Lucy Terry Prince

Painting of Lucy Terry Prince from the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association
Painting of Lucy Terry Prince from the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association

Time Period

1750-1820

Subject Categories

Early Settler, Law, Writers

Notable Facts

One of the first African American poets in the United States. Poem, "Bar's Fight," depicts an Abenaki raid on the village of Deerfield, Massachusetts. Known for being an unofficial lawyer who argued a case before the Vermont Supreme Court.

Personal Information

Date of Birth

1724

Date of Death

07/11/1821

Primary Residence

Guilford

Religion

Christian

Ethnicity

African American

Historical Significance

Lucy Terry Prince was a former slave turned unofficial lawyer and poet. She was born in Africa (some sources use 1724 as her birth date and others use 1732). She was kidnapped and forced into slavery. She was sold to Ebenezer Wells of Deerfield, Massachusetts at the age of four and was baptized during the Great Awakening. At the age of twenty, she became an official member of the church. In 1746, five people in Deerfield died during a raid by Abenaki Indians. Prince became one of America's first African American poets when she composed a poem about the raid, "Bar's Fight," a thirty-line ballad of rhyming couplets. The poem was transmitted orally for more than 100 years and first appeared in print in 1855. Abijiah Prince, a freed slave, bought Lucy's freedom and married her in 1756. She had her first child the following year and by 1769 they had five others. During the 1760's, the Prince family moved to Guilford, Vermont.

Prince was well known for her speaking abilities. She used this ability several times to defend her family's rights and property. In 1785, a neighboring white family threatened the Princes, so Lucy appealed to the Governor for protection. His Counsel ordered Guilford's selectmen to defend them. Prince also tried unsuccessfully to get one of her sons admitted to Williams College in Massachusetts, skillfully citing scripture and law "in an earnest and eloquent speech of three hours" to the Board of Trustees. In 1785, Colonel Eli Bronson attempted to steal land that was owned by the Princes. The case eventually made it to the Vermont Supreme Court and Prince argued against two of the leading lawyers in the state, one of whom became Chief Justice of Vermont. Prince won the case and the presiding justice of the court, Samuel Chase, said that her argument was better than he had heard from any Vermont lawyer. When her husband died in 1794, Prince left Guilford and moved to Sunderland, Vermont. She died at her home in Sunderland in 1821.

Organizations or Movements

  • Great Awakening

Occupations

  • Poet
  • Lawyer
  • Public speaker

Additional Information (Bibliography)

  • Lucy Terry Prince Link

  • Lucy Terry Prince Link

  • Memorial Narratives of African Women in Antebellum New England Link

  • Lucy Terry Link

  • Zirblis, Ray. "Lucy Terry Prince." In The Vermont Encyclopedia. Edited by John Duffy. University Press of New England, 2003.

  • Lucy Terry Prince: Black Pioneer and Poet Link

Additional Images

Lucy Terry Prince
Lucy Terry Prince