When I first began working in Lexington in 2009, a monument in front of Buckman Tavern was still shiny and new. Erected just a year earlier, the boulder stands as a testament to the memory of Prince Estabrook, one of the Lexington men who fought on the Green in 1775. Estabrook was enslaved in the household of Benjamin Estabrook, in a large home near the Vine Brook just a few blocks from the battle site. Prince was the only Estabrook to make the official list of combatants that morning; Benjamin likely sent him rather than answer the call himself. Prince received a bullet for his efforts, but survived. His story is now one of those highlighted in the story of April 19th, exemplifying some of the most contradictory ideals of the Revolution.
At the time, as a fresh face in town, I heard the name Estabrook quite a bit – it is, of course, the name of one of our elementary schools – and I assumed that the name was prominent in town due to the newfound appreciation of Prince Estabrook in the town’s history. In fact, the school is named for Joseph Estabrook, son of the town’s first minister, and owner of an enslaved man named Tony, assumed to be Prince’s father. He was also the town’s first schoolmaster, hence the memorialization. It was a few years before I realized the discrepancy.
Over the years we have had to wrangle with the contradictory nature of Lexington’s past, as a place where Black men, both enslaved and free, served their country even before it was a country, a place where some traveled south to the Selma march in 1965 while others burned a cross at a church in retaliation. The Green last year was the site of Black Lives Matter protests as well as political rallies of all types. These types of stories are not always well represented in small town historical societies, especially in the North. In the early days of museums, collections were far too often only begun when the town’s wealthiest began to fear that their history would be stripped away by the new melting pot of America.
But learning history in all its beauty and ugliness is important to understand where we have come from and where we may go in the future. Last year, we launched the Black History Project of Lexington, one of the last in-person events of the year, where we began the process of working with the community to collect and understand the Black Lexingtonian experience throughout history. We are also working to study the history of slavery in this town, which will eventually be incorporated into the stories we share in our museums. Andrew Lucibella, an intern who compiled initial research in 2019, shared information last year that he found about the lives of Black citizens of Lexington in the 18th century, which can be viewed here. Stay tuned over the course of the year as we work to bring more inclusive voices into our Lexington story.
-Sarah McDonough, Programs Manager
Featuring the voices of Lexington Historical Society permanent staff and occasional guest authors.