Onchiota, NY — At noon on Saturday, September 16, 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, who escaped enslavement in Maryland and established a successful farm near the small stream in Vermontville, NY that was formerly known pejoratively as “N-word Brook” then as “Negro Brook.” Mr. Thomas, his wife Mary, and their son Richard are buried in Union Cemetery in Vermontville.
Public invited to naming ceremony for John Thomas Brook in Onchiota, Sept.16
The unveiling will take place on the Paul Smith’s College property on County Route 60, approximately 150 yards east of the Six Nations Iroquois Cultural Center in Onchiota, NY. It will be followed by a reception at The Station in Onchiota, where guests can enjoy free refreshments provided by The Barley Sandwich and the Dreaming of Timbuctoo historical exhibit curated by historian Amy Godine and the human rights organization John Brown Lives! The ceremony and reception are both 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 the brook, which was accompanied by letters of support from faculty, staff, and students of Paul Smith’s College, the town of Franklin, Franklin County officials, the 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 on the multicultural history of the Adirondacks at 7 p.m. in 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 p.m. at Lake Flower Landing in Saranac Lake, and a “Blues At Timbuctoo” music festival at the John Brown Farm in Lake Placid from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, September 17.
For more information about the reception at The Station, contact Melissa Lambert at www.stationadk.com.
Check out a story by Adirondack Explorer reporter Mike Lynch about the renaming of the John Thomas Brook at this link.
Photo at top: This brook near Bloomingdale was recently renamed to John Thomas Brook, for a 19th century Black settler. Photo by Mike Lynch.
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