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Vermont museum to honor Alexander Twilight, America’s first Black college graduate and state legislator

Alexander Twilight started at Middlebury College in Vermont in 1821.
Alexander Twilight started at Middlebury College in Vermont in 1821.Old Stone House Museum

Next week, America’s first known Black college graduate and legislator turns 225 years old — and Vermont museum is marking the occasion with a multi-day celebration.

The Old Stone House Museum and Historic Village in Brownington, Vermont will honor Alexander Twilight with a string of activities from Sept. 20 though Sept. 23, his birthday. Over the summer, Vermont legislators officially set aside Wednesday as “Alexander Twilight Day” to commemorate the Middlebury College alumnus who went on to become an educator, minister, and, in 1836, the first African American to serve in a U.S. state legislature as part of the Vermont General Assembly.

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Museum executive director Molly Veysey said the week of celebrations should give visitors insight into a man whose history and legacy are oft overlooked.

“We want to capture what it may have looked like and felt like for him to be an African-American man in Northern Vermont then,” she said. “From what we know, he was a formidable character of will, power, and experience.”

The celebration kicks off with a plaque dedication at the village. Text on the marker details Twilight’s biography and his contributions to the museum as it stands today. Several local representatives, including congressman Peter Welch and state senator John Rodgers, will speak on Twilight’s legacy at the dedication.

Also on the docket is the grand opening of the new Twilight Education Trail on Monday, Sept. 21, and on Tuesday, a public conversation highlighting Twilight’s continuing relevance.

The Old Stone House Museum
The Old Stone House MuseumThe Old Stone House Museum

Carmen Jackson, chairperson of the museum board of trustees, said Twilight is “shrouded in mystery.”

Because of a confluence of factors, including scant record-keeping, little is known about Twilight. But the few details researchers have uncovered reveal an exemplary life that helped change the course of the Vermont community, said Jackson.

“Everything we do know is worth remembering,” she explained.

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As a child, Twilight toiled at a farm in Corinth, VT while learning to read and write. He saved enough money to enroll at Randolph’s Orleans County Grammar School at 20 and then enrolled in Middlebury College almost six years later. From there, he bounced around in New York state before landing at the Grammar School again — this time, as the principal. Twilight simultaneously served as the acting pastor at the nearby congregational church.

He led the school during a period of immense growth that led to the need for a co-ed, campus dormitory — complete with a kitchen, parlor, and rooms — named Athenian Hall. That structure now houses part of the current-day Old Stone House Museum.

“He is so integral to how the museum stands today — literally because of his role in building the stone house,” said Veysey. “We owe so much to him.”

Going forward, Veysey and Jackson plan to forge a partnership with Middlebury College to further educate people on Twilight’s life.

Diti Kohli can be reached at diti.kohli@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ditikohli_