On Saturday, September 16th at noon there will be a public unveiling of a historic roadside marker to celebrate the recent naming of John Thomas Brook. The new name pays homage to 19th-century Black settler John Thomas.
Thomas escaped enslavement in Maryland and established a successful farm near the small stream in Vermontville that was formerly known pejoratively as “N***** Brook,” then as “Negro Brook.” Thomas, his wife Mary, and their son, Richard, are buried in Union Cemetery in Vermontville, in Franklin County, NY.
The unveiling will take place on the Paul Smith’s College property on County Route 60, about 150 yards east of the Six Nations Iroquois Cultural Center. It will be followed by a reception at The Station in nearby Onchiota, which will include refreshments provided by The Barley Sandwich as well as the “Dreaming of Timbuctoo” historical exhibit curated by historian Amy Godine and the human rights organization, “John Brown Lives!” These events are free and open to all.
Speakers at the unveiling will include Tiffany Rea-Fisher (director of the Adirondack Diversity Initiative), David Fadden (director of the Six Nations Iroquois Cultural Center), and Curt Stager (professor at Paul Smith’s College).
Stager led the effort to change the name of Negro Brook, which was accompanied by letters of support from students, faculty, and staff of Paul Smith’s College, the town of Franklin, Franklin County officials, Adirondack Diversity Initiative, Historic Saranac Lake, the Six Nations Iroquois Cultural Center, North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association, and many local residents. The group’s application to the U.S. Board of Geographical Names was approved on April 13, 2023.
The unveiling will be preceded on Thursday, September 14, by a free public lecture by Stager on the multicultural history of the Adirondacks at 7 pm in the Freer Auditorium at Paul Smith’s College. The events on Saturday will be followed by additional celebrations of Black history in the Adirondacks including a screening of the film “His Truth Is Marching On” at 6:30 pm at Lake Flower Landing in Saranac Lake, and a “Blues At Timbuctoo” music festival at the John Brown Farm in Lake Placid from Noon until 5 pm on Sunday, September 17.
Photo of John Thomas Brook in Franklin County, NY provided by Paul Smiths College.