer in Corinth. Working from an early age was typical of working-class children of his era. For the next 12 years he read, studied, and learned mathematics while working in various farm labor positions.[3]

Twilight 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.[3] He enrolled in Middlebury College in 1821, where he graduated in 1823 with a bachelor's degree. He was the first known African American to receive a degree from an American institution of higher learning. This did not become widely known until 1826, when Amherst College awarded a bachelor's degree to Edward Jones and claimed that he was the first African American to earn the degree.[4]

Career[edit]

Twilight studied for the ministry with the Congregational Church and served several Congregational churches.[2] His career was in ministry and education, fields which were considered closely allied. 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.[3]

Twilight taught for four years in Peru, then moved to Vergennes, Vermont in 1828 to teach during the week and hold services on weekends in Waltham and Ferrisburg.[3]

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.[5]

Photo of the Old Stone House, Brownington, Vermont.
Athenian Hall, now better known as The Old Stone House.

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,[2] it served as a dormitory for the co-educational school, also known as the Brownington Academy. Both his home and Athenian Hall are today part of a recognized historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[2][6]

In 1836, Twilight was elected to the Vermont General Assembly, becoming the first African American to be elected to a state legislature.[7]

He left his job as headmaster in 1847.[8]

After his death on June 19, 1857, Twilight was buried in the churchyard in Brownington.[2]

Marriage and family[edit]

From 1825 to 1829, Twilight worked as a teacher in Peru, New York,[3] There Twilight, 31, married Mercy Ladd Merrill in 1826.[2] Born in Unity, New Hampshire to a family of means, she was about 21 or 22.

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[edit]

Alexander Twilight Hall at Middlebury College.
  • Alexander Twilight House (1830), still stands across the street from Athenian Hall. Today it serves as headquarters for the Orleans County Historical Society. It is within the Historic District 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.[2]
  • Howard Frank Mosher, wrote about the Stone House in 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."

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ "Catalogue of Officers and Students of Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont", Middlebury College
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Alexander Twilight", Black Past, accessed 15 Dec 2008
  3. ^ a b c d e f Old Stone House Museum.
  4. ^ "A History of Amherst College", Amherst College website
  5. ^ "Alexander Twilight House", Old Stone Museum, accessed 15 Dec 2008
  6. ^ "Athenian Hall", Old Stone House Museum, accessed 15 Dec 2008.
  7. ^ He was the second African American to be elected to any office, behind Wentworth Cheswell of New Hampshire.
  8. ^ Northeast Kingdom Civil War Roundtable newsletter, March 2009.
  9. ^ Aspire Alexander Twilight College Preparatory Academy.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hahan, Michael T. Alexander Twilight, Vermont's African American Pioneer. The New England Press, Inc.: 1998. ISBN 1-881535-31-2.

External links[edit]