‘How could you not admire Lucy?’: PVMA, Historic Deerfield organizing Lucy Terry Prince Day to celebrate first published Black poet

  • Lucy Terry Prince as depicted by artist Louise Minks hanging in the Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield. Minks said she used a model to paint Prince’s likeness as part of 10 near-life-size portraits of African Americans — five from the past and five from modern day — who influence Minks’ thinking. The other historical African Americans were Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Above and right: The Wells-Thorn House in Deerfield where Lucy Terry Prince once lived. Staff Photos/Paul Franz

  • Lucy Terry Prince doll created by Belinda Lyons Zucker in the Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield. Staff Photo/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Belinda Lyons Zucker, a doll and figure artist in Turners Falls. “(Doll-making) was a very important part of West African culture, in most all tribes,” Zucker said. Staff Photo/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • The Wells-Thorn House in Deerfield where Prince once lived. Staff Photo/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 7/9/2021 4:35:42 PM

DEERFIELD — The enslavement of Africans robbed them of their identities. Human traffickers and slave owners weren’t the type to respect the culture of those they viewed as inferior and, as a result, many people’s knowledge of their ethnic group, family history, native language and religious heritage were lost on the plantation and in the slave quarters.

Birth dates were often one of these lost defining characteristic. But, under some circumstances, the date of death was recorded for some Black people. This was the case for Lucy Terry Prince, who was kidnapped from Africa and enslaved in Deerfield until 1756, when she married the prosperous free Black man who purchased her freedom. They eventually moved to Vermont in the 1760s and started a family. And since it is impossible to throw a birthday party for the first known African American poet in English literature, the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association is collaborating with Historic Deerfield to celebrate her life on Sunday, July 11 — the 200th anniversary of her death.

“Knowing her death date comes from her achieving so much in her life,” said Timothy Neumann, in his 46th year as PVMA’s executive director. “Some of her life is recorded because of legal issues [including defending her family’s right to their land before the Vermont Supreme Court]. That was very very unusual for a Black person.”

Lucy Terry Prince Day will include tours on the half-hour of Historic Deerfield’s Wells-Thorn House, where Prince once lived, guided and self-guided tours of Memorial Hall Museum on the theme of Prince’s Deerfield, a meet-the-artist corner in Memorial Hall with Louise Minks, the creator of a painting of Prince, and sounds of the music of Prince’s life in the Memorial Hall Music Gallery, recorded during a 2016 Juneteenth concert produced by Ashfield’s Jackie Cooper. All events, slated for 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. will be free.

Though Prince is widely regarded as the first published Black poet, only one poem is known to have survived. “Bars Fight” is a ballad about an attack upon two white families by Native Americans on Aug. 25, 1746. The attack took place in an area of Deerfield called “The Bars,” a colonial term for a meadow. Neumann said someone other than Prince wrote down the ballad she dictated. It was published in Josiah Gilbert Holland’s “History of Western Massachusetts” in 1855.

Louise Minks said she used a model to paint Prince’s likeness as part of 10 near-life-size portraits of African Americans — five from the past and five from modern day — who influence Minks’ thinking. The other historical African Americans were Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Minks took on the endeavor in 1993 and 1994 and the paintings became a touring exhibition for years.

She said the museum offered her a studio in the form of a classroom in the nearby old grammar school the museum now owns. The painting of Prince, titled after the woman’s full name, is on loan at the museum. Minks, who lives in Leverett, explained she will attend on Lucy Terry Prince Day and talk with people about how and why she picked the African Americans she did. She described Prince as courageous, creative, and smart.

“How could you not admire Lucy?” asked Minks, who has a master’s degree in history and worked as a volunteer guide with Historic Deerfield for several years. “I love combining history and art. That’s something I’ve done in a number of different ways.”

Minks will have small matted reproductions of the painting for sale.

Neumann said Prince was known to have a phenomenal memory, with the ability to recite Bible verses verbatim. He also said an analysis of her work’s rhyme scheme matches that of West African poetry used to memorize tribes’ history and religious stories. Neumann also said Prince’s life — as an enslaved person eventually freed — is a window into the Black story in the New World.

Neumann said Prince was taken from Africa as an infant, taken to Rhode Island and was owned by Ebenezer Wells, of Deerfield. Her freedom was bought by Abijah Prince, a successful free Black man from Curacao, in 1756 and the two married, eventually becoming among the first landowners in Guilford, Vt., and raised six children.

Eventually, she successfully argued before the Vermont Supreme Court against false land claims made by a Col. Eli Bronson. She was the first woman to argue before the highest court in the state and was awarded $200.

Prince also argued articulately, albeit unsuccessfully, in front of Williams College’s board of trustees to change the school’s admission policy after her son was rejected due to his race.

Doll- and figure artist programs

Neumann mentioned the July 11 event will also be a celebration of African American art. Belinda Lyons Zucker, a doll and figure artist in Turners Falls, will hold 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. programs in the Deerfield Teachers’ Center at 10 Memorial St. to demonstrate her techniques. She said Africans were brought to this continent as slaves but some brought along their doll- and figure-making traditions.

“It was a very important part of West African culture, in most all tribes,” Zucker said.

She said enslaved Blacks prior to the 1800s mainly used grass, sticks and twigs to forge together dolls not as toys but to mark someone’s departure or death. As the 1800s rolled on, Zucker said, cloth became more obtainable from slave owners who gave it or threw it away to their enslaved people. More and more of these dolls became children’s toys.

Zucker said she will have “a small smattering” of her contemporary work and will demonstrate how to make a doll or figure out of one piece of cloth.

Quilt trunk show

There will also be 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. quilt trunk show presentations by Sisters In Stitches Joined By The Cloth, an African American quilt guild. The presentations, titled “Beyond the Quilts,” will “feature quilts displayed in a historical timeline that embraces spirituality, rites of passage, enslaved ancestors, resistance to slavery, poetry, and social justice.”

There will also be on-going tavern activities at the Indian House Children’s Museum at 107 Old Main St. More details are available at bit.ly/3Ai7J2U.




Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906

 

Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy