-Elise Guyette; author, historian, and PJC member
We propose to change the name of “Negro Brook” in Townshend to Susanna Toby Brook. Susanna (1750– 1855) lived in Townshend, sometimes Acton, beginning as early as 1810 for at least 40 years. She died in 1855 at 104 years old. No other black person uncovered by our research lived in the town as long as she, which makes it fitting that the present name of the brook morph into her name. We believe that an old geographic designation that pointed to African descended people’s presence in the town should be replaced by a name that tells an untold story of African Americans in early Vermont. Renaming it something that hides this history would be a missed opportunity to enrich our understanding of diversity in early Vermont and the contributions of people of color to our state and local communities.
The history of Susanna and her husband, James Huzzy (1734– 1822), includes northern enslavement, the substitution of black men for white men in the Revolutionary War, freedom gained, and migration to Vermont to build a family.
Susanna Toby was born in Maine about 1750. James Huzzy was born about 1734 and enslaved in Upton, MA. They married in Upton in 1776. Susanna was left on the home front to survive without her husband, as were thousands of women, while he served from Lexington and Bunker Hill through the end of the war. He served two terms as a substitute for his master’s sons. Then he served to the end of the war in his own name in order to gain his freedom.
Meanwhile, Susanna had a child born in Upton during the war. It is likely the family was in Townshend in 1810, but the census takers recorded only the aggregate number of black people in town, 15. In 1818, James applied for a pension, which was prepared in Townshend. He began receiving the pension the next year. The census suggests that they had 3 children together, since their Townshend household contained 5 people by 1820. [The federal census recorded only head of household names until 1850.] James died March 11, 1822.
From that time, Susanna was the head of household. In 1830, the census recorded three people in her household, presumably herself and two children. In 1836, she applied for her husband’s pension and started receiving it the next year. In 1840, Susannah was living with one other black female age 24-35. The census noted Susannah was a Revolutionary War pensioner. By 1850, she was 100 years old and still living in Townsend in the household of Philimon Holden, 44, a farmer. The Holdens had 4 children, ages 2 to 11.
At the age of 104, she petitioned for the bounty land to which she was entitled. The petition was filed in Shaftsbury, VT. Susannah died in 1855. She received pension allotments every March & September from 1837 until her death.
This is a hidden story that sheds much light on our early history and the diversity of people who helped build the state. The complex story of this couple and their family is “history in waiting” hidden in the local documents of the town. Renaming this brook after Susanna Toby would bring the story to light and enrich local history. Discovering the depth of their lives would be a wonderful project for local students and historians.