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African Americans in Addison County, Charlotte, and Hinesburg, 1790-1860

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Why were there so few African Americans in nineteenth-century Vermont? This is a question asked many times a season at Rokeby Museum, a nationally significant underground railroad historic site and one of the few places in Vermont that interprets African-American history. Museum director Jane Williamson thought that visitors deserved an informed answer, so she set out to see what she could find. She searched town documents, church records, probate court files, newspapers, and the collections at both Rokeby and the Sheldon Museum to learn as much as possible about the lives of these African-American Vermonters. Did they own their homes and farms? Were they able to marry and form families? Did their children attend district schools? Did they vote in town meeting? Did they belong to local churches? To what extent were they integrated into community life, given that they were always a tiny percentage of the population and that racial prejudice was widespread?

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