Today we celebrate another early pioneer who broke multiple color barriers in the 19th Century: educator, legislator, and clergyman Alexander Twilight. Born in Corinth, VT in 1795, Twilight was probably of mixed race although hi’s parents are recorded in the town archives as “the first negroes” to settle in the area. As a youth he performed farm work while pursuing his education. He entered Middlebury College as Junior in 1821. When he graduated two years later, he became the first African-American to receive a degree from an American college.
He began teaching in Peru, NY, where he met and married Mercy Ladd Merrill. He also continued his studies, focusing on theology. After a few more years of teaching in various north Vermont towns, he was invited to be the principal of the Orleans County Grammar School in Brownington, VT, the only school serving two counties. After settling into his post he also became the minister of the local Congregational church. His school grew quickly, and he did not have room for boarding students. He pressed his board for funds and when turned down found independent funding to build Athenian Hall. Now know as the Old Stone House, it was the first granite building in the state and was large enough to house the Twilight family, boarding students and some school business functions. It is now a museum for Orleans County.
Alarmed by plans to split his district in two — he stridently maintained that one good district was far superior to two mediocre ones — Twilight sought a seat in the Vermont General Assembly. When he won the office, he became the first African-American elected to a state legislature. Most historians agree that he was in fact the first African-American elected official of any sort in the country.
Known for his iron will as well as his grace and humor, Twilight continued to butt heads with his board, eventually resigning and moving to Quebec. After four years the school was on the brink of closure and he was invited back. He resumed his posts as principal and minister. Twilight suffered a stroke in 1855 and was forced to retire. He died two years later and was buried in Brownington. A number of buildings and schools around the country have been named in honor of this pioneer.