One of Poultney’s early settlers was a free black, Jeffrey Brace. Brace was born in West Africa in approximately 1742 as Boyrereau Brinch. He came from a family that held high positions in his country. His father, Whryn Brinch, was Captain of the king’s Life Guards, as was his grandfather.
When Brinch was about sixteen years old, he and a group of his friends were captured by white traders and taken by boat to Barbados where they were sold into slavery. While enroute from Africa to Barbados, he was confined to a space that only allowed him to sit or lie on his back, was only allowed two meager meals per day, and had to contend with the foul stench of the hold.
He was to endure many years of brutal and inhumane treatment starting in Barbados. Here after leaving the ship, he was placed in the “House of Subjection” where he and the other slaves were starved, whipped, and tortured into subjection.
Around 1760, Brace was sold to a Captain Isaac Mills who had him trained in military ways by a William Burke. Brace served as an enslaved sailor-soldier aboard Mills’ vessel during in the Seven Years War, also known as The French and Indian War. He received five wounds in a battle with a Spanish ship during the fight for control of Havana, Cuba.
After the war, he was sold by Captain Mills to a John Burwell of Milford, Connecticut, the first of a series of cruel owners who subjected him to beatings and other humiliations. Fortunately, he eventually became a servant to widow, Mary Stiles who treated him kindly and taught him to read, write and speak proper English.
After the Revolutionary war broke out, Jeffrey Brace enlisted and served three terms and suffered a leg wound. When the war ended in 1783, he returned to Milford and eventually was granted his freedom by Benjamin Stiles, Mary’s son.
In 1784, he moved to Poultney, Vermont. He worked to save money and purchased land in what is now called Ames Hollow. He worked for a number of years in Dorset, Vermont, to save up funds to develop his land. While living in Dorset he met and married an African widow, Susannah Dublin. She already had two children and together they had three more children. In 1795, they returned to Poultney to build and manage their farm on Ames Hollow Road. They suffered considerable indignities while living in Dorset and Poultney. Susannah was forced to bind over her two children to a couple in Dorset as indentured servants. A neighbor in Poultney, Jery Gorman was a jealous, spiteful person who coveted their land, turned his cattle loose in their crops, tapped their maple trees, and harassed them. He even tried to force the Brace’s children into indentured servitude.
Finally, the Braces decided to leave Poultney and move to Sheldon, Vermont, and from there to Georgia, Vermont. Brace lived to be approximately 85 years old and became blind in his later years. In 1810 he told the story of his life to Benjamin F. Prentiss who published his memoirs under the title The Blind African Slave or the Memoirs of Boyrereau Brinch Nicknamed Jeffrey Brace. This memoir attests to the remarkable memory, intelligence, and strength of character of the first black settler of Poultney. It is fitting that the University of Vermont’s faculty union awards book scholarships in Brace’s name annually to students who “exemplify not only academic excellence but also an active commitment to achieving social justice.” Copies of “The Blind African Slave” can be purchased from the Poultney Historical Society.