First Black College Grad First Studied in Randolph
Front Page / Jan. 18, 2007 12:00am EST
First Black College Grad First Studied in Randolph By Miriam Herwig
The first Afro-American to graduate from any American college prepared right here in Randolph Center at the Orange County Grammar School, and attended the Congregational Church.
His name was Alexander Twilight, and he was born in Corinth on September 23, 1795, one of five children of William and Mary Twilight. The name must have indicated that he was not dark, which is proven by photos of the man, although they were listed as "colored."
Because his father died when Alexander was young, he was bound out to a farmer in town until, in 1815, he bought out the last year of his indenture. Otherwise he would have had to serve until he was 21.
Now that he was his own man, he headed straight for the school familiarly known as Randolph Academy, where he enrolled, working his way through. Founded in 1806, this institution of higher learning, the earliest predecessor of Vermont Tech, was co-ed from the beginning. Here students prepared to become teachers or to go on to college.
And on to college he went, graduating form Middlebury in 1823. His dream of becoming a teacher and stimulating others to lead useful, informed lives was realized. He taught four years in Peru, N.Y., where he married Mercy Merrill, and studied to become a licensed preacher.
1828 he went to Vergennes, where he taught school during the week and preached on Sunday at Ferrisburgh and Waltham alternately for one year.
Next he went to Brownington to head the Orleans County Grammar School and preach in the nearby church. Encouraged by such men as Ira Allen, Alexander endeavored to make it a place deserving of a high reputation.
When, in 1836, Legislature contemplated halving the $400 raised annually for the school, Alexander was chosen Brownington’s representative. Very likely that made him the first black legislator in America. Although he worked hard to prevent the division of money, it passed, and Alexander struck out on his own to build larger quarters for his school.
Granite quarried on his own land went into the building of four-story Athenian Hall, known to us today as the Stone House, museum of Orleans County Historical society.
For 18 years, Twilight labored at the County Grammar School, but in 1847, for unknown reasons, he went to Quebec to teach for five years. Meanwhile, without him, the school closed down and he was asked to return, which he did, teaching for three more years until he suffered a stroke. He died on June 19, 1857 and was buried in the cemetery near his school.
His legacy is one of well-earned success, the story of a poor black farm boy who strove for a life of integrity and service, influencing many in his career as educator and leaving an example for us to be proud of.